Preparing for Microlearning 2007.
Back in 1999, the CEO of CISCO said, ‘The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail look like a rounding error’ (John Chambers at the COMDEX '99 conference; cited here). Eight years on, the killer app has not yet appeared and this despite massive investment in ICT within schools (see my earlier post).
For some time now, the best voices in the world of e-learning have been saying something else. In 1998, Marc Eisenstadt was arguing (see his summary post, Show-time on Death Of E-Learning),
… the Web even at its most ideal is a pretty awful medium for studying and undertaking course work. … Even when the interfaces are stunning, and connections are smooth and ultra-fast, we need to remind ourselves that we are still, after all, only looking at a computer screen. … there are creative things we can do with those stunning interfaces that put books to shame: we can motivate and empower learners, reach disabled students, simulate existing and as-yet-unimagined worlds, forge new relationships, create communities, and launch whole new endeavours of study. All of this is wonderful, but we mustn’t let it go to our heads. ‘Studying courses on the Web’, in our experience, is a sad misconception.
And in 2004 (KMi: Chief Scientist: ‘E-Learning is Dead’):
In a presentation of “what works”, “what fails”, and “what’s next” … Prof Eisenstadt listed E-Learning itself as a prominent item in the “fails” column. [He was] equally dismissive of “Learning Management Systems”, “Learning Objects”, “Virtual Learning Environments” … Items in the “what works” column included star teachers, social networking, simulations, peer-to-peer networks, certain “banned” games, and tasks that engendered creativity and content ownership directly in learners … The greatest challenges, argued Eisenstadt, were to “attain results at large scale, maintain a degree of warmth and humanity that is often lost in digital media, and ensure the buy-in of the highly over-stretched teaching workforce.”
A WSJ piece of 2001, No Substitute: the internet does NOT change everything, explored the criticisms of e-learning (distance- and online-learning) voiced by Marc Eisenstadt, John Seely Brown, Donald Norman, Alvin Toffler and Seymour Papert, and then commented on what online learning can do for education:
- ‘make learning more interactive and more interesting than standard lectures and textbooks’
- ‘In fact, by making it possible to “customize” curriculums to suit the needs of individual children, online education could invert some of the main assumptions of traditional education. “The key thing is that you don’t have to have the same curriculum for everyone,” says Seymour Papert, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied the interaction of kids and computers for decades. “It is being able to take charge of learning and feel that you’re in control, that makes the difference.” ’
- help enable ‘lifelong learning’
- provide access to ‘distributed knowledge’
Today, we need to pay renewed attention to what Marc Eisenstadt, John Seely Brown, Donald Norman, Alvin Toffler, Seymour Papert and others have been saying.
And, of course, it is not only educators and educational theorists who are saying things which can teach teachers how to make better use of ICT. As we move into the age of everyware, designers are no longer promoting seamlessness as the desirable goal of ubiquitous computing. Seamfulness is the new meme: it’s not always good to seek to tidy away mess.
There is a lesson here for teachers. Seamless, monolithic virtual learning environments are what systematisers should be dreaming of, not educators.
Recently, Dave Winer, commenting on the significance and value of Twitter, wrote (Twitter as coral reef),
Calling a technology a coral reef is the highest compliment I can pay.
Evolving e-learning within educational institutions is to seed and cultivate a coral reef. It’s what Dave Snowden meant when he said (quoted by Euan): ‘You can’t manage knowledge but you can create a knowledge ecology’. It’s what John Seely Brown means when he speaks of ‘learning ecologies’.
To achieve this, to put digital technology to good use in education, requires, of course, that schools learn. To adapt John Seely Brown’s question (ibid.), substituting ‘schools’ for ‘universities’: schools are institutions of learning but are they, themselves, learning institutions?
In truth, as John Naughton, writing in the Observer earlier this year, has said,
Our schools are providing ICT training, whereas what is needed is ICT education.
This year at Microlearning, I would like to explore further some of these issues.