A few days ago I came across a request on a Facebook group that I belong to. A fellow teacher was applying for a promotion position, and a knowledge of eLearning was a requirement. She wanted to know what that would entail. I was both saddened and disillusioned by the responses she received.
According to some being able to create a powerpoint would be considered enough. Another said that eLearning is when textbooks are downloaded on tablets, so a knowledge of the (I assume according to her there are only one) program would be sufficient.
These responses just brought home the fact that even thought we throw the word eLearning around a lot; many teachers have no idea what it is all about.
Before we start to talk about what eLearning is, let’s just make something clear. eLearning is not equal to eBooks.
When it comes to eLearning, there are two big mistakes that people make. On the one hand, they make technology the be all and end all. Suddenly how well you use technology determines how good a teacher you are. Teachers are told that they must use technology in their lessons, whether it is educationally sound or not. Technology is not teaching, and neither is it learning, it is but a tool to be used in the classroom.
On the other hand technology often the thin layer of glitter we use to make our old practices look impressive and new, without any real change in learning. The cellphone in your back pocket have more computing power and information that the computers that got Apollo 11 to the moon. If that does not change the way you are teaching, you are not doing it correctly.
Going to Google for a definition of eLearning is also not very helpful. eLearning is more of a spectrum than a single concept. When non-teachers talk about eLearning, they actually mean online learning. Where everything happens in the virtual world, and there are little to no contact time.
Blended Learning involves the combination of online activities with contact time. It combines online discussions, activities and videos with face-to-face teaching. For more information on how a Blended Classroom look, have a look at Catlin Tucker’s series about it on Youtube.
With about 30 hours a week of contact time, schools eLearning is more a case of a technology enhanced learning, since about 75% of the activities and learning takes place in the classroom.
eLearning is all about the harnessing of technology to make learning more efficient.
Remember those things that you always wanted to do with you learners, but it just wasn’t possible? Often technology makes those things possible. Google Earth can bring the world into your classroom. A little bit of competition like Kahoot can get the most unengaged learner to participate.
There are seven principles to successfully use technology in your class.
1. It must support learning. All decisions in class, including the decision about what technology to use and when it should be used, should be driven by an actual need in your class. Teachers are often cynical about technology because it is introduced from the top down.
2. Research has shown that the one that does the work does the learning. In a traditional classroom, the teacher does 90% of the work. Technology is ideally suited to allow learners to take an active part in the learning process. (BTW copying down notes from the board is not Active learning).
3. For years the only feedback learners ever received is a mark at the end of the term and we all know that marks are really not an effective form of feedback. I would love to review every learner’s book every day and give them comments, but we all know that there is just not enough hours in the day. Technology makes possible to give immediate and individual feedback to learners. While it might not be possible to take in all the learners books or have a conversation with each learner, I can use an app like Recap to get a quick feel for where each learner is.
4. Another problem with traditional learning is that kids find it artificial. The moment there is an authentic audience, students put a lot more effort into their work. While teaching used to be limited by the four walls of the classroom, technology enables teachers to create authentic audiences for their learners.
5. Collaboration is one of the most valued skills in the modern workplace. Technology is directly linked to collaboration in the workplace but also in the classroom. Collaboration does not need to be a group work project where one person does all the work, and the rest is loafing.
6. An essential part of eLearning is giving learners more control in the classroom. Giving up control affects the class in two ways. The moment you bring technology into the class, the teacher is not the only source of information anymore. But technology also mean that not all learning have to happen in the same way at the same time.
7. Lastly, it is important to remember that technology is not always the best solution. I wrote a post about how cutting, and sorting and colouring can sometimes be more valuable than all the fancy gimmicks in the world.
I went into more detail on each of these principles in a series of posts I did last year.
I started this post with the question, “What is eLearning?”.
eLearning is using technology to create a classroom where learning is more effective than without the technology. A classroom where every learner is actively involved in their lessons, tasks are authentic, collaboration is encouraged, and learners are prepared for a world that does not exist yet.
Note that technology is only a tool in this ideal classroom, not the goal in itself. If the technology does not change your teaching, if it doesn’t make learning more effective then it is just fancy (and expensive) toys, but not eLearning.