There’s an important distinction to be made between training and education. In simplest terms, education is concerned with the nature of a topic, whereas training is concerned with what can be accomplished after it’s completed. Generally speaking, education requires critical thinking and training requires memorization and organizational skills. When we think of traditional eLearning, we think that the transfer of skills, knowledge, and attitudes limits its scope to training. With the increasing quality of courseware and the implementation of blended approaches, however, we’re starting to see a rise in the use of eLearning in universities.
Sometime ago, I read about undergraduate-level engineering courseware being used in universities. This sort of blended learning might sound as though it’s just training at the university level. Most of this courseware is limited to rote learning. As professors learn about the multitude of advantages, however, I think we’ll start to see universities embrace technology in both the sciences and arts.
At this week’s Brain Summit, Alan November discussed the influence and future of technology in education. In his keynote presentation, “Creating a New Culture of Teaching and Learning,” November described how access to information and communication tools can empower educators and allow them to focus on the unique learning needs of individual students. He’s also written books on how technology can be used to help students become critical thinkers and how educators can utilize technology to enhance classroom teaching. If he’s right, we might see eLearning in our universities sooner than most people expected.
This week, one of my colleagues introduced me to Cathy Moore’s Blog. The article she wanted to show me was on branching scenarios. I had just read a great post on this topic over at the Rapid E-Learning Blog, but was amazed by the course that Cathy had developed.
The scenario in “Connect with Haji Kamal” requires the learner to assist a young lieutenant to befriend a former insurgence supporter in Afghanistan. Give it a try and see if you can gain the Pashtun’s support. As the prologue points out “Your lieutenant is young. He’s new. He’s about to screw up – unless you give him good advice.”
Well, did you save the day? It took me three attempts, and I enjoyed each round. So did the players who tested the activity for their culture class.
This branching scenario is a particularly impressive example of what can be done beyond the basic point-and-click course. It’s true that each type of course has its place, but, when the situation calls for something like this option, the experience that can be created is amazing.
Of course, it’s important to remember how much development time such an activity will require. Cathy notes that, once the goals were identified, the plotting and writing of the scenario took about 20-40 hours. The whole design and development, however, took about 340 hours. Still, we shouldn’t let that deter us if a branching scenario is the best way to communicate information. Imagine how much more effective this course is compared to a point-and-click version.
Congratulations to the Great Bay eLearning Charter School’s class of 2010. Since their first graduation ceremony two years ago, the alternative school has granted 83 diplomas. This year’s group is now looking forward to college and had nothing but praise for their experiences with the school.
The Great Bay eLearning Charter School uses a blended approach to education. That means that classroom instructional strategies are mixed with online video conferencing, courseware, and other electronic means to better reach their students. According to their website:
Students will engage in a rich, differentiated program that emphasizes the depth of knowledge needed to solve “real-world” problems. Students who attend The Great Bay eLearning Charter School will find themselves participating in a project-based curriculum [...] Not constrained by the limitations of the traditional comprehensive high school curriculum, teachers at the Great Bay eLearning Charter School are free to facilitate instruction based on student interest, learning and thinking styles, and student developed action plans.
What’s key here is that this approach to learning can accommodate different learning and thinking styles. This means that visual, auditory, and tactile/kinaesthetic learners are on equal ground because they have been taken into consideration at the planning stage. Unlike in a traditional classroom setting, where the instructor is often forced to choose one style of learning, eLearning can present the three different types of instruction throughout a course. This is also true for thinking styles, or multiple intelligences.
As we discover more about how we learn, we need to adjust our approach to teaching. The Great Bay eLearning Charter School should be proud to be one of the early adopters of these methods. Let’s hope that the future is full of students who benefit from this approach and go on to do great things.
A lot of people ask me what I’m reading and how I learn about new topics that interest me. I am fortunate to have time to read a lot and I also like to view courses online from MIT’s OpenCourseware, Academic Earth, and others. These courses have ignited a passion of mine, which is to think about how to harness this approach so students who otherwise wouldn’t have access can experience these great courses and learn from these great teachers. – Bill Gates
There are a few people in the technology field who command attention whenever they speak. One of those people is Bill Gates. So, when Gates shares his love for eLearning, we ought to pay attention.
Since he left his fulltime job at Microsoft, he’s been focused on his charities, feeding the world, and learning—with custom-designed courseware.
What’s particularly interesting about Gates’ reflections is just how widespread online learning is becoming. We’ve already looked at the tipping point for eLearning in this blog, but it’s worth noting again that the early criticisms of computer-based learning have been answered. That’s why computers are filling the classrooms and training is done through simulations and online testing.
Imagine a world in which we all have access to the greatest minds. This vision is possible with today’s technology. With custom-designed courseware, any material can be brought to life. We can all be inspired and motivated to excel and transform ourselves and the world.
In the eLearning industry, we tend to think only about the effectiveness and quality of our courseware for our organizations and clients. There’s another benefit of our easily-accessible work, however, and it’s one that we ought to think about more often. There are many places in the world where classroom education is not just inconvenient, it’s inaccessible. In these regions, many people are now using mobile phones to gain access to education.
Kevin James Moore’s recent article, Mobile phones revolutionizing education in Africa, discusses the many ways in which technology-enhanced learning is helping people gain skills and knowledge in areas such as language, farming, and technology. Because there are few opportunities for people in remote regions to take training, eLearning is even helping to train new teachers. In turn, the people of Africa are feeling more connected to each other and the rest of the world.
Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that eLearning can be more than just an innovative and exciting way of garnering and disseminating information; it can also be a way to contribute to the lifelong-learning process, connect remote regions with the rest of the world, and help those less fortunate.
If you’ve been following the dispute between Apple and Adobe, you already know that Adobe has abandoned its attempts to port Flash applications to the iPhone and iPad. Adobe feels that Apple is tying down developers. Apple is claiming that allowing Flash on its devices would seriously hinder their performance. In this latest battle, it’s been widely reported that Steve Jobs has said Adobe’s software is too slow and outdated to be useful on his company’s iPhone.
This news is particularly bad for the eLearning industry. There isn’t an equivalent to Flash for developing eLearning courseware. In essence, therefore, Apple’s restrictions will make it impossible to use its new iPad as an eLearning platform. Already completed courses won’t run and the industry would have to reinvent itself to work without Flash.
Even if Apple changed its mind about Flash, however, all applications have to be sent to the App Store for approval. Do you want your corporate training to be reviewed by Apple just to use it on a device for which you’ve already paid?
One of the greatest benefits of eLearning is the ability to take a class from virtually anywhere at any time. Let’s hope that the iPad can be used to its full potential soon. Imagine the ease of training when your team members can load up a piece of custom courseware on a device as convenient as the iPad. For the time being, however, it’s still a dream.
Last year, Tony Karrer predicted that 2009 would see the “Virtual Classroom Tipping Point“. This would be the point at which providers of computer-based learning solutions would be able to stop trying to justify their efforts, and proponents of traditional classroom-based instruction would have to start making an argument for its position in education:
… we’ve reached a point where virtual classroom training is no longer seen as inherently inferior and a lower value … 2009 will be the year when we realize that we should be justifying any in-person training.
As early as March of last year, he began to see signs of this shift happening, and the implications are very interesting. What’s important to understand for your training needs, however, is that the prejudice against elearning is disappearing for a reason: the product now exceeds many classroom experiences. Once you see a demonstration of what’s possible with custom courseware, you will no longer have doubts about the efficiency of online training.
It’s difficult to imagine how crude Michelangelo’s tools might seem to a modern-day sculptor. Or, if not his, certainly Praxiteles’ workshop. Nevertheless, these artists managed to create great works of art. As the old saying goes “it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools”.
Over at www.articulate.com, Tom Kuhlmann has done a good job explaining the advantages and disadvantages of using different programs to create computer-based courses. One of the great advantages of PowerPoint-to-Flash over form-based publishing is the freedom to design unique structure and interactivity. He notes that
[m]ost PowerPoint criticism is misguided. It’s not hard to find critics of PowerPoint because it’s an easy target. Who hasn’t had to sit through boring PowerPoint presentations? Unfortunately, much of the criticism is off target because bad content is the result of poor design and not the application you use.
Ultimately, as Kuhlmann points out, it’s not about which program you use to design your courses. What really matters is creativity, solid instructional design, and genuine care. Not every design team can deliver a David or Hermes, but it’s not their tools that prevent them.
Understandably, potential clients are concerned with the value of eLearning options. It’s easy to explain how increased access, convenience for the learner, and competency assurance can be achieved with less investment and reduced overall training time than traditional classroom learning. This standard list of benefits, however, often leaves out something those new to eLearning might be surprised to learn: attitude.
This point was touched on in a recent post at Training News E-Learning News:
Training can also become a means of altering behavior, not in a punitive way but so that gaps in organizational performance can be closed. Common to this thread is the findings of an audit, financial or for certification. On occasion, findings require corrective action and if that affects a relatively large number of employees, training is often the solution to meeting the requirements.
Too often, computer-based learning is thought to be limited to knowledge or skill communication. While these objectives are certainly important, when a potential client is interested in the return on investment, don’t forget about the importance of acquiring the right attitude through eLearning; a company’s culture depends on it.