"The emerging field of behaviour change theory suggests new ways in which networked technologies might be used as a form of pedagogical persuasion to influence and shape learners’ behavior, even at the unconscious or irrational level."
Comment: A very interesting and thought-provoking reflection on current changes in pedagogical climate, which are very much exemplified by the move towards networked learning. Williamson first notes the prevalence of terms such as softness and openness. This, he contends, amounts to softening up education: "As opposed to the hard education of canonical core content, the softened school of the future does not impose rigid academic barricades against informal learning outside school".
This new open education paradigm is characterised by open educational resources, an emphasis on soft skills, and most of all soft (libertarian) paternalism: "policies and practices which are designed in such a way that they are intended to subtly shape and change behavior". This is the nudging referred to in the title.
So, in networks for learning, we do not coerce people into doing what we think they should. In stead, we monitor them and try to subtly persuade them to move into the 'right' direction: "The learner enmeshed in digitally mediated networks is forever being nudged from afar rather than instructed; subtly tutored instead of lectured".
The problem with this, Williamson says, is that it comes dangerously close to being manipulative: "... as the language of 21st century learning becomes increasingly saturated with new “open” and networked formats and new “soft” behavioral competencies it may become hard to distinguish from the soft control techniques of behavioral optimization programs, soft performance, and other political strategies of subtle psychological persuasion"
Indeed, if you can't get things your way by bullying people, you 'sweet talk' them into it. And whereas bullying is at least obvious (even if you have no way to to escape it), with nudging the victim herself may start to belief this is in her best interest. It is a real danger, but I still prefer arguments, even if they are 'sweetened', as opposed to intimidation. Ultimately, it is a matter of ethics.
As much as resarchers should tell their subjects what the experiment is intended for, so should learners be told what they are getting themselves involved in. (peter sloep, @pbsloep)
Via Jelmer Evers, Peter B. Sloep, David Wilcox, Stephen Dale