eElearning: a buzzword to some, an inconvenience for others, and the imminent future for instructional designers. But what is it? What do we mean by “eLearning”?
I define eLearning as a set of online resources that facilitate an environment conducive to learning and exploration, where learners can interact with each other, with instructors, and with content in flexible, yet meaningful ways. Simplified, it is a shift to online content delivery and real-time, formative evaluation (the learner regularly measuring and evaluating their own conceptual understanding).
We could spend hours discussing the ins and outs of eLearning, but let’s take some time to focus on some common myths about eLearning.
eLearning is NOT:
1. Simply providing content
This is called a textbook. eLearning is a framework that seeks to turn that textbook into a meaningful learning experience. How can we present information in ways that encourage students to think critically and apply their newfound knowledge to real-world scenarios? Just presenting content on a screen without any interactivity is an invitation for the learner to zone out, or worse, try to memorize mountains of information without any significant context.
eLearning lives on the Web, which is ever changing. Knowledge is also ever changing. Thus, eLearning content must evolve along with new learning trends and new subject matter that is being discovered every day. A static eLearning module not only presents outdated, possibly incorrect information, but risks becoming stale. Staleness and outdated material are definite precursor to an ineffective learning environment.
3. Impersonal or solitary
eLearning can (and in many cases should) include personal touches or synchronous activity. There is a preconception amongst learners that online materials are designed in a way that allows them to sit back, relax, and peruse content on their own time. As learning professionals, we know that collaboration and peer:peer brainstorming are highly effective learning practices that encourage the construction of contextual understanding. Just because the learning is taking place online does not mean we should design a solitary learning environment.
One way to encourage collaboration is to include Communities of Practice (CoP) into your course design. A CoP is a group of people sharing an interest or profession that work together to gain knowledge and share experiences. In a teaching environment, this is an invaluable tool in providing students the resources necessary to learn through the sharing of contextual experiences.
The Internet is the greatest encyclopedia the world has ever known. Restricting learners to a standalone module is essentially ignoring a powerful potential resource. I like to think of eLearning not as a complete learning object that I build from scratch, but as a guide for learning. I want to provide the scaffolding necessary for the learner to make discoveries, and build connections between those discoveries and their previous knowledge and experiences (you might recognize this as a simplification of Connectivism).
5. Sending someone to Wikipedia
With that being said, eLearning is also not just throwing learners into the fire to go find and study the information at hand. It should be a carefully designed experience that guides learners through the learning process. Remember, we are still teachers, and although we may not always be face to face with our students, we are still responsible for guiding and mentoring them in meaningful ways.
I’ve discussed what I believe is the antithesis of eLearning. In future posts, the bloggers here at Designed:2:Learn will focus on many examples of what effective eLearning is and what it looks like. From scenario-based online interactions and simulations to flipped classrooms and digital storytelling, there are a myriad of opportunities to infuse engaging and effective eLearning experiences into your learning environment.
What are some of your favorite myths about eLearning? Let us know in the comments below!