LT Thought of the Week: The Problem with Literature Reviews

For this week’s LT thought, I’ve picked a post from elearnspace which seems to sum up my own thinking for the past six months. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure (read “pain”) of completing an 8000 word literature review of my own on cloud-enabled pedagogies. Although it’s nice to be able to claim that I’ve had a look at well over 100 academic articles on the subject and formed my own views on some of the best ways forward with this technology, it’s easy to see how literature reviews in technology-based education can end up being more limiting than liberating.

In his post “The Problem with Literature Reviews,” Siemens points out that the extent to which we go to show the research already done in a field is itself evidence that we are approaching the topic with a closed mindset – a mindset we can ill afford when discussing emerging technologies.

Literature reviews ensure that new ideas follow an existing stream of thought and work. Much like Kuhn’s “normal science” progresses through small iterative changes within the larger bounded structure (paradigm) of previous thinkers, literature reviews ensures that most authors will not significantly break from the intellectual heritage of a discipline. Put another way, a literature review is a controlling, heritage-preserving system. The system works well in the space of normal science – where the research areas are defined and we’re attempting to eke out small improvements.

Perhaps the ultimate challenge is being able to look backwards at the subject while retaining forward-thinking open-mindedness and being prepared to admit that the way we’ve been thinking about things is flawed?


About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
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