Learning Online? Are we evolving?

At Eduardo’s urging, I am making my return back into blogging life in Design for Learning. It’s been a while because I’ve been terribly busy learning from both successes and failures in some my current and recent endeavors. Right now we’re evaluating two learning management systems and executing a usability test and pilot on both. The whole process has forced me to rethink and reconsider the effect of online technology on learning behavior.

George Siemens asks the question “How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?” Learning online illustrates how learning is not linear: when we start learning about a subject online we often start with a search. The search may lead us down to many paths, so our journey is not linear. Online learning environments enhanced with features such as video sharing, social networks, mash-ups, podcasts, blogs and wikis offer a more engaging opportunities for learning and constructing projects for learning, but how do we evolve past our industrial factory influenced model of learning where learning is teacher-centric and control focused. How do we move into a more constructivist model where learning is peer and student centric and teachers work more as guides and mentors to learning rather than lecturers and test administrators? I have many questions, and I fear that the won’t be answered if we aren’t careful about changing our way of thinking about education and make that ‘paradigm shift.’ (ugh… to quote the 90’s biz-speak).

  • Do we have to re-evaluate our process for grading and testing? Should we attach points to everything to make people accountable for doing them or do we need to grade based on finished projects that require students to review all materials and practice using learning activities?
  • How will we motivate students (by punishing them with failing grades)?
  • Who is poised to be successful in this new environment? Those who follow rules by the letter or those who think for themselves and can think fast/creatively?
  • How do we encourage everyone to flourish in this environment?
  • How do we make the transition to this type of learning environment easier on instructors and teachers? Do we need to carefully think out our change management process beginning with a strong vision of what we want our learning environment to be like? Do we need to set a mission with solid goals for achieving this vision?

I knew that moving to a different LMS would be difficult, but I almost that in making this shift we are altering our direction in how we approach online/distance learning. These changes will greatly impact everyone involved, administrators, designers, teachers, and students. In order to help people move as smoothly as possible into the change we need to address a plan for change for each of these groups. Training can be involved, but, as I’ve learned from the past, it shouldn’t be the panacea for implementing change. All parties need to be aware of the change and how it will impact them. Also, if the change requires and affective shift or change in attitude or viewpoint, this must be managed effectively as well, but open discussion and clear communication of goals and requirements of all involved.

It’s not going to be easy, but still it’s a great opportunity for learning.

On another note… in the same article I linked to above, Siemens poses a number of questions that have really made me think. These questions address many of the challenges in adopting online learning that I’ve felt or seen so far:

  • How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?
  • What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).
  • How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?
  • How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?
  • What is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning?
  • What is the impact of chaos as a complex pattern recognition process on learning?
  • With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?

If I have the time I want to take most of these questions into consideration in this blog. These questions would be great for an online forum discussion amongst online educators. I think in answering the questions the point is not to end up with a concrete solution but to flesh out or brainstorm possibilities at first.

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