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eLearning Enters Puberty – Our Community is Raising a Teen

By Brian Bridges, CUE Member guest blogger

elearning-enters-puberty/kid-computerKeep this quote in mind “It takes a village to raise a child”.

Children are so cute – they say and do things that startle us every day. It is easy to spoil them; we tell endless stories about how perfect they are and ignore their flaws as if they have none.

As parents and grandparents, we are amazed at each new skill they learn: sitting up the first time, crawling; saying their first words, their first steps, seeing them learn to read, yes even the results of potty training.

Then one day, the child disappears and they become teenagers. Their flaws become all too obvious.

However, in life, there are two types of parents. Those that acknowledge their teen’s flaws and know that it’s their job to support their child in becoming a responsible adult and parents that turn a blind eye to their child’s faults, preferring to blame others who bring attention to their child’s flaws.

We see the same approaches with online learning.

Today, online and blended learning is poised to leave its childhood, where it looked cute and appealing. Like children, admirers would stop and complement how good it was that eLearning was part of our family, making it more complete and helping students grow.

However, that was when eLearning was a mere child, growing a little at a time, learning new skills while getting bigger and bigger. It was so amazing that this “child” came into our lives. Like all children, we often ignored eLearning’s flaws, focusing instead on how special it was. Not everyone appreciated its unpredictable behavior and thought that it should have more discipline. Many of us disagreed. We wanted to create the environment where eLearning would grow and flourish, becoming all it could be.

We knew eLearning was special, that it had so much potential. Much like a digital camera was in 1999 and now we would not want the 1999 version of a digital camera. It was obvious that digital photography was different and that it would change our relationship to picture taking forever even though the 1999 cameras had low resolution, were more expensive than they are today and bulky. But we loved them none-the-less even with their flaws. Somehow, we knew, they would mature into the “healthy adult” they have become.

It is easy to draw the comparisons with eLearning. Online learning is now in puberty. We nurtured it as a child, seeing so much potential as an adult. However, too many of us still ignore this child’s flaws, resorting to criticism of those who point them out.  But like children, disruptive innovations in their own right, they become sustaining innovations with belief and encouragement, growing and changing each year, blossoming into adulthood.

Now a “teenager”, eLearning’s limitations are becoming apparent. For example:

  • Many courses tend to be text-centric
  • Assessments primarily multiple-choice
  • Activities rarely going beyond knowledge and comprehension

You could make those limitations mean I don’t love this child. I do even with its flaws and I see the unbelievable potential this child of mine possesses. Still, if I want eLearning to develop, then it’s my job as a good parent. It’s our job, as the village, to help our child grow into all it can be.

As educators, we have a say in this child’s future. How, eLearning matures will depend on the type of parents we are. Will we be the parent that spoils the child, overlooking flaws and turning a blind eye or one that sets a loving environment and creates the right conditions for the child to grow and develop into all it can be?
As one of the “village members” observing eLearning evolution into adolescence, I see its great potential to be a well-rounded, amazing adult.

I believe:

  • Formative assessments will determine a student’s path through eLearning content, re-teaching using different examples or pedagogies, while providing multiple learning paths until a student becomes proficient
  • Courses will have challenging activities that require students to create, analyze and assess
  • Courses will include a combination of short lectures, text, media, interactive simulations and online discussions
  • That multiple-choice tests will be one type of assessment in the future and that assessment types, will be determined by the specific skill being assessed

More importantly, I believe our eLearning “Teen” will not reach its potential in adulthood without us as educators creating the conditions for its transition into adulthood. That includes being open and honest about its strengths AND its challenges.

It takes a village to raise a child. Get with it.

elearning-enters-puberty/brian_bridges/Brian Bridges is the Director of the California Learning Resource Network, a state-funded technology service that reviews online courses, supplemental electronic learning resources, free web links, and data assessment tools for K-12 educators.  A graduate of San Francisco State University with a Masters from the University of San Francisco, he is a recovering Past-President of the Computer Using Educators Board of Directors. 

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