Wednesday, November 5, 2014

E-Learners of the Future: Tip #4 - The Need to Personalize E-Learning

One of the criticisms that have been leveled against the e-learning experience is that the online experience is impersonal, cold and even clinical compared to the face to face experience in traditional schools. I have to admit that to a degree this is true but it is not the final state of e-learning and it does not mean that we should abandon e-learning and go back to the status quo.

We can take steps to really personalize e-learning not only for the students but also for the mentors and instructors. Communication and collaboration needs to go beyond what some organizations primarily use which e-mail. We have a plethora of social media available to us that can be used to personalize e-learning and they are a means of communication that students are familiar with but is that enough to personalize the experience. I would say no.  To elaborate on this I would like to describe to you the ways in which a new model of online education would mean different relationships between instructors, students and mentors.

To start with we need to be clear about the roles played by each person in the learning process and how their relationships to each other change. In the systems of education under the old industrial model, subject area teachers were expected to have a rounded education that touched on a variety of disciplines but were masters of none. The limit of their expertise when dealing with students and particular aptitudes students had did not allow for a serious nurturing of the aptitudes the student was displaying. When students went on to secondary education the situation improved but due to the demands placed upon teachers by the education systems, students were still limited in the development of their talents. In fact teachers were given orders to tailor their teaching to the lowest common denominator which led to a disconnect by students who needed more than the basics. Some students were labelled as "gifted" which allowed them to be routed into another group. Again in higher education, the situation improved but at that point the skill development which should have started in early education was not there.

One of the fond experiences that I have had in the past as a student was to have the opportunity to talk one on one with a person who was on the cutting edge of a discipline that I was interested in. I enjoyed the quiet talks, the encouragement, the challenges to my thinking. What this person did was more than pass on his knowledge of his discipline; he passed on wisdom to see what was possible and what was not. The closest analogy I could use to describe our relationship is that he was like a master and I was his apprentice just like in the trade guilds of the past. He cared for my growth in the wisdom of his discipline and he nurtured the highest standard in regards to skills that he perceived in me. This is what true mentoring should be like. This is making the experience personal.

In a previous post I described the function of a mentor network and I believe that for online learners we need to establish this type of mentoring to help students excel in their chosen area of study. Also in the previous post I suggested a way in which this process can begin in a real and relevant manner. If we want to educate students in the art of collaborative online inquiry when it comes to real world issues, the mentor network is one of the ways to really personalize the experience.

In regards to the instructor, again the relationship changes between the instructor and the student. Keep in mind that the role of both instructor and student is to be a change agent within their societies. With that in mind, for the online instructor his or her path is to educate students how to learn in an online environment with the goal of nurturing skills necessary for students to be innovative individuals in a world that desires a culture of innovation. Nurturing students' skills in online learning environments requires a relationship of mutual trust be developed and an instructor who models what he or she believes is important.

Next---Why would people on the leading edge of their disciplines even volunteer their time for mentoring?

1 comment:

Rosemary Lehman said...

An impressive post. Mentoring is definitely part of the personalizing process. In my book, Creating a Sense of Presence: How to "Be There" for Distance Learners (Jossey-Bass, 2010), my colleague Simone Conceicao and I discuss many other aspects as well.

I look forward to your future posts.



Dr. Rosemary M. Lehman
Author, Online Instructor
Distance Learning Consultant
Partner in eInterface