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Reflection on a decade of e-learning


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Having not taken stock for a while it was refreshing and re-assuring to consider the Open University postgraduate modules that I have taken, though it has taken this long to understand the meaning of a module that is approaching its final ‘presentation’. In some cases a better word for this might be ‘sell by date’ especially with a subject such as ‘e-learning’ as at least three of those listed below were on their final or penultimate presentation and it mattererd – ‘H817:Innovations in e-learning’ wasn’t particularly innovative for someone who had worked in the creation of interactive and online learning. I’m used to and value the amount of background theory, but I still feel that in these ‘H’ modules that form the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) is considerably biased towards learning in formal secondary and tertiary education, rather than applied L&D in business which interested me most – indeed I know of two people across these courses who quit early on because they were working in a learning creation position in business and felt the modules were not suitably applied. B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change was the exception as however dated some of the content (video content shot in the mid 1990s that included companies that had long since gone out of business and innovations such as laptops the size of a small trunk with a carrier bag of cables) the activities and theory in relation to innovation were timeless – it was also an MBA module. Any of us who have taken part in or hosted learning in an organisation involving games of some kind would have found B822 familiar – much of it also touched on the kind of creativity used in advertising, marketing, PR, events and communications.

H804: Implementing Online, Open and Distance Learning (2001)
H807: Innovations in Elearning (2010)
H808: The Elearning professional (2010)
H800: Technology enhanced learning: practices and debates (2011)
B822: Creativity, Innovations and Change (2011)
H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students (2012)
H809: Practice-based research in educational technology (2013)

I’m continuing with these modules to demonstrate that the standard I am now able to achieve is sustainable so that working in academia, even studying for a PhD is viable. ‘H819:The Networked Practitioner’ is a new module. Reading through the course notes and first units (it came online today and goes live next week) I can see the care, clarity and thought that has gone into it, as well as the substantial use of a variety of online learning  tools for ‘connected’ or ‘networked’ learning … what some might call ‘social learning’ but here has more structure to it that that (parameters, goals, set tools etc:). It is tailored, every step of the way, to the production of a conference piece – there is considerable latitude here, but what is meant that you have a presentation that may be given in a variety of formats featuring a choice of core themes develop through the module but set in your ‘world’ or field of interest or expertise.

A teacher is taught to teach something in class, not simply to teach.

I  feel that I have learnt over the last three years how to teach online, but I haven’t developed a subject specialism, prefering to date to behave as if I were in an e-learning agency serving the needs of many, disperate clients. For this module, and potentially for one or two beyond, I hope to develop and demonstrate how the history of the First World War can be taught using e-learning – apt as we approach its centenary. In parallel I will be taking a Masters in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is also a part-time course, and ostensibly ‘distance learning’ – though in this instance the distance component is handled by my driving to Edgbaston once a month for a day of intensive face to face seminars and tutorials. This in itself will make for a fascinating constrast with the 100% online experience of the Open University.

In the back of my mind, whatever the subject, my interest is in how to address the global problem of there being 123 million people who want to study at university, but only 5 million places. Even if every university modelled itself on the Open University there would still be a massive shortfall – the answer must be in Open Learning that is supported, possibly by a huge cohort of volunteer alumni, as well as qualifying participants as they accumulate credits. Somewhere in here there may be a question for me to address with doctoral research.

It’s disengenious of me to say that I’ve been studying online for a decade.

I did a module in 2001 but did no further online learning in the subsequent decade – though I did qualify as a swimming teacher and coach! The reason for thinking about a decade as a period of time in which to study is that some would say it takes this long to become an expert. This comes from a piece of research carried out at the Berlin Conservatoire in relation to muscians and the years of training and practice they need to put in to get them to the concert hall as a soloist. Actually it wasn’t years so much as tens of thousands of hours required – 40,000 I think it was with kids introdcued to the instrument early and pushed by parents and institutions getting the furthest youngest. Martin Weller, Professor of e-learning, suggests that a decade is still the time scale in which someone might be deemed a ‘digital scholar’. John Seely Brown, who has applied learning and e-learning to business in the US, notably at Xerox’s famous research institute, suggested earlier this year that scholarship or expertise of the kind we are talking about may be achieved in five years because online learning can speed things up. People do take two degrees in tandem if they study online. Is there a fast track to a PhD? My perspective as a parent with teenagers is that they could begin a part-time online degree in their A’ Level year and graduate at the same time as getting their A’ level results or the year after.

 

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