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The Online Learning Discussion
March 29, 2010 - 11:23pm

Lots of discussion going around IHE today about online learning. Steve Kolowich kicked off a discussion about one academic's attempt to add "the human element" to the LMS by integrating Skype and Elluminate Live with Moodle. Dean Dad connected his lousy experience with webinars to online courses by asking, "have you learned anything from the earthly purgatory of webinars that helped you improve an online class?"

The comments to these two stories were both great.

When it comes to online learning and online conferencing, I'd like to emphasize that we need to have this "discussion."

I've been doing educational technology for about 10 years now, and the one thing I know is that none of us have all the answers about how to best use these tools. Having participated in online learning from every angle (including professor, vendor, and student), I know how hard it is to get this right.

Whatever we think about the pros and cons of Web enabled courses and professional development, the fact is that the trend towards technology mediated learning is not going to diminish. We turn to online programs, courses, and conferences because we all need to find creative ways to overcome scarcities in time, space and resources.

Nobody disputes that the ideal environment for learning and collaboration is 12 people sitting around an oval table (see the Exeter Harkness philosophy. If we could turn all of our courses into seminars and conferences into intimate discussions, then we'd do so. But the world we live in requires us to learn how to take advantage of the Web as a communication, collaboration, and learning medium.

And yes, in my experience I have witnessed instances in which online programs/courses were superior to face-to-face. These instances all shared the following attributes:

1) The online program / course was aimed at adult working professionals who would not have been able to receive their degrees (undergraduate and masters) without having the online option.

2) Significant resources were devoted to course development, faculty training, and student support.

3) The courses were project based, with an emphasis on collaboration, strengths based learning, student support, and developing competencies.
I think that these attributes could be extended to traditional on-ground learners and institutions, perhaps in a hybrid environment for select courses that both provided students with more options and conform well to an online delivery modality.

As for webinars, of course preparation and a focus on continuos improvement are essential. Webinars are a subset of Web mediated learning and collaboration, we all need to work towards better methods.

What is critical, I believe, is that we keep the discussion going. Keep sharing our experiences. Keep experimenting. Keep involving our students as co-creators and co-educators. Keep listening.

Our generation is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to rethink how education is constructed and delivered. Let's keep the discussion going.


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