Saturday, July 12, 2008

Random confused musing about elearning

I've just been reading "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell and a thought struck me about the nature of innovation and education. I was looking at the Social:Learn project stuff the other day and aside from me going 'rats, I was thinking that… I just didn't look at your stuff along the way' it has made me wonder if so much of the time we're headed in the wrong direction with elearning. We're tapping into technologies that so called 'Digital Natives' (Prensky, 2001) are already using and going 'oooooooh, a new technology… how could that be used in education'… but the links aren't right. We're attempting to take the technologies to students that students are already using. We're looking like old duffers who are going 'hey hip cats, look at this groovy new technolololology I just found' and all the while the native group are rolling their eyes and going 'yeah, yeah… whatever'. We're teaching our grandkids to suck eggs when they been there, done that all of their own accord…

So, if we're to tap into people who can bring these technologies into the educational mainstream then we need to look not just at how we can use them in education, but how students are already using them. Find the innovators from outside… and feed their discoveries inwards. However, it's all very well finding innovators, but there still remains a chasm which needs to be crossed. Not from us (educators) to them (students)… but from 'us' to the sub-groups within 'us' who don't get this stuff and who don't think it has any real worth. If we don't educate the educators and find ways to create an educational tipping point (*there's* the link to the start of this random musing you were waiting for!) for elearning, then we'll continue to reach feebly outwards with no real conviction… and fail to convince anyone to engage with these technologies and break free from constrained thinking.

There's got to be a point at which we stop feeling like immigrants and start acting like natives who have the confidence just to use these things. How can you get students to use blogs, wikis, microblogging, mobile technologies etc in an educationally sound, purposeful way if you shy away from them yourself? When are we going to stop worrying about how students will get on with learning to use them and start learning to really use them ourselves? I can't even get into double digits if I were to count the number of tutors on the course 'T175 - Networked Living' who actively blog or use other web 2.0 technologies… and that's a course which teaches students about web 2.0. If we're not using them and I mean really and truly using them rather than dabbling… then we'll continue to follow and never get to a point where we're properly conversing with our students. I wonder how we can really get to the point where Social:Learn will create a 'new, dynamic and engaging learning environment for tomorrow's students' (Walton et al, 2008) if we're only ever playing lip service to it. It's all very well the innovators happily 'Twittering', blogging and having a jolly old web 2.0 time of it all. It doesn't seem to mean a great deal to a large number of educators 'out there'. How to e-educate the educated?


  1. Hi Sarah

    Liked the points you make. I have two immediate responses: Not all eLearners are young and technologically savvy. Most of the learners I deal with in the eLearning world are in fact digital immigrants and to them web 1.0 technologies are about as much as they can cope with. Saying that it's great to see mature adults overcome their anxiety and fear about technology as they invest themselves in an online course. Watching them gain confidence and go on to be first rate eLearners willing to give most things a go is quite humbling.

    The second point I'd make is that it's not about us digital immigrants getting with the technology and becoming power users of all things mobile, networked and social, to my mind it's about how you get the students themselves to suggest ways of using the technology to achieve the learning outcomes required. The teacher's role is then to advocate on the students behalf, lobby for the infrastructure and resources and use their experience, skills and educational expertise to guide and direct the efforts of the students.

    It's not about the technology it's about the giving up on the traditional power and control that teachers seem so reluctant to do and give an appropriate amount of it to the learner and let them lead the way.

  2. I think the tipping point is the right way to think about it though. People start to use this stuff, and at some point, it tips both in their personal life and in the uptake in society (or as I argue on my blog, it's like a disease that infects all aspects of your life).
    So I think there will be a bottom-up approach to this. The key for sociallearn is to a) make it easy and useful enough and b) to target some audiences that give it mass.
    BTW - if you want to be involved in SocialLearn it's not a closed shop, we'd love to have you play around with it and give us input.


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