Thursday, April 30, 2015

E-Learning Evolution: Global E-Learning Portals and Their Elements--Part I

In the last post I suggested to you that there is a growing need to take prudent steps to try to bring order and direction to E-Learning. Given that a growing number of organizations offering E-Learning are coming on stream each day, the continuing exponential growth of technology use and the desire in both the business sector and education sector for the development of a culture of innovation, we are reaching a "critical mass". At this point we will either continue down a path using a fragmented vision for E-Learning or we will create a new path with the goal of establishing a global consensus with regards to a shared, unified vision, agreed upon but adaptive standards of practice and a global collaboration of all stakeholders in their roles to make valued contributions to the realization of a vision that they all agree with. As the business community should recognize, the education of learners to become creators of new knowledge and skillsets translates into employees who have the right skillsets to grow innovation within their communities.
These are the conversations that need to go viral and they must culminate in the building of collaborative relationships.


Six Global E-Learning Portals

What I am about to suggest comes with a number of disclaimers:

  • This is conceptual and its purpose is to get you to become involved in useful conversations as you consider the possibilities. It is not my intent to suggest that these are THE configurations and the only ones to consider. These concepts are the product of my thoughtful engagement with E-Learning.
  • The titling of these portals again are open to revision but I think you will also discern my thinking behind their choice.
  • The composition of the families of countries are again not something that I intend to dictate but I would welcome the thoughts of others as to other pertinent criteria to be considered in the choice of participants in each global E-Learning portal.
Portal #1: The Northern Hemisphere Pacific Portal
Portal #2: The Southern Hemisphere Pacific Portal
Portal #3: The Northern Hemisphere Atlantic Portal
Portal #4: The Southern Hemisphere Atlantic Portal
Portal #5: The Mediterranean & Central EU Portal
Portal #6: The Indian Ocean & Middle East Portal

With respect to the first four portals, the equator is a determining factor. Also, I am not so naive as to not recognize that the selection of which countries belong to what E-Learning portal will require cultural, political, historical,and economical relationships among them to be considered. This requires the great desire to really try to understand the world from each others point of view and be comfortable enough to discuss it to develop strong ties in developing a unified vision for E-Learning.

The Elements of the Global E-Learning Portals

The following diagram is roughly designed to explain the collaborative relationships between the elements:

I have been told by my colleagues that it is wise to chunk information for learners and so I will follow their advice and post the continuing description of each of these elements in my next post......

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

E-Learning Evolution: Bold But Necessary Steps That Need to Go Viral

Throughout our journey into the changing nature of E-Learning, many aspects have been looked at with the view on the future path of E-Learning. Topics such as the problems associated with the continuing entrenchment of the Industrial Model of education with its supporting purposes in global education systems to re-imagining how we go about the process of assessing learning. Ideas on how the roles of instructional designers, educators, corporate trainers, administrators, innovators and subject matter experts need to change in order to harmonize with the demands of a digital age and the changing needs of learners.


We can no longer just discuss ideas without thinking about coordinating the ideas from a blueprint to a model of application. In this post and the ones that follow, steps will be suggested that need to be taken if we are move forward in the evolution of E-Learning.

"The conversations need to go viral and be coordinated across the globe by all those who have a vested interest in learners becoming creators of new knowledge and skill sets that will help societies tackle real world issues in meaningful and sustaining ways."

 A culture of innovation will remain just a "buzz phrase" if bold but necessary steps are not taken within a global context. So, the purpose of the following steps is to challenge instructional designers, educators at all levels, corporate trainers, administrators, edupreneurs, innovators, CEO's and subject matter experts to promote conversations within their spheres of influence. The steps will provoke what I would term "healthy controversy" because we all need to face the truth and do some careful introspection as to barriers that exist in our own professional practices and confront them by imagining better paths.

Building the Future of E-Learning : Establishment of Global E-Learning Portals

As mentioned above, there is a growing need to coordinate or harmonize E-Learning efforts simply due to the fact that every day more and more E-Learning offering organizations both private and public are coming on stream all over the world without any unifying vision of what E-Learning should look like for the future of our societies and how the needs of learners can be addressed using available resources in the most efficient manner. This feeling of the lack of direction has prompted some to at least suggest a first step as was outlined in a posted "Manifesto of E-Learning".


What I am going to suggest is a concept of creating six "global e-learning portals" which would be constructed to serve the needs for E-Learning across the globe. Each E-Learning portal would serve the E-Learning needs of a designated family of countries. Each portal would be made up of the following elements:

  1. Global E-Learning Hub
  2. Business and Education Innovation Council
  3. Cross Disciplinary Research and Mentor Network
  4. Global Corporate Trainers, Instructional Designers and Learning Principle Expert Network
  5. Global Higher Education and Teacher Mentoring Network
The actual description of these elements I will detail in later posts but what is of great importance are the collaborative relationships that will be established among these elements and between different portals.

What I have suggested above should prompt a number of questions in the reader's mind such as:
  1. What criteria would be used for creating the portals and choosing which countries should belong to each family of countries?
  2. What happens with countries who are just in the early stages of E-Learning and still face challenges with regards to infrastructure? (I think that what I will propose for this challenge will surprise you;) )
  3. Where does corporate culture fit into this proposed portal development and in what ways?
  4. How will this help create a culture of innovation that is global in context?
In the next post, I will explain the elements of the portals and their relationship to each other. I will also touch on the need to seek an unified vision for E-Learning and a re-imagined purpose for educating 21st century students now and in the coming future.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

E-Learning: Bringing It Together--Characteristics of Practiced Discernment-Part II

One stark realization that all educators need to come to terms with is that education in the 21st century is not about teaching learners all the content that we know. The simple truth is that learners can find more knowledge on the Internet on most subjects than we can teach them in several lifetimes. What we need to do is to educate or mentor them on how to learn in an online world where they could easily drown in information.

This is the reason why mentoring learners so that they develop the skillset of practiced discernment is such an important critical literacy in the 21st century. One of the skills of practiced discernment is the ability of the learner to probe information that they come across on the Internet to see if it is authenticate and accurate. If the goal is to accumulate truthful information that allows for a balanced and accurate picture of a real world problem, then the student needs to be mentored on how to ask the right questions. If we fail to make this mentoring effort, then we cast students adrift in a sea of information in which they will drown in and be unable to contribute to new knowledge and skill sets in meaningful ways.

Credit: Slate photos/Thinkstock & Anton Sokolov
A learner can only ask the right questions if the mentor or instructor himself or herself is a practitioner of this skill. Unfortunately, this is a skill set that does not come naturally to adults as well as younger learners. This is the "tipping point" of this argument.

"It is not enough that a mentor has a sound grounding in learning principles, they also need to have developed a mastery of practiced discernment themselves."

This probing mindset understands that information on the web is NOT the same as knowledge on the web and that they should not be used as interchangeable terms.

So, what are some examples of these "probing questions"?

Instructors who educate students with regards to critical thinking skills will recognize and relate to these questions. It is not that instructors have not tried to instill such questioning skills but it is the fact that these skills have not been integrated into the way learners think about Internet information and knowledge. Some examples are as follows:

  1. Is this information that is being presented opinion or fact? There are still many adults who do not know the difference between these two concepts!
  2. Does the author(s) of the information have the expertise to speak with authority on the issue presented?
  3. Does the author have a specific bias in the selection of information and its presentation or does the author make a valid attempt to objectively present both sides of the issue described? Is the evidence offered on both sides of the issue complete and stated accurately?
  4. Are the arguments presented by the author supported by verifiable evidence? Is the evidence offered directly germane to the issue? Is the evidence current or or is it dated and has been declared invalid by peers in the discipline?
These examples are by no means complete but they do show the required probing that learners need to develop as a skill set when dealing with the Internet. In order for learners to take such skill sets seriously they need to see that they have a personal stake in seeking the truth. If we expect learners to become agents of change and create new knowledge and skillsets, then they need to know how to interpret, analyze, synthesize and create through discerning what is useful and valid on the Internet and what is not.
Distraction is a problem that needs to be dealt with because as the following graphic illustrates, the magnitude of distractive influences is much larger than we would imagine.

Obviously, there are other skills that complement practiced discernment and you will probably see other possibilities. Feel free to suggest them.

Next... The Evolution of E-Learning---Bold But Necessary Steps?

Friday, April 17, 2015

E-Learning: Bringing It Together--Developing the Characteristics of Practiced Discernment

If under a new model of education the purpose is to educate digital learners to become creators of new knowledge and skill sets, to truly usher in an age and culture of innovation by being agents of change, we need to help mentor learners in a new way of thinking about solving real world problems. One step in changing the pattern of thinking for these digital E-Learners is to introduce them to a habit of the mind I called "practiced discernment". Discernment was defined as:

"...the ability to obtain sharp perceptions. It involves going past mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities.."

Discernment is not a skill set that comes naturally to everybody, especially the young digital natives of this century. It requires guided mentoring and practice in order to overcome the patterns of thinking orchestrated by the industrial model of education. Some of the great minds of history such as Leonardo da Vinci possessed this habit of practiced discernment as he was able to see the world around him with heightened perceptions and from this clarity, some of his greatest works came to light.


 The Problems Faced By E-Learners

Some of the problems faced by this generation of digital e-learners whose purpose is to use the web to further their education are the following:

  • Learners need to understand that not everything posted to the web is necessarily valid. They need to understand how postings on the web need to be evaluated and examined for bias and unsubstantiated points

Credit: Lee DiGeorge
Consider the complicity of social media in compounding this problem for the E-learner. For example, an idea that is first tweeted on Twitter in social media can be re-tweeted many times in an uncritical fashion and reach many people globally. Something repeated enough times without first being critically examined for validity can be postulated as fact rather than conjecture.

" In 2014, it was reported that Twitter had  64 million tweets a day!"

Social media when focused on social issues ranging from school bullying to hot button environmental issues can be used to not only put forth uncritically examined positions but also force acceptance through such tactics as:
  1. Censoring the right of others to express contrary points of view
  2. Using ad hominem argumentation
  3. Using emotionally charged language to dismiss opposing points of view
Uncritically examined ideas can be "dressed up" in flashy visuals, charts and authentic looking logos but when probed below the surface, can be revealed as fraud. With the use of multimedia tools of the web, fraud can look pretty authentic.

This is what the "cut and paste" generation of E-Learners face. This in not thoughtful engagement and in order to encourage thoughtful engagement, practiced discernment as a critical literacy skill set is essential!

"So, for the E-Learning student, what would practiced discernment look like?"

The following is a suggested pattern of thinking to introduce and nurture practiced discernment for the E-Learner:

  1.  Setting a Clearly Defined Task: Given the nature of the World Wide Web, the opportunities for distraction are great in number. We live in a time period where the people of many societies are highly distracted. The ability to focus on a clearly defined task has been hindered by a myth that multitasking is a worthwhile way of approaching the completion of tasks. I have found from experience that multitasking leads to mediocrity in all tasks attempted and students do not have the self-discipline to recognize that some tasks are of such great importance and value as to require a single minded devotion to arriving at solutions that are excellent.
  2. E-Learners Need to Be Mentored On How to Ask the Right Questions: When E-Learners have a clearly defined purpose to guide their research, it is not enough just to Google to retrieve results. Many E-Learners have poor skills in understanding how to refine and focus their search to arrive at truly relevant results. Once they find sites, they need to proceed with the same tenacity as an investigative journalist. 
"Students need to be taught how to ask the right questions when they come across information on the web. the search for the truth value of information must be a focused probing".

Using Blooms' Revised Taxononmy in the context of E-Learning will take them into many different databases that exist in the web. They must be able to harness skill sets from many disciplines in order to effectively solve real world problems.

Next post---Continuing the thinking pattern

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

E-Learning-Bringing It Together-Habits of the Mind II--Practiced Discernment

If we consider it an important goal that learners be able to solve real world issues effectively, then equipping them with the right skill sets for this age needs to be an imperative. Yet, as we see the media reports of the many problems being faced by our societies in the 21st century, problems that we have been told repeatedly will have solutions, we can't help but wonder why we seem to be so impotent in addressing them effectively.

I am going to suggest to you that part of our problem lies in the way that we have been educated and how we are continuing to be educated.

When we think back to our own experiences as students under the old industrial model of education, we can make a number of observations of that experience in hindsight:

  1. Everything that we were required to do to meet the requirements for each level of our education was planned out for us. Our times spent in the classroom and out of the classroom were calculated to the minute.
  2. We were carefully supervised and this included where we were to go on the Internet, what we were to do when we got there and when we had to return. If by accident (tongue firmly planted in cheek;)), we clicked on a link that we were not supposed to do, we were shepherded like sheep back to where the instructor wanted us to be.
  3. Actual instruction on how to learn in an online environment was not systematically taught to learners from one grade level to the next. Instructors were acting in the role of the "sage on the stage" instead of the "guide on the side". As a result of this, many assumptions were made about the web skills of digital natives that were not realized in practice. Unfortunately, this was more a comment on the naivety of the instructors than that of the students.
Growth of the Internet and the 21st Century Learner

With the industrial model of education still firmly in place in education, the Internet grew exponentially. As a result of this growth every individual who had access to the Internet now had a voice that could be heard by millions of others.

In the past, one of the common creeds in a free society was that "everyone has a right to their opinion on issues". I would suggest that given the needs of 21st century societies and the freedom that the Internet allows for self expression that in regards to learners we need to change this creed to read: "everyone has a right and responsibility to hold a critically informed opinion".
The old industrial model of education produced a mindset pattern that followed a way of dealing with real world problems that doesn't fit with the realities or goals of a digital world. The pattern in simple terms and in the order of priority looks like the following:


If you keep in mind that one of the primary purposes of the old industrial model of education was to create life long consumers, you can see in the various media how much effort is devoted to the acquiring of things that satisfy body and emotions. Many social issues appeal first to wants and emotions to obtain commitment to a cause BEFORE those being appealed to have the necessary critical skill sets to properly assess the validity of the cause being put forth. In the 21st century, this pattern needs to be turned upside down so that it looks like the following:

Before we engage learners to commit to causes or problems, we need to encourage and nurture the use of critical thinking skills in the analysis and possible solutions to an issue. Once all sides to an issue have been looked at in regards to all the evidence and assessed as to validity, we are then in a position to take a stand that we can defend. It is at the level of the will, that we commit to change, creativity and innovation. Emotion enters in when we communicate our stand with the intent of thoughtfully engaging others. Our emotion is then not shallow display but one based upon having thoughtfully engaged with the issue.

Habit of the Mind: "Practiced Discernment"

In order to change this mindset, to engage the mind first in online learning we need to introduce and nurture a mindset that I describe as "practiced discernment". Discernment may  be defined as:

"The ability to obtain sharp perceptions. It involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its qualities or properties".

You will notice that in its title there is the implication that this is a skill set that needs deliberate and continual practice.The online environment creates the challenge of separating white noise from valid, enriching substance that adds value to knowledge and innovation. The librarians in a digital world know a great deal about this challenge.


More about the characteristics of this habit of the mind called "practiced discernment" in the next posting.....

Monday, April 6, 2015

E-Learning--Bringing It Together--Habits of the Mind I--Creating Thoughtful Engagement

As has been mentioned in past posts, there are certain habits of the mind that need to be introduced and nurtured with respect to this generation of E-Learners. In doing this we are able to help E-Learners eliminate bad habits of the past that they have acquired from not only being part of the old industrial model of education but also from being connected to the web for all of their lives. These old habits are counter-productive to a vision that sees the developing role of educators and learners as agents of change within a rapidly changing world.

Art Costa and Bena Kallick (2008) introduced us to 16 habits of the mind which encapsulated the type of cognitive habits that the learners of the 21st century and beyond need in order to become agents of change who create new knowledge and skill sets favourable to innovation.

One such habit of the mind that needs to be introduced and nurtured is what I call "thoughtful engagement". Thoughtful engagement is demonstrated when a student produces evidence that shows he or she has not only read what is required in order to complete a learning task but has also included thoughtful reasoning supported by evidence based upon other sources of information that they voluntarily include to support their lines of reasoning.
This skill is one that we often attributed to "good academic students" but we no longer have the luxury of being able to depend on a minority of students. The simple truth is that all students are capable of developing this habit of the mind that is quickly becoming an essential of 21st century critical thinking.
The obvious question that needs to be asked is:

"If all of our students are capable of developing this habit of the mind, then why haven't they demonstrated this in the past?

The answer to this question centers on our purpose for education and the nature of engagement. We can identify a number of past barriers to students developing this habit of the mind:

  1. The purpose of education was to instill conformity to a particular mould that we expected all students to fit into. Only a minority were re-routed to become agents of change and usually only those who belonged to the upper class levels of an industrial oriented society. The minority who were to be agents of change were expected to only make changes that would continue to strengthen the industrial model. Learners were expected to simply remember and then regurgitate in an uncritical fashion all that was required to ensure conformity to the "one size fits all " mould. Protocols in assessment were set up to support this mindset.
  2. With the advance of technology and the Internet coupled with the industrial model being used, the "cut and paste" generation was born. With the availability of vast knowledge resources on the Internet and the lack of change in pedagogy to fit a new digital world, students when confronted with the same old subject based projects simply used cut and paste to complete assigned work. Also, the online world attitude picked up by learners was that the Internet was free and therefore recognizing anyone owning knowledge was a non-starter for learners. To compromise, learners in a new digital education world were true to the industrial model and their role by simply "cutting and pasting" information from the Internet in order to complete assignment requests. To give legitimacy to their work, they cited their sources according to prescribed protocols. However, the question that needs to be asked is at what cost?
"Where was "thoughtful engagement" with the learning experience for the learner?"

Given the stated purpose of education, "thoughtful engagement" was not really required. Yes, you did have to understand what you were reading but you were not really expected to create new knowledge or skill sets.

In the 21st century, we need learners who will be creators of new knowledge and skill sets if we are ever going to be able to tackle the problems that the present and future societies face and will face. Innovation will not occur without students having a habit of the mind called "thoughtful engagement". It must become so natural to them that it is like breathing. It is also a warning to instructional designers that pedagogy can not be a static construct but must be thoroughly adaptive and able to use what technology has to offer to meet the needs of thoughtfully engaged and dynamic digital learners.