Rethinking e-learning before we even figured it out!

A couple of months ago a well-meaning relative I don’t really know sent an SMS to my aunt saying, “Tell your niece the future is in e-learning”. I thought that was odd, considering the fact that I have never talked to anyone, not even my family, about the push I am committed to. Then I found out he just joined this joke of an e-learning company bashing us regular educators for not being “tech-savvy”. What I find ironic is that his name card might say, “E-learning consultant” and if I were to sit his bosses and him down for an interview about their definition of e-learning, their purpose and their solutions, I bet you I’d come up with evidence of their own misinformation and their greed to cash in on something people have little information to evaluate.

I checked out their website and I found out that the definition of e-learning the company he just started working for was to transfer hard-copy solutions to gaudy flash pages – asynchronous learning leveraging on “online grade books”. Hey parents, you want grades, I can give you the same thing for FREE using the open-source Moodle platform. Is there value in it? No. I think a website’s content, their presentation and their marketing choices reflect the philosophy and authenticity of a brand.

Their marketing strategy? Newspaper ads and recruiting has-beens to pester and use guilt manipulation to attend their conferences. This can only happen in Malaysia coz anywhere else, folks would tell you to bzzzz-off if you treated them like an idiot.

The focus was targeted highly to parents’ anxieties, giving parents another way to PUSH and FORCE their children to be accountable for every single effort to get straight A’s in exams. There is no talk at all about research and methodology or aligning it with the changes happening in the New Economy and Data Tsunami. The platform the call e-learning is a gaudy flash page extension of rote-and-drill learning. What is the value in that if I can make 100 MCQ questions like that in 1 week? (Not that I would want to. I’m more interested in spending time making mistakes I’ve not made yet.)

I scoffed at the whole ridiculous premise of this because their rep really pissed me off a year ago. I was having lunch at a quiet roadside stall and this piece of work was trying to manipulate me  to attend this “e-learning success” scam at Northam Tower. I’m savvy enough to know a scam when I see one. My philosophy is simple : If the salesman talking to me is not someone I would hire, then whoever who hired him must not be that savvy nor values the customer experience enough.

When I said, no thanks, I’m homeschooling my kid and I don’t care much about the “future” you guys talk about where exams determine them, the guy said, “What sort of parent doesn’t care about their child scoring A’s?”

The sort of parent smarter than him, I suppose.  Imagine that the premise for e-learning of this company’s “Score A” program centered around solving PARENTS’ problems of not being able to FORCE THEIR CHILDREN TO COMPLY enough. Their business strategy is, “Who cares what children want? I know what their parents want and parents are the ones paying with the credit card, not the child.” Contrast that with my philosophy : I know what parents want and I’m not going to damn their children by kow-towing to them. My job as a professional is to be paid for what I know and can do for you. I’m not an employee who works for fees. I’m a professional where you pay me to mine my mind and experiences for insights  you don’t have time to learn for yourself.

So now we have the problem of defining e-learning : E-learning hasn’t even come up with a comprehensive tool set to build a participative platform of content creators. But before any architecture has been collaboratively defined, we are confusing the marketplace by people who call themselves “e-learning consultants” and “e-learning content editors” when they’re actually not. You can’t be a consultant unless you understand the whole premise of education, marketing for the future,programming capacities of available platforms and authoring tools, etc.  Chances are the “consultant” has to the conceptualist, the cretive director, marketing strategist, or a lead partner in the design team.

On the same note, you can’t be an e-learning content editor if all you have done is to  convert the same structure of learning found on hardcopies onto .pdf or gaudy flash pages. Writing for e-learning education requires a very active collaboration and participation with other content producers – a sort of central network to discuss the frame a direction, a network to share insights on best tools, best responses, best matches to learning objectives, etc.

Writing for e-learning requires you to simultaneously be anthropologist, amateur visual designer, concept thinker, creative director, multimedia authoring expert, innovator (and we’re not just throwing in the word to sound cool)  and a whole lot more. In trying to come up with a model for e-learning I found that it is simply NOT possible to work from a premise of a “writer”, transferring language savvy from a different field, say, teaching or advertising and implanting that into being an “e-learning content writer”  without having to be conceptualist, designer, producer, director all at once. A content writer must have very high order thinking and good editing skills but that is not sufficient. The closest comparison is when an amateur writer who thinks their short stories, long narratives or poetry writing  can translate into copywriting. It doesn’t. The whole process of copywriting has nothing to do with maintaining a personal voice and showcasing it on a client’s project going public. Copywriting is about tight marketing in words. Yes, it’s a condensation of all that metacognitive process. Good language skills is a must but it’s not sufficient.

It is also not possible to call ourself an “e-content writer” because any company producing e-learning must be a very tight team where each person is an expert in several disciplines, able to bring into the architecture and flow a perspective informed by those multi-disciplines. When I think about the logistics of creating engaging and meaningful courseware, I don’t see a big company with a process flow to manage, e.g. you(educator) write content, i pass it on to the designer, the designer to the marketer, to the client, to the market research,…etc. It’s impossible : the to-and-fro would take too long. Rather, it has to be a partnership between the client and a very tight, multidisciplinary collaborative tribe.

I’ve just had enough of fear-mongers who scare the shit out of parents by saying their kids won’t succeed without a string of A’s. The opposite is true : scoring A’s will become a liability in your child’s future! (watch this video and leave your thoughts.)

I finally decided to respond to my feelings and wrote : “What English for Asians is not : another e-learning product.” I was redeemed by a comment left by someone who works for (owns?) a pretty promising e-learning solutions provider (which I may not be able to afford right now.)

So I had this epiphany after I wrote what we are not and saw some of the solutions the commenter’s company deals with……..whatever I plan to do, user experience, visual, video, design layout was going to be crucial. Previously, I had been so focussed on content and channel delivery, behavior adaptation among learners. Then I put on my anthropologist hat and watched my students’ behavior. (I collected over 100 of them on my Facebook in 2 months). I watched how they interacted on Facebook as opposed to what I knew of them face-to-face. I watched their behaviors, how they linked, liked, shared and commented. What made them tick? I got a couple of active students to try my Moodle lessons which was heavily focussed on content and intellectual participation.

Here’s my conclusion : They are not tech-savvy. They are not thinking and learning savvy. But they are just very good at consuming media. Critical thinking and all that Learning how to Learn thing we were trying to engineer content around simply didn’t matter to them. They were burning through content, moving from one experience to the next, like an addict going for fix after fix – they are incapable of higher order thinking UNLESS it is designed to, sorry to say this, “immerse and condition” them into those skills.

To remain true to myself : If they can’t learn how we teach, we have to teach how they learn. And they are particular about user experience, they need content to be audio and visual, to be colorful. They are contented to be passive. I know, I know.….. It’s ironic we have to teach them to be engaged and self-directed by designing things that can be learned with the most minimum of effort.

But I think it’s just Generation Y and V who’s going to be like that. By 2050, the design platforms would be in place to flesh out ideas I wrote about in Analogue Teachers for a Digital Future.

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