Monday, October 31, 2005

Researching e-learning 2.0

Next week, it falls to me to present to a group of fellow learning designers on the subject of e-Learning 2.0.

I tried to get a rounded view by making use of several sources. I started with Stephen Downes because, well, that's where one does start on these matters. Trouble is, Stephen is the megabrain's megabrain and a lot of what he says leaves me goldfish-faced, and convinced of my inadequacy! So I toddled off to a few alternative sources in the interests of balance. Sadly, most of them had precious little new to say and simply referenced Stephen Downes fore and aft.

Stephen's own article on the matter in eLearn magazine: references several sources which have informed his views and findings on the subject. Several of these proved surprisingly useful or interesting - and occasionally both. Some of them served to crystallise my understanding of the context of the material, but will not be covered during my presentation in the interests of brevity. Here they are:

I have also found that "Googling" the following names returned some valuable material - some of them involved a bit of needle-in-the-haystack determination, but it was usually worth it:

  • Jay Cross
  • George Siemens
  • Etienne Wenger
  • Mark Weiser

Sunday, October 23, 2005


For me, this is a comparitively new arena. I have not yet tried to make my own podcasts, but I have recently downloaded ipodder ( from the Masie Centre onto my system and have started subscribing to podcasts all over the place.

The quality of the podcasts varies enormously in terms of sound, content and presentation. It's pretty much like going to a presentation by a speaker - great content can be poorly presented (and vice versa) and great content and great presenters can fall prey to technology. I am particularly impressed with the Masie Centre, as well as Bob Sprankle's Bit by Bit ( Several churches have also embraced this technology as a means of making their sermons widely available, and some of them are leading the way (so to speak!), is an excellent example.

Perhaps I will soon pluck up the courage to create my own. This is a great way to bring online learning to life and it opens up opportunities for people with sight-related disabilities - so much more engaging than a screen reader!

Friday, October 21, 2005

A rant about learning in the digital age...

George Siemens published an article called Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age in elearnspace. I have to confess that I paid it scant attention until Stephen Downes referenced it in his article on eLearning 2.0.
I have always looked on learning theories as being reactions to the "original" three: behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. However, Siemens makes a valid point: learners have a different attitude and different requirements nowadays. They also have a greater measure of control.

Certainly in my grandparents' day, the learner was a recipient of knowledge which was dispensed according to the wisdom (or otherwise) of the teacher. Things had changed a little (but not much) by the time I went to school, but between my school days and those of my children, we have seen the advent of eLearning, technology-based games, mobile phones, iPods. I simply have to watch my sons with the remote control for the telly - every ad break results in a channel switch. They often watch two programmes simultaneously, see-sawing between them every few minutes or so. It drives me nuts, but it's how they do things these days. When we're watching one of "my" prgrammes, I have to confiscate the remote to put myself in the driver's seat, so that I can make my linear little journey from the start of the programme to the end without deviation, hesitation or repetition (heaven help me when we finally break down and get digital!).

Things are that much more immediate now. My kids are not interested in seeing something unfold - serialisation leaves them cold. Sound-bites are what they want. Cut to the chase. Give me the gist. Dice it and distil it and give me the bottom line. Whether we like it or not, this is reality. Trying to foist the behaviourist teaching of my grandmother's day onto my kids is going to fail. Teaching has to meet the needs of the learner as he/she is, not as he/she "should be" according to who-knows-which self-important authority.(Note: the he/she thing is clumsy and I refuse to use "they" since it's ungrammatical, so, because my children are male, I'm going to settle for he - but it's meant generically in the same way that "mankind" includes both genders)

The learner now has the tools to drive the learning process. Learning materials have to compete with everything else for his attention.

Have you ever wondered why ADD is so fashionable these days? Someone has to explain why kids can't focus on dull-as-dishwater activities for longer than a few minutes. It has to be something we can classify as a disorder so we can put the onus on the parents to feed kids on a special diet or, even better, so that we can drug them into submission.

One of my sons was diagnosed with ADD at the age of 5. Aghast, I read everything I could find on the subject and drank it all in. In the intervening years I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the child's attention span. He is capable of playing drawn out games of chess, of reading tomes that would scare most adults, of watching 3 hour movies without even so much as a "bathroom break". Attention deficit, my eye! When he is engaged, this child has the attention-tenacity of a bull terrier. This is the new generation, and teachers simply have to learn how to keep these kids engaged. The methods that worked with my grandfather (who would be caned for stepping out of line) just are not going to work in this day and age where the teacher has been largely disempowered and the learner holds all the cards.

And enough time has passed that this generation is now a growing part of the workforce. As learning professionals, we have to address their needs. A customer who has received poor service chooses not to spend any more money in that store. The learner who is not engaged will simply seek an alternative provider... and there are a lot of them out there!

Learning materials need to be broken down into discrete units that can be threaded together by the learner to build towards the learning objectives of his choice. "Truth" changes so fast these days, that it must be possible for sections of material to be updated in an ad hoc fashion - much like changing a tyre (or several tyres) on a car without needing to replace or even retune the whole car.

Perhaps some post-apocalyptical day, learning will revert to the way it was in my grandparents' day, but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, we have to be governed by the same rules that hold sway in the high street - find out what the client wants and supply it!

Okay, I'll put my soapbox back under the desk now!

E-learning 2.0

An extract from an article in the eLearn magazine by Stephen Downes (National Research Council of Canada):
"The breaking down of barriers has led to many of the movements and issues we see on today's Internet. File-sharing, for example, evolves not of a sudden criminality among today's youth but rather in their pervasive belief that information is something meant to be shared. This belief is manifest in such things as free and open-source software, Creative Commons licenses for content, and open access to scholarly and other works. Sharing content is not considered unethical; indeed, the hoarding of content is viewed as antisocial. And open content is viewed not merely as nice to have but essential for the creation of the sort of learning network described by Siemens."

The whole article can be found at
It makes for thought-provoking reading!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Distance learning blues

I am trying desperately to formalise my knowledge of instructional design by getting a degree from a distance learning organisation. Many offer master's degrees in education and related matters, but none appear to offer equivalent bachelor's/graduate degrees. However, all require you to have at least a bachelor's degree to your name before you enrol. How is one supposed to obtain the entrance requirements if they're not on offer anywhere? How do you spell ngngngngngngng?