Thursday, June 23, 2011

E-Learning Challenges of Old and the Way Forward

The evolution of e-learning was a big change for both learners and educators. It caught the fancy of people across the board, although, initially, e-learning was a bigger hit in the corporate training world. K-12 was slow to adopt it but has caught up since. In higher education too, there was a resistance in the beginning. Things are changing though. Almost 100 percent of universities have a Web presence, conducting some or most part of its business online.  Some recent trends show there is an overwhelming demand for e-learning in schools from students, parents and educators alike. Not to be left behind, the governments across the world are focused on the initiative. So despite untimely obituaries of e-learning that continue to be written in some quarters, it continues to grow. However, the inherent problems and changing socio-technological environment have taken some sheen off it.  

Despite the fact that it is still growing, e-learning of 2011 and beyond is not and will not be the same as e-learning of the 1990s. If static courses with an overload of multimedia elements dominated most of the ‘90s, the trend now is clearly towards collaboration with social networking tools, telephony and various kinds of computing devices coming together in a way that the world had never experienced before.
In between, there was a time when the Learning Management System (LMS) reigned supreme. However, a sizable majority of LMS buyers have shown dissatisfaction with the mammoth applications they bought and fault the LMS with lack of alignment with the business needs and seamless integration. LMS providers went into overdrive to add collaborative features as open source technologies helped free LMSs enter the scene, which were lighter and easier to use. Jury is still out if this has worked and whether or not LMS players will regain the status they once enjoyed.
The trend of social computing and related technologies poses yet another challenge to formal “course”-driven e-learning. The heavy focus on treating content with unwanted multimedia decoration has often proved detrimental to learning. For example, simple features of an application were better left mentioned on the plain real estate of a screen rather than visualizing each bullet point as a conceptual graphic only because you could have graphical representations.  
Similarly, in the quest of making courses interactive, people tried complex animations to teach simple subject matter. Pre-assessments, post-assessments and practices were built in abundance in a course without really exploring if we could make learners aware of a few things without having to profusely test them on those things.
Thus, the necessity to have a good computer/Web-based “course” led to an overdose of multimedia elements and superfluous instructional design thrust. 

Practitioners of e-learning need to seriously analyze their own space and changing technology around them where new-age publishing, the ability to curate, and collaboration offer a completely fresh set of paradigms to work with. The fixation with “course” is no longer tenable. This new approach should also be in “sync” with a completely different set of communication tools the new generation is growing up with.
New technologies allow people to work with content in a variety of unrestricted ways.  You can blog, use wiki, insert audio and video, and hyperlink. Learners, educators and experts can collaborate and dynamically structure and curate content in a single searchable environment. People looking for a certain type of content will always reach a structured body of evolving content from known sources. The cycle goes on, achieving the goal of learning as a continuous process.

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