Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘e-learning

I had a delayed reaction to Sir Ken Robinson’s keynote last Friday’s at the BETT 2015 conference. It was sparked by something I read when I returned home.

Video source

SKR shared this video of technology being used to enable the physically disabled to create art. It was a wonderful example of combining technology-enabled creativity which was a theme of SKR’s keynote.

But I wonder about an unintended message that this example sends: That technology is used for the extreme or the exceptional instead of the everyday. The fact that SKR wondered how “social” social media was underlined that point.

We do not need both those messages to be broadcast. They are already prominent and do not add much value or change to education.


My reflection was prompted by a notification from my son’s school about their e-learning portal (excerpt above). One of the lines in the letter was “The e-learning portal has been enhanced with commercially produced simulated lessons and worksheets…” [emphasis mine].

The language is telling. The lessons are simulated. Does that imply that they are not as real or as good? Why was there a need to reassure parents that real lessons happened in classrooms?

The letter also mentioned the two purposes of e-learning: 1) promoting independent learning, and 2) emergency learning (“should there by a national crisis resulting in school closure, pupils will have access to online assignments”).

How are students learning independently if they have to wait for teachers to tell them to do online homework? Are they not already learning independently by watching YouTube videos whether their teachers and parents are aware or not?

Why is the “e” in e-learning still associated with emergency or extra?

I will tell you why. Very few people challenge the conventions that in integration of educational technology must be special. Not many thought leaders take advantage of the stages they are put on to push those buttons hard.

This is not a slight on SKR’s talk. I enjoyed it immensely. But he pushes the let-our-children-create-and-be-creative agenda. He was not the person to illustrate how to do this with technology transparently.

The technology does not have to be on a grand scale like the one in the video. It does not have to simulate lessons. It is already in the hands of learners even as they walk around with heads bowed while doing the Blackberry prayer.

Most people cannot look beyond the surface and creatively take advantage of the wonderfully ordinary. I would like to show them how.

A talented Singapore teacher and ICT mentor, Raynard Heah aka @teacheah, has created videos on e-learning for teachers in his school.

I was privileged to be part of his latest installment.

In the video below, Raynard asked three of his colleagues and me three questions:

  1. What is e-learning?
  2. What are some common mistakes teachers make when implementing e-learning?
  3. How might teachers get a good start on e-learning?

Video source

That said, I do not like watching myself on video. But I can learn by looking for what not to do next time.

Like how I should keep my hands from flapping around so much. Maybe I can attach lead weights to my arms and hide them under my sleeves.

Or how I could have been more animated. (Feeling tired right before the shoot was no excuse as I could have given myself a shot of caffeine or something.)

If I am passionate about something, it should be more obvious. I gave honest answers to the questions but they might have sounded tired.

On hindsight, there is one other non-example I should have given about e-learning. The “e” in e-learning should not be thought of as emergency or extra.

That mindset relegates the activities to something you pull out of a hat when the school has to close due to something like SARS or reduces it to an afterthought.

That mindset makes the design of e-learning hurried, its implementation curried (too hot to handle), and its evaluation buried!

Ever so often I am asked what “e-learning” means.

I tell people three things:

  • You can look it up online
  • It means different things to different people
  • It is easier to tell you what e-learning is NOT

E-learning is not e-doing or e-teaching.

It is not the creation of busy work for students to do during artificially created e-learning days or weeks. The “e” does not stand for emergency or extra.

E-learning does not exclude a blending with face-to-face instruction or learning.

E-learning should not be an attempt to recreate the same kind of teaching you could do face-to-face. After all, if learners will not put up with hour-long lectures, why should they bother when they are in the comfort of their rooms, beds, or even toilets?

E-learning is just learning. With resources that are online and readily available. The resources may also be curated or created, not just by the teacher but especially by the learner.

Don’t believe my definition of e-learning?

See bullet point 1 and 2. Look it up. Discuss. Then see what you learn without me trying to teach you.

In a Straits Times article, a Year 1 junior college student complained about the downside of e-learning.

At the risk of beating an old horse to death, I’ll say this: What the student described is e-doing, not e-learning.

This is teach less learn more gone wrong. It is teach less, do more, learn nothing, give e-learning a bad name.

How do we solve this problem? Take away the e-doing and the attempts at e-teaching and focus on the learning instead. It is not WHAT to learn but HOW to learn that matters in e-learning.

Another way to deal with the problem is to integrate e-learning into everyday learning. This could mean designing blended forms of learning, avoiding dedicated e-doing days or weeks, and incorporating or taking advantage of informal opportunities for learning.

Collectively, these actions require a rethink and redesign of e-based learning so that it is seamless when viewed against other forms of learning. Given the right circumstances, this relook could serve as a catalyst for redoing the rest of the curriculum.


I could probably look at John Connell’s revised slides on “Good eLearning and Bad eLearning” and pick up something a bit different every day.

For example, there were lots of quotable quotes, mostly by famous people, but my favourite was probably the simplest one in slide 63: Young people across the world today are possibly less bound by received wisdom than any generation in history. It reflects how connected the world is today and begs the question of how education must change.

My favourite slide is also the one that hints at the changes (slide 75):

What should education look like?

  • A place where learning is the focus rather than teaching
  • A place where faculty and learners learn together
  • A place for social learning (and solitary learning!)
  • An entry-point for collaborative learning
  • An immersive environment stretching far beyond the campus walls
  • An open-learning environment built on negotiation and mutual respect
  • An extended community resource

I also like the creepy treehouse syndrome as described in slides 77-79. This is when a professor requires his/her students to follow him/her on Facebook or Twitter. I do not make my student teachers friend or follow me. I just let them know that I have a treehouse, creepy or otherwise, that they are free to visit.

But if you want a few answers to what good e-learning is, you have to read the summary at slide 90:

Good e-learning:

  • is built on careful consideration of the purpose of the learning
  • recognizes the changing relationships between teacher and learner, and between learner and information
  • avoids the worst features of creepy treehouse syndrome
  • recognises the cultural, ideological and political impact of education
  • permits the learner genuine and increasing autonomy in their learning as they grow and learn
  • enables learners to nurture rich, heterogenous personal learning networks
  • makes room for conviviality in learning

That is a tall order. No wonder we have a fair bit of bad e-learning, a lot of e-doing and not so much e-learning!

Just what exactly constitute new media? The author of this article has a list.

But given the rate at which Web technologies develop, I wouldn’t label them new. Current maybe. Early millenial media perhaps. But not new.

Nonetheless, the ideas there for implementing e-learning are a good start!

We recently concluded two separate weeks of e-learning for the ICT course. My trainees did some case-based learning with this resource.

I created some comics with the help of to make the cases a bit less dry.

Last week, I did a follow up on e-learning with my classes and mentioned a few things.

1. Not for emergencies
The “e” in e-learning is not for “emergency”.

Many schools here resorted to e-learning in the aftermath of the A(H1N1) outbreak. However, this reinforces that e-learning is only good for emergencies or should be called upon only as a last resort. It is not. It is a valid and valuable form of learning if it is well-designed, managed and implemented.

Face-to-face (F2F) learning requires all learners to be ready to learn at a certain time in a certain place. This is not realistic. E-learning allows participants to learn when they are ready.

Vocal or proactive learners tend to dominate F2F session. E-learning levels the playing field as both proactive and reflective learners can express themselves over time.

2. Not graded
Teachers often resort to grading e-learning as an incentive. This reinforces the unhealthy practice of relying on external rewards. As a result, students might then e-do rather than e-learn.

Our e-learning activity was not graded. Instead, the concepts gleaned from it could be incorporated into a key assignment which is due soon.

While this does not remove the extrinsic motivation altogether, it does allow the learner to decide how and when they want to learn the content. They can take advantage of some focused self-directed and collaborative online learning during e-learning week or they can learn some other time and some other way.

3. Peripheral vs critical
We could have used low-stakes, peripheral content as online material. Instead, we included cyberwellness and ICT implementation issues, two complex and critical concepts, as exploratory material.

This takes a lot of trust. Trust that our teacher trainees will take the responsibility to process the case and reprocess it by suggesting alternatives and soliciting ideas from their peers.

4. Blogs vs discussion forums
I opted to get my trainees to use their group blogs rather than rely on discussion forums. Why? They had already signed up for them and were using them for reflections. They had customized their blogs and I wanted to take advantage of this ownership.

If I had used discussion forums in our LMS, then my trainees would not learn how to set one up on their own. A threaded forum with one thread per topic might make sense to me, but not to them. With their own blogs, they were free to coordinate when to post and respond, and they could monitor their own “threads”. In effect, they could negotiate, establish and manage learning systems that made the most sense to them.

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: