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Pedagogies of Productivity in the Modern Workplace

Ross Priory, Scotland.
As we approach the end of the second day at ICE 3, Karim Remtulla is the next speaker (full paper here). He is particularly interested in how e-learning connects with the realities of the workplace (both in terms of the experiences of recent graduates in transitioning to the workplace, and those of employees coming back to university for further education). Karim notes that the projections for e-learning are promising - it is now a US$300 billion market globally, while the World Bank's education portfolio stands at US$8.5 billion, and covers 86 countries. The dominant point of view on e-learning is that it is simply a process of learning from information which is delivered electronically, leaving us as learners to identify relevant information and convert it into meaningful and applicable knowledge - but this may be a highly questionable definition.

The workplace in a large number of environments is undergoing strong processes of restructure. The global workforce is socially, culturally, and demographically highly diverse, as are the workplace relationships and operations, and workers' views on what their jobs are and what comprises productivity and efficiency. Some drivers of change include globalisation as well as social and cultural transformations. The question, then, is whether e-learning is the answer for workplace adult education and training needs; to answer this, a more socio-cultural stance on e-learning needs to be embraced, looking at hardware, software, and pedagogy.

Karim now references Baudrillard's approach to the virtual as a mode of disappearance and a choice on the part of humanity to clone itself entirely; the virtual is becoming indistinguishable from the real, and becomes perfectly homogenised, digitised and and operationalised. Indeed, "it is the virtual that thinks us": models and data emerging from these environments now do our thinking for us, and our understandings emerge from them. Where the modern was defined by production, the postmodern is defined by simulation, which may crudely represent reality (as simulacrum), replace reality altogether, or indeed obfuscate the replacement of reality - and in the final instance replaces reality with a representation which no longer has any similarity with reality at all. But at one point, perhaps differences themselves disappear, as everything is represented by simulations - ultimately, what emerges is a hyperreality which provides experiences that appear more 'real' than reality itself.

Has e-learning been entirely appropriated into capitalist agendas such as efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity? Is a radical online pedagogy based on difference still possible? It is evident that in recent times, face-to-face adult education has now been replaced by the simulacrum of e-learning; for any training issue which emerges, e-learning is being deployed. Much of this becomes built around tools rather than formative actions. Decisions about education are based around efficient hardware and media rather than around the pedagogies associated with them.

E-learning has contributed to a disappearance of difference between jobs through software and applications solutions, and exerts a normative influence on jobs by providing specific frameworks for what skills are required in any one particular job; at the same time, it also ignores problems for which no e-learning solution exists. Technologies and hardware homogenise differences in training and workplace requirements, and their associated pedagogies are therefore 'more real than reality'.

Karim now provides a critique of the pedagogical philosophy of constructivism which posits learning as an interpretive, reflective process. Such philosophies are aggressively (mis)appropriated by the providers of e-learning solutions. Key aspects of this approach (self-reflection, problem-solving, interpretation, collaboration, and participation) may not translate well into specific cultural contexts; the active role constructivism prescribes for the learner may be inapplicable or inaccessible for learners of specific cultural backgrounds. Constructivism may have in mind a particular kind of learner-as-enlightened-subject which is rather different from real-life learners encountered in many e-learning contexts. This may be particularly true for learners who are participating in further education because of workplace requirements - they are learners not necessarily out of their own free will, and/or motivated by an acute need to upgrade skills, rather than learning out of an allegiance to the idea of the pursuit of knowledge in its own right.

E-learning in its idealised form is therefore hyperreal, papering over the differences in modality of instruction, job requirement, and methodology of instruction. Improvement in efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity is attributed to e-learning activities, while the employee is construed as an obstacle to be overcome through such measures. Constructivism's autonomous and empowered individual, then, is joined by a socio-cultural 'other', and it is necessary to develop workplace adult education and training models which address these learners and capture the realities of the workplace. This would reintroduce the worker to the process of learning as a subjective, different, and a human other, rather than a 'perfected simulation' of one.

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