Thursday, March 05, 2009

Back to un-prefixed learning

I remember having been exposed to eLearning for the first time around 1995, when I started working as a PhD student on a number of projects focusing on teleteaching. A few years later, I got involved in a project making use of a so-called learning platform, which at the core was a document management system. Of course, these were then called knowledge management systems, but I will not concentrate on the (perhaps more philosophical question) whether it is possible to actually manage knowledge.

Of course a large number of projects in the field of eLearning have had their success, being forerunners in making learning media available, combined with synchronous and asynchronous communication tools (chat, internal mail) and tools to customize a student's access to learning media. At some point, modularization of learning media and tools to combine previously stored chunks of material for students became an important issue, as well as being able to annotate learning material. As new terms for learning support were coined, I remember having spoken at a conference on computer-supported cooperative learning (CSCL). I won't go into too much detail, but every now and then I find expressions such as ubiquitous and mobile learning being employed. Surely technological progress will also result in new application scenarios, but are they really so new - or shouldn't we focus more on what learning is all about from a pedagogical point of view and critically evaluate on what will help to improve learning processes and curricula? Learning programs that help to prepare students better for their future jobs (for those that are not necessarily planning to pursue an academic career) as well as advanced training programs are being installed, but there still seems to be a gap between learning on the job and learning off the job. Thus, the challenge seems to be to embed learning processes in everyday work, thus focusing less on learning in university settings and more on work-related scenarios.

All in all, learning seems to be focused way to much on the individual (independently of the used tools), and not enough on team and collaborative efforts. My impression is that tools will not help much to change this. We produce lots of documents, save them on file systems, web servers or other repositories, but who actually reads them? Who and what might help us to improve the organization of information? Why do we believe so much in tools and the promises that are being made that new tools will solve all our problems? eLearning is focused way to much on tools and processes, forgetting about the involved persons applying their knowledge to everyday's needs. Let us get back to learning and accept that the promises of eLearning were often not based on solid ground.

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