Show-time on Death Of E-Learning

OK, it’s time (for me) to put up or shut up…

I’ve long proclaimed that e-learning is awful, dead, soul-destroying, or indeed some combination of the three – in fact, I’ve said literally that, or its equivalent, for decades in presentations I no longer have easy links to, and for at least 9 years in presentations, articles and interviews I fortunately do have links to (below). Now it’s time to be more constructive (because I’m keynoting at the IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies conference this summer), but I’ll have to dig deep.

In 1998 I wrote, in a joint introductory chapter with Tom Vincent to our book The Knowledge Web, a bit of deliberate gloom and doom to offset the book’s otherwise rosy glow:


Let’s face it, the Web even at its most ideal is a pretty awful medium for studying and undertaking course work…. [This] rather gloomy-sounding pragmatic utterance makes it clear that this is not a moan about slow connections of poor user interfaces, because it emphatically considers the Web even at its most ideal! This utterance is intended to bring our colleagues down to earth with a thud. 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. We know (better than most, we hope, and in a way we can demonstrate with numerous examples throughout the book) that 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. In this book you’ll see how Web-related activities can augment course study, but you’re unlikely to hear us talk about delivering courses entirely on the Web [blah blah blah etc etc]

In a March 2001 Wall Street Journal article/interview I said “learning online is a soul-destroying experience”

Then, after proclaiming E-learning Dead, I clarified what I meant by extolling the virtues of the Open University’s Supported Open Learning Model

But even my E-Learning Dead spiel in 2004 included a positive note:

…The speech, equally dismissive of “Learning Management Systems”, “Learning Objects”, “Virtual Learning Environments”, and meta-tagging standards such as IMS, was nevertheless up-beat and forward-looking in terms of the possibilities for integrating new technologies into creative learning experiences. 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 — including numerous examples cited from KMi’s own long experience in this arena. The greates 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.” The Open University itself was cited as an acknowledged success in getting all these ingredients right, and a potentially valuable model for how to proceed. …

OK, it’s easy to be cynical. I’m not your run-of-the-mill Luddite, either. I like to think that I can both talk the talk and walk the walk – after all, this is what I have done for a long long time! So if I know what’s bad, how about coming up with more of what’s good? All the elearning2.0 community is on that same wavelength, and trying to do something constructive about it. Stephen Heppell and Stowe Boyd [UPDATE: see recent Stowe commentary about this gig] (among others) recently passed through this way to (paraphrasing wildly) beat us up and say “hey, you know that stuff you said above about star teachers, social networking, simulations, peer-to-peer networks, certain “banned” games, and tasks that engendered creativity and content ownership directly in learnerswell that can be done a lot better, and on a staggering scale – it ain’t easy, but we’ve been doing key elements of it for ages, and you can do it too”

Martin Weller has blogged a bit about what I’m referring to as the beat-up job above – hopefully we’ll hear more about that in due course, but for now I’ve got to get my act together and come up with some more constructive comments for ICALT. Being a gloom and doom merchant is relatively easy, but solving the problems is incredibly hard.

Anyone motivated enough to send me some shining success stories (beyond John Anderson’s Algebra Tutor) will be duly acknowledged. And no, I don’t care what it is called, or what genre it represents.

[Update 16 April: missed Stowe’s posting about the OU gig on Friday which crossed with this one of mine, so linking here:

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2 Responses to “Show-time on Death Of E-Learning”

  1. CLT@CHI » Blog Archive » The Death of e-Learning? Says:

    […] Show-time on Death of E-Learning […]

  2. Bottom-Line Performance » Blog Archive » Reports of E-Learning’s Death… Says:

    […] have been declaring e-learning dead for  a long time. This article by Rob Chapman in the UK even compares elearning to the […]

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