Open Thinkering


The importance of heuristics in educational technology and elearning.

Dilbert - heuristics

This post has been brewing for a while.

I’m sick to death of people ‘recommending’ products, services, applications and utilities based on, essentially, zero real-world testing and feedback. Why? They can’t help with the heuristics.

What are heuristics?

Wikipedia definition:

Heuristic is an adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. A heuristic method is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is hoped to be close to the best possible answer, or ‘optimal solution’. Heuristics are “rules of thumb”, educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense. Heuristics as a noun is another name for heuristic methods.

Why are heuristics important?

As I argued in my SHP Conference workshop Raising achievement in History at KS4 using e-learning, it can actually be damaging to:

  • launch into using educational technologies without thinking it through properly (the how not just the what).
  • attempt to replicate what someone has done elsewhere without thinking about the context.

People like Andrew Churches (of Educational Origami fame) deal with heuristics. They show how educational technologies can be used, things to think about, and issues that may arise.

What I’d like to see

Think about new users of educational technologies. Let’s say that someone wants to show parents what’s happening on a school trip in the following country. They ask for advice. Which of these would be the most useful response?

  1. I’d use a blog if I were you.
  2. Have you seen Posterous?
  3. I used Posterous successfully. Here’s how to set it up and here’s an example of how I’ve used it before. Ask me if you get stuck.

Obviously 3. I really don’t want any more of 1 and 2 thank you very much. :-p

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5 thoughts on “The importance of heuristics in educational technology and elearning.

  1. I agree Doug.

    The natural evolution is going to have those responsible for elearning across a school opting for 1 or 2. Time is always a factor. I think we must learn to say ‘no, not yet’ if we haven’t developed/tested the pedagogy of a tool in a similar situation the teacher will be using it. Either that or have a link to someone that has used it. Voicethread is a good example of this. I can point potential users to demo voicethreads where teachers have showcased it to teachers. But the winner is always going to be showing them another teachers example/use in their specialist subject. Last year I started offering myself out to help plan and teach lessons using different tools. Even this was difficult because I had to battle the desire to show the teacher ten tools that demonstrated different ways IT might be used in their teaching.

    Heuristics: evidence of classroom application. It’s like a teachmeet. Classroom practice please. Everything else is irrelevant.

  2. I agree with you to a point… As someone who likes to be aware of what the various options are that are floating about, I still quite like that people say things to me like “Have you looked at XXXX” etc. as it enables me to see different ways of doing things I am already doing another way… Sometimes they will be better, sometimes worse… I don’t always want or need examples of how they have used it as sometimes this colours my opinion of the product…

    I guess it depends upon who is asking and what they want to know…

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