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In the last few weeks I have been asked 3 times by different people what do I regard as the most important aspect of successful elearning. This is quite surprising as people dont talk to me that frequently about elearning, so maybe there’s a bit of a trend or bandwagon developing somewhere. I’m sorry to say that in each of the 3 cases, I was unable to give a succinct, or glib, response (which is also somewhat unusual). In each case, I said I’d go away, think about it and get back to them later.
This post is a consequence of my thinking about it. I have thought about it and drawn from my own observations as to what makes a successful elearning session. It has not been easy to narrow it down to identifying just one aspect that seems to be key to good elearning. However, when I reflect back on those times when I feel I have observed the best examples of online learning, there does seem to be one point of commonality among them. So what I’d like to do is to take this and present it as my suggestion for a ‘golden key to successful elearning.’
If you are a teacher or a designer of elearning courses, my golden rule for you is to ask yourself; “What am I asking the learners to do?”
There are so many elearning courses in which the learner merely sits in front of a computer screen reading text or listening to a teacher’s voice.
Let me put this into perspective. If you were a school inspector or a head teacher observing an hour long lesson in which the class teacher stood at the front talking and writing on a board while all the learners do is sit, watch and maybe copy what is written on the board; you would probably mark down that lesson or that teacher as being poor.
So why is it that something that is not acceptable in a real classroom should somehow become acceptable online?
Quite simply, it isn’t. Or, should I say, that I don’t think it is for the best examples of elearning that I have observed have been when the teacher has required the learners to engage in some activity rather than being passive recipients.
I’m obviously looking at this from the perspective of a school teacher and we need to be aware that elearning is very much more in use within higher education and in industry training. What might work for school students might not necessarily work with Higher students or adults in industry. Nevertheless, if made relevant and appropriate to them, I feel that learners at all levels would become more engaged if involved in learning activities rather than passively sitting on their backsides.
Now, before online teachers and instructional designers start ganging up on me, I do have some sympathy with you. I am aware that many systems chosen to deliver elearning do not provide learners with the tools or facilities to become engaged in activities we’d like to use. I have also discovered when attending the Learning Technologies show in London that there can be a huge chasm between what is envisioned for elearning in the conference and what is being marketed as elearning in the sales exhibition. It is quite evident that what is being offered to us to support elearning seems light years away from what we want to deliver.
On the other hand, I have seen teachers use the tools that are available in new and imaginative ways to engage and present to their learners. So maybe, the first point is for teachersd and designers to use the tools, or get the learners to use the tools, which are available.
Surely, though, the time has come when we cannot allow a program to restrict and define the learning opportunities we offer to our learners. If a package cannot deliver the learning activities we want to offer, then we must consider rejecting that package and either look to other packages and systems or consider breaking away from proprietary delivery systems and make more use of individual specialised online tools which are better able to allow learners to participate in ways that promote active learning.
So, there you are, maybe I’ve ranted on a bit too much but I do believe that when delivering or designing elearning courses, it is really important to consider what you are asking the learner to do. Come to think of it, that is probably very important in all lesson planning, not just online.