Critiquing the Metaphors of Educators

In a “Ted Talks” speech in March of 2010, George Siemens discussed one the critical components to bringing about change in the educational system: making connections. Helping students to build connections, as noted by Siemens, becomes the primary role of the educator.

What impact will the demands for change placed on the education system have on the role of a teacher?

Siemens (2008) described four metaphors that could be used to describe educators—the master artist, the network administrator, the concierge, and the curator. The metaphor of the master artist envisions the teacher as a local expert who utilizes the work of the students as samples that exemplify key concepts and ideas being addressed in a learning activity. The view of an educator as a network administrator presumes that the primary role of the teacher is to help students effectively integrate new knowledge into an existing network of information, skills, and applications. As a concierge, the teacher directs students to the appropriate materials, resources, or learning activities to best learn a given concept. The final metaphor, the teacher as a curator, suggests that the role of the educator is to be an “expert learner” (Siemens, 2008, p. 17) while using that knowledge to develop learning activities that balance learner freedom with effective guidance.

Each of these metaphors has certain advantages and disadvantages. For example, the master artist brings the work of the students to the spotlight as illustrations of key concepts. This makes it possible for students to learn from the work of their peers (Siemens, 2008). However, the disadvantage of this metaphor is that educator is still considered to be the primary source of expert knowledge. He or she is responsible for critiquing the quality of student work and for identifying which examples most appropriately illustrate a given concept.

The primary advantage of the network administrator perspective is that the student is placed at the center of the learning process. The educator’s responsibility is to assist the student in building and integrating networks of connected information. A disadvantage, though, is that the teacher, in the potential absence of sufficient time or resources, may be required to manage the development of individualized networks for each student in a class.

In the metaphor of the concierge, the educator has the freedom to utilize a wide range of resources. The educator serves to guide students toward the appropriate resources that will help them effectively learn the material. Although this description of a teacher makes room for the opportunity for students “to explore on their own” (Siemens, 2008, p. 16), the choice of potential resources is likely to fall on the shoulders of the teacher. This places a significant amount of the control of the learning process on the teacher rather than on the student.

As a curator, the educator creates learning spaces for the students. These spaces are designed to cultivate the intrinsic motivation of the student to pursue further knowledge and skills; and these spaces are not necessarily bound to a limited set of resources. The advantage associated with this approach is that students are given the freedom to explore what the learning spaces have to offer (Siemens, 2008). However, the disadvantage of this metaphor is that the educator must design spaces narrow enough to meet the intended learning outcomes yet robust enough to accommodate diverse learner needs.

Siemens (2006) noted that there are many ways to define knowledge; however, searching for a single definition has the opposite effect when it comes to developing an interconnected knowledge base. Along the same vein, it seems reasonable to avoid choosing one best metaphor over the others. Each metaphor can have appropriate applications in the digital classroom. For example, a discussion forum is an ideal setting for the “master teacher” to emerge. Students contribute to the learning process by sharing ideas, work, and peer support while the teacher highlights key points in the discussion and adds information as necessary. In the digital classroom, the “network administrator” aligns well with the notion of the teacher as a facilitator. The students are responsible for the primary learning while the teacher supports the learning process. The key function of the teacher is help the students make the necessary connections. The digital classroom also optimizes the potential for the educator to serve as a “concierge” of knowledge and learning resources. The inherent nature of digital material as well as the asynchronous aspects of the online world make it possible for educators to pool a wide range of resources in one central location. This allows the students to pick and choose which materials will serve them best in the learning process. As a “curator,” the educator can create dynamic learning spaces for students to explore. The online setting makes it possible to bring many resources into one place and simultaneously establish connections for students to independently explore.

In the end, an appropriate combination of the advantages of each of the metaphors can lead to a rich perspective on teaching and learning.


Siemens, G. (2006). Knowing knowledge. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2008, January 27). Learning and knowing in networks: Changing roles for educators and designers. Paper presented to ITFORUM. Retrieved from


About Mike Dillon

High School Math/Physics Teacher Online Instructor for Axia College Ph.D. Candidate at Walden University.
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4 Responses to Critiquing the Metaphors of Educators

  1. mrsdurff says:

    George speaks of collapsing down to the level of connections. Sounds great, but how do I teach freshman Algebra on Monday morning from this perspective?

    George also mentioned teaching transparently. I disagree, I am not a teacher, only a learner, a transparent learner. Sometimes I get the job of tally keeper too.

    • Hi Lisa…

      You raise some really interesting points. I think that one of challenges lies in establishing our priorities (as a school, as a region, as a state, and as a nation) about what our goals (in fairly specific terms) for classroom instruction. As long our goals continue to be focused on passing high stakes tests, we will never achieve Seimens goal of connections. If the priorities can be switched to helping students learn how to apply information to relevant, real-world situations, then we can begin constucting curricula that provide students with opportunities to build connections. I think that “good” teachers are working toward that goal, but I am sure that it creates extra stress about whether or not students will perform on NCLB tests.

      As far as your comment about being a transparent learner… I think that your statement is evidence alone of teaching transparently because you are acknowledging how you perceive your role in the learning process…

      Mike 🙂

  2. Aretha says:

    I understand exactly what you are saying, why limit the educator to one metaphor when he wears so many hats already. It is putting a limit on what the educator can do and on the extent of students’ learning. I believe an educator should incorporate all that he or she can in the learning process to benefit the education of his or her students. At different times in the learning process, the learning process calls for various methods to get through to students and with these limitations, it is only stifling the growth that can come from a specific learning opportunity.

    • Hi Aretha…

      You are exactly right! It really comes down to the limitations we put on ourselves (as individuals, as scholars, as schools, as states, etc.). If we keep our options and our perspectives open, then the sky is limit when it comes to what can do…

      Mike 🙂

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