Technology in E-Learning
A couple of months ago I registered for a webinar on Web 2.0 in E-Learning. It was hosted by the ASTD, the American society for training and development with two guest speakers from restructured universities.
The day of the event I signed in and waited for the webinar to begin; although it all played out differently than anyone had expected. Initially the audience was not able to understand the organizers of the webinar: There was way too much static. After ten minutes of configuration on the ASTD side, the problem had been resolved, the hosts apologized for the inconvenience and we were assured that the system had been tested the night before and everything used to work. Once the guest speakers were introduced and control was handed over to the first presenter, the same problem manifested itself all over again: The audience was not able to understand a single word and was determined to postpone the session. Around 40 people had just wasted half an hour of their valuable time.
Whose fault was it? Well, it's easy to point fingers and say it is the organizers fault; after all they were in charge of the system. I do not concur with this. I feel that if people at the American Society for Training and Development and two well-known professors with tremendous knowledge in distance education are not able to use E-Learning software successfully, who can? In my opinion the culprit is the organization that developed the webinar system, as they were clearly not able to create a solution that is simple to use.
Interestingly enough I find this to be a common theme, especially in E-Learning: Why does it seem that E-Learning is all about the 'E' and not about the 'Learning'? Why do people tend to talk about the technologies that use to deliver their learning content rather than the content itself? In my opinion the only individuals that should be concerned about the 'E' are the 'E'ngineers of the system and possibly the CIO of the organization that uses the solution. Everyone else should be interested in 'Learning' only and just use it.
We are helping organizations to make the right decisions when choosing E-Learning systems; This includes the design of custom software solutions. The one thing I would recommend to anyone when deciding on an E-Learning system is to choose a solution that focuses on one aspect: Simplicity.
Choose simplicity over features. Let's say you want to foster communication and collaboration among your students in a virtual classroom setting: Without there is a strong requirement for having something like multi-cast videoconferencing (every student sends their video and audio at the same time), a simple text based forum with upload capabilities for files, may do just as fine: Every student knows instantly how to use it. The focus is on the content that is being produced rather than the configuration of peripheral devices. This may actually provide your students with a rich learning experience and not just the usage of rich technologies only. Does that mean videoconferencing is a technology that should not be used in E-Learning? Not at all, but only use it when it provides your students with a superior learning experience. The same goes for devices such as mobile phones or tablets including the iPad.
Once you have identified the technical feature set for your E-Learning solution, make sure that it can be used easily as this will affect the learning and teaching experience tremendously. Without a doubt, there is a learning curve for any new system, but in my opinion your audience should be able to work with it without the need of reading any documentation. My suggestion: Choose individuals that have little experience with E-Learning systems and let them go through the student as well as the instructor flow. This will highlight the range of issues the users of your system may face later on.
I truly believe that the E-Learning experience can be as good as any 'real' classroom experience. We just have to ensure that whatever technologies we use, will promote the content only and not the technology itself.