I think we’ve all seen and suffered examples of bad e-learning and I’m certainly building up a pretty good picture of all the ways in which eLearning can go wrong. But I’m less sure about exactly what GOOD e-learning looks like. I’m hoping that this blog post will be just the beginning of the conversation and that you’ll comment with your ideas of what makes good e-learning, or with links to good examples.
Shouldn’t we just drop the ‘e’?
One point of view that I’ve had shared with me frequently when talking about e-learning is that the ‘e’ is the barrier. That e-learning is simply a new generation of learning and that that little old ‘e’ erects all kinds of unnecessary barriers.
I agree to a certain extent – yes, e-learning is learning and we need to apply all the rigour we would apply to learning in this newer context. BUT we can’t forget the fact that it’s e-learning. It’s special and different because of the way it’s delivered and we need to ensure that we optimise that channel. In the same way that you can do banking and online banking and they both fulfil the same functions but in two entirely different ways; you can do learning or e-learning… I’m sure that banks invest a huge amount of time, energy and effort into ensuring their online banking systems are user friendly and effective and the same should be true of all e-learning. It’s not enough simply to bung some learning materials online. In my opinion you have to go far beyond simply making learning materials electronic before they can be classed as e-learning.
e-teaching vs e-learning
In physical classrooms, there was a time when it was considered enough to write information on the black board, tell the kids to copy it down and have them learn it by rote. We’ve learnt a lot about pedagogy in the meantime and these days we would consider that practice to be a form of very bad teaching which was entirely un-learner focused. A lot of e-learning is still at that stage – in that it is still simply e-teaching – and bad e-teaching at that. Less enlightened e-teachers simply present slide after slide of information and expect their learners to take it on board in a way that their knowledge of pedagogy would tell them would never happen in the physical classroom.
It’s not just a jazzed up PowerPoint
So we come to one of the key issues with e-learning. The tools that can be used to facilitate e-learning solutions seem very familiar when you start using them – it’s very much like putting together a jazzed up PowerPoint. And if you’re not careful that’s exactly what you’ll end up with. But e-learning should be a far deeper and richer learning experience than that.
Technology as a facilitator
Rather than acting as some kind of strait jacket – forcing you to produce a shallow PowerPoint style experience – technology should be used as a means of enriching and facilitating the learning experience. When you’re working online you suddenly have access to limitless resources and a whole world of possibilities. Many teachers are very gifted at embracing technology in the classroom and using it to enrich the learning experience and to really engage learners. The skill is in bottling that excitement and passion and recreating it online, ensuring that technology enables the e-learner to embrace and explore the concepts being taught.
Engaging and relevant tasks
Creating engagement is absolutely key. It’s hard enough in a face to face environment even though we have the opportunity to respond to our learners’ responses and tailor our teaching to match their needs and interests. With a lot of e-learning (though not all) this facility is lost as the learning pathway is pre-prescribed so it’s more important than ever that tasks are engaging and relevant to your learners. This is a tough job and one that can often be best found through trial and error. In my opinion, it is critical that e-lessons should not ever be considered a finished product. They should evolve and change in response to learners’ outcomes in much the same way you would adapt your offline lesson plans.
Tracking progress and tailoring learning
Good e-learning has the benefit of being a bit similar to those ‘choose your own adventure’ stories we all loved so much as kids. It’s possible to build a wide range of possibilities into the learning and leading learners on a different path depending on how they’ve responded to or performed in different tasks. In order to implement this effectively, your e-learning package needs to track progress or engagement of your learner in some way. Then you’ll be able to send your learner in the right direction – this might mean them completing another task to reinforce points which they may not have fully grasped by the end of the current task, or equally it might mean fast forwarding them to a later task as they may have demonstrated that their understanding of this topic is already very sound and doesn’t necessitate the next task in the sequence.
So what does good e-learning look like?
So I guess for my money, I’d say that good e-learning is based on sound pedagogy. It embraces technology as a means of communicating ideas, adding interest and creating engagement. It tracks learners’ progress and responds to their needs and as a whole it is in a state of constant evolution.
What do you think? Please share your ideas and link to any particularly good (or bad) examples you may have come across.