Saturday, October 17, 2015

Effective E-Learning in the Age of Distraction

With all the advances in E-Learning that are on stream and coming on stream, we still have to overcome an important problem when it comes to learners. We have to come to terms with the fact that we live in a age of distraction. With the coming of advances in Wifi and mobile technology, the degree of distraction has taken on a whole new level. We are faced with an important question:

" How do we re-focus this generation and the next on the pursuit of effective E-Learning on a consistent basis and help them develop the necessary self-discipline to avoid the many online distractions that exist?"

 Problem #1: A Failure to Communicate

 What do I mean by a failure to communicate?  The failure to communicate is a failure to communicate in the same context that learners communicate everyday outside the halls of academia. Although higher education has incorporated the use of technology into their classrooms, they are still using technology within an outdated context. The idea of a lecturer standing at the front of a classroom as the "sage on the stage" instead of as a "guide on the side" is an element of a model for education that treated learners as "one size fits all widgets". Even if the instructor is using the most up to date technology in the classroom, if he or she is still using the approaches to teaching that belong to this out of sync model, then students will disconnect and will seek out distractions that are more in line with the way that they really live outside the classroom.

Therefore, the obvious next question is:

"How do we engage students in the learning experiences that we want to present?"

The following are potential ways to truly build engagement:

  1. Seek to create a true learning community where you, the instructor, include yourself in the learning experiences. Build a collaborative network within the learning experiences where learners may be tasked to work together instead of being a passive, disconnected audience. Build engagement by encouraging, inspiring and challenging learners to find real life solutions to complex real world problems.
  2. As an instructor stop treating social media as the enemy and a distraction from true learning. Social media is an important part of learner lives outside of the classroom. Instead learn about why learners find it so engaging. Take a look at your pedagogy and ask yourself whether or not this technology can be harnessed to enrich your learning experiences.
  3. Make learning a personal experience for learners. One of the areas that MOOCS need to work on is the personalization of learning in an online environment.
  4. If it is possible, get away from the straight row organization of the learning space. This type of organization is an element of the dated "assembly line model" of education.
  5. Make effective use of the blended learning concepts by stretching the learning network to include participants from other learning networks on the web. The purpose is to teach that collaboration is possible on a global scale and not restricted to the physical classroom.


Problem #2: The Myth of Multitasking

We also live in an age where people have been brought up with the formula:

Multitasking  = Increased Productivity

The maxim learned in past systems of education and business is that the more you multitask the more productive you will be. Cognitive Neuroscience suggests that this maxim really is wishful thinking.

Credit: Jonathan Jordan
This myth has now firmly entrenched itself in this generation and its effects can be routinely observed in the education systems and business communities of today. One reaction to failure to meet set standards when multitasking has not been to stop multitasking but to instead lower the standards or "cut corners" so that task commitments can be reported as being met. This is a sure path to mediocrity and in some critical disciplines the consequences can be catastrophic (ie: civil engineering).

The Question of the Efficacy of Mobile Learning and Micro Learning
Two of the most current entries into the E-Learning realm is mobile learning and micro learning. I bring these two entries up in a post on distraction because there exists the potential for the misuse of these ideas. It is extremely important, not to be too melodramatic, that the design of learning experiences with the idea of using these technologies be done in a thorough and thoughtful manner. It is important to remember that for learners seeking to further their education in the online world, that this is of great personal importance to them. There is the temptation to use these new technologies in superficial ways when it comes to learning and could result in deeper sustained learning not being achieved. The focus for these technologies should empower learning how to think on the web and not simply to gather snippets in an uncoordinated fashion. In its lack of design, the use of both of these technologies could become distractions.


A recent study titled: "Students' Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education: A Multi-Year Study" by Baiyun Chen, Ryan Seilhamer, Luke Bennett and Sue Bauer (2015) demonstrates the need to change mindsets in the use of these technologies.

So, given the nature of the problems that we face as a result of this the entrenchment of this mindset, what is the solution?
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