Thursday, 23 July 2015

What's the biggest problem with elearning modules?

You've probably realised by now that elearning is not the silver bullet of the learning world; it's not your one size fits all solution that you can just buy-in or develop and drop and leave. In fact, there's plenty that goes wrong in producing elearning modules and some of the quality is downright awful... but even good, even great elearning modules aren't without problems.  So here we're going to look at some of those problems and the biggest of them all...

So first off the ranks is the predictable issues; firstly it's expensive business and costs a lot to produce. Lots of time, lots of money to get your end result. Chances are the better your elearning is the more it cost to get produced (although some really expensive stuff can be equally bad). True for sure but hey, if you've got the budget you just shrug your shoulders and accept it as one of the factors you need to take on board.

Secondly there's the interactions. Now poor and cheap elearning tends to have low level interactions so it's clearly an impact there, but if you've got time and money it's possible to have highly interactive high-quality elearning so surely this is a moot point? Not quite, because the interactions on elearning modules are pre-prescribed rather than real-life interactions. If I speak to someone virtually or in person there's a real interaction and it's 'right now'. If I had to think of possible questions someone might ask it would be more like a FAQ guide than real interaction. My point is that an elearning module is highly unlikely to have artificial intelligence in it and is far more likely to have interactions that were written at the time of making it. If you follow some of my other ramblings you'll know that knowledge is not a thing and flows and changes with time - as would your interactions of course, unless they were written and published at one time - then they couldn't...

Then there is the other side of the time issue. Producing good elearning is rarely done in a day or a week (I'll stop there but you get the idea). The problem with this is that in many areas things change quickly and if your elearning takes months to produce it simply can't meet the needs if they change at all (and they often do). Let's also wrap up into that the time of key staff needed to provide input, potentially resources, busy schedules and time is no small issue... but it's still not the biggest issue that I think exists, but we're getting close.

For me the biggest problem with elearning modules is that they are a finished product. If you subscribe to #WOL or my own theory #LOL you'll know that actually the finished product never really exists. What I mean by that is that we are essentially working in perpetual beta and that learning is an action or a verb rather than a noun, so if knowledge and learning change, so must the information. If elearning modules were never 'published' and you carried on working on them, they could adapt with time, change as they needed to and have more interactions added as they changed. Sure you can make a version two and publish that, but as well as the time (and cost) issues you may have it's still a version rather than 'live' if you know what I mean.

Of course, the saving grace is that traditional elearning is not the answer on its own anyway. We still (and perhaps more than ever) need people to support and connect to achieve learning. Those live interactions can work really well, particularly when we connect students rather than just teacher to students.  In this way the interactive MOOCs are far more effective for learning than even the most polished stand-alone elearning. I'm not saying MOOCs are any more the solution than elearning modules though, too many are heavy video based non-interactive content and assessments with some human interaction, but theoretically that MOOC style learning is far closer to achieving our learning aims.

As always I'm not 100% sure this is the final idea and I know to some extent I'll change my mind on at least some of this over time - so please comment on G+ or on this blog directly or via Twitter (@the_nthdegree) or... you'll find me :)

Thursday, 9 July 2015

What have you learned today and why that's a bad thing...

I've been known to be pretty hard on the pursuit of 'knowledge', I think it's a fool's folly to try to hold something that flows like a river.  I've written it's a trap, it's not an object and various other views that we should be learning rather than trying to acquire knowledge and that the two things are not the same.  So now here am I about to have a go at learning too?

Not exactly.  But recently I've found myself getting annoyed with the way we try to objectify learning.  If your lesson/course/learning starts by telling me by the end of this lesson/course/learning you will learn x, y and z I'm a little turned off.  In fact I'll go a little further, you can't really tell me what I'll learn by the end either.  Sure you can have a well-defined test and it's reasonable for you to make that assumption - but we should recognise that's exactly what it is.  Just like calling teaching or training "learning" it's a bit of an assumption that the two things are the same.  You don't really write 'learning' do you - that's the desired outcome but it's not what you do.  You make up teaching or training material - and whilst you want to make learning the outcome, that's not strictly what it is.  Now you may think this is just splitting hairs, but in the world where there is so much informal learning where we use investigation type techniques to learn things (not to mention social media type approaches) surely it becomes even more important that we don't assume learning is or needs to be quantified the way we often try.

Okay, I'm having trouble convincing some of you I can tell (which is pretty impressive from a blog - maybe just me arguing this in my own head).  Let's take #lrnchat as a great example. That's when a great number of experts (and me) get together for a Twitter chat where we talk learning.  Q0 is the same each week 'what did you learn today, if not today this week'.  I can't be the only one who cringes each time this question is asked - it's really really difficult to answer and not because I'm not learning, but because it's asking me to quantify something that I'm not sure can be thought of that way. At the end of the session comes an even harder question 'what did you learn' from this chat? Damn it, I've participated I've shaped some ideas and I've interacted every way I can but I can't simply answer that question and that's an issue... but is the issue with me or the question?  

So for me knowledge is a river and learning is a journey (yes, I know how it sounds).  Learning is what we do when we shape our opinions, when we think, when we contribute and when we consider what others say.  It's a journey not a destination because we don't arrive at a point where we've 'learned' anything, we are continually learning and evolve. Our opinions and ideas (just like our knowledge) are formed over time and re-form. That's not to say we all do it at the same rate or with the same approach, but if your ideas are formed and can't be changed you've stopped learning - only at that point have you 'learned' something. Does that mean learning is a 'bad' thing? Shock horror, but if learning is concrete then maybe yes that's the bad thing, the idea of learning as a journey is a good thing, but learning as a thing is an end-state so that's not so cool. I know some of you think I'm just caught up in the language, but look at examples in history - we learned Newton's laws of motion (c'mon you can remember some of them) only to find that they're actually not 100% accurate (think speeds approaching the speed of light and relativity). If we'd all stopped at the point of having learned Newtonian physics then that would be that. I learned English at a very young age (being English I don't count it as my greatest success...) but I didn't actually. I learned some basic parts of the language and to this day I continue to build and learn my vocabulary whilst I drop off other parts that aren't of use to me, my language evolves - isn't that what learning really is?

So here's the thing, when you say 'what will you or have you learned' maybe that's not the most productive question.  Maybe the question is 'did it make you think?', 'did it challenge your preconceptions or make you change your mind?' or even just 'did you enjoy it?'. For me if I'm going to answer those questions from now on, not with a semi-fake I learned 'x, y and z again' but with an honest 'it made me think about so-and-so...'.  

So let's stop treating knowledge and learning as nouns, they're not 'things' and it's okay that we can't always quantify them as such. Learning, if we must classify it, is a verb, it's an action it's something that we do and I hope I'm always in learning mode. So if you learned something from this blog then okay, but I'm hoping it just made you think about what learning is... because to me that's learning.

Keep learning everyone (however you define it) and feel free to disagree with me by commenting - my mind's not set on this so I'm happy to re-shape my ideas with you (or you can take it in a new direction with or without me :)