Once again, I am aloft, this time flying from Scotland back to San Francisco after spending a couple of days pondering the future of eLearning.

I’ve been talking about how time is speeding up for the past few days and this morning I experienced it. I’d turned in quite late. I awoke to my wake-up call at 5:00 am. Then I rolled over to catch a few more winks before getting out of bed. I took a look at my watch and was horrified to see that it was 6:20 am. At 6:30, I was in an Austin taxi hurtling to the airport. Luckily, Edinburgh airport is small. I made my 7:25 flight with time to spare.

The second eLearnInternational Conference kicked off the morning of February 18th at the Edinburgh Conference and Exhibition Center. A BBC journalist introduced the event and The “Edinburgh Scenarios,” four alternative visions of eLearning ten years hence, that would be a springboard to our thinking for our discussions over the next two days.

Scottish Enterprise, which convened the event and would like to see Scotland become an eLearning powerhouse, unintentionally provided a delightful contrast of old and new with the first two speakers.

First up, a professor of moral philosophy from the University of Aberdeen demonstrated why the traditional academic model must change or die. Legitimizing his authority by noting his chair at the University had existed for 510 years, he lectured us through a series of questions that insulted our intelligence. Had we considered the anticipated outcome of this eLearning business? What is the purpose of it all? Mustn’t it be useful or valuable? Can one really expect to receive a quality learning experience via computer? After all, his own attempts to put his material into a learning management system had failed. Did we appreciate that learning is more than serving up content? Finally, some things, for example the ATM and the cell phone, don’t require any training. This erudite fellow was talking through his hat, so wedded to the way things were done on campus that he could only see eLearning as an inferior version of the real stuff that had stood the test of time. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I asked the professor a few questions. eLearning is not all or nothing. Shouldn’t we look at how technology can improve the traditional, no-tech solution? In that not every learn can come to the campus, wasn’t eLearning better than nothing? And did he really think that designers of eLearning were unaware of constructivism and that learning is a process? My questions rambled because I found fault with nearly everything this scholar had told us, and it was hard to know where to begin. I never got around to banks weaning customers from human tellers by training them to use ATMs. The prof must have a simpler cell phone than I; I have yet to learn how to use most of my phone’s features.

Remember the scene in the Woody Allen film where a pompous Columbia professor is trying to impress his date with his interpretation of the work of Marshal McLuhan? From behind a poster, Woody pulls out Marshal McLuhan himself, who tells the professor, “You know nothing of my work….”

Don Clark, CEO of the largest eLearning firm in the U.K., provided just such a moment with his common-sense, crystal-clear description of the future of learning. If we lived in a world with no schools, what would we build in their place? Would we rebuild rural, medieval colleges? Don showed photographs of his twin boys learning. These “digital natives” are autonomous learners. They learn from the Internet. Drawing on frameworks obtained from computer games, they ask their father about military strategy. Imagine, ten-year olds talking strategy. The twins do not have the patience to abide with the stand-and-talk model of teaching. Lecture is such an ineffective medium for learning.

Don Clark

What is a university, anyway? The Internet offers more information resources than any university library. The faculty comes and goes. The students are booted out when their time is up. What remains? In this age of digital abundance, the university is no more than a brand.

Learning has been a form of punishment, and it’s time to end schooling’s two thousand years of slavery. Huzzah! That gave us plenty to talk about amongst ourselves during the ensuing coffee break. Most people went easier on the professor than I. No one appeared to disagree with Don.

The next activity was three concurrent sessions, one for corporations, another for government, and one for NGOs. I attended the corporate session led by Martyn Sloman. Martyn directs learning research for CIPD, the U.K. equivalent of ASTD.

Martyn explained that training and learning are different things. Training is an activity you do to people in hopes that they will learn. Learning is a much broader activity performed by learners themselves. Most learning is informal. For example, you learn how to fiddle your expenses without benefit of taking a course on the subject.

PowerPoint. How many in the audience use PowerPoint at least once a month? (Most of us.) How many learned it by attending a course? (1 person) How many learned via eLearning? (2) How many learned through trial and error and/or asking people for help? (45) This is a typical finding.

Links from Martyn:


Posted by Jay Cross at February 20, 2004 10:14 PM | TrackBack

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