Thursday, December 15, 2016

Engaging the Power of E-Learning: In Search of a New Mandate

As we come to the end of 2016, it is important that we step back from the routines and priorities that we have listed and re-listed, and reflect upon the progress of E-Learning through the year. One of the things that we need to be careful of in taking such a step back is that we not spend too much time focusing on the changes in technology that have advanced during the year.

In the final analysis it is not about technology but it is about learning, the adaptability of human beings to changing digital environments that they find themselves immersed in and the exploration on how we can move learning to higher levels that capitalize on the great human potential for creativity, innovation, and the enrichment of the quality of life for all people through the means of effective education. In order to truly address this goal of human endeavor, we can not hide from the significant complex real world problems that as societies we have created for ourselves to our detriment. In our struggle to deal with such problems, the first reality that we need to face is that our previous routines and methods of dealing with such problems are not working and in some cases are exasperating the problems.

Taking the First Step: The Need for a Globally Unifying Vision for E-Learning

In order to make sense of the changes in E-Learning and technology that impacts our lives, we need to have a vision that is global in nature because we are no longer isolated societies in time. With the rise of the Internet with all its positive and negative attributes, we are all connected to each others lives no matter where we live on the planet. In this connection, we have doors of opportunity to learn about each others lives and relate to such lives as well as the power to impact and bring about change. The vision not only involves the social connections that we form but also connections on a moral level. For example, if we learn of someone living in great poverty, in an altruistic fashion we seek ways that we can instigate positive change in the person's quality of life. The use of crowd sourcing is but one way. However, if the problem is systemic and can be addressed through bringing more effective education into their lives then the change is more long term and benefits the generations that follow as well.

Taking the Next Step: The Need to Ask the Right Questions in Regards to Technology

As much as we have become enthralled with all the new technology that has emerged this year from the use of drones to the development of Virtual Reality, some questions that we need to think about are:

  1. Are all the examples of technology that are emerging useful for enriching E-Learning and capable of enabling us to expand the human potential for creativity, innovation and collaboration so that real solutions may be found to the very complex real world problems we face? 
  2. In the choice to use and teach technology application to new learners, do we have a moral obligation to also emphasize moral accountability in how technology is used. A case in point would be the drive to teach very young children and teens how to code. Do we have a moral or ethical obligation  to make sure that the message that users of technology have a moral obligation to use coding to help our societies in a life affirming manner, is clearly and repetitively emphasized?
  3. Are we prepared to make sure that technology is harnessed to its master, pedagogy and not the other way around? Although technology may inspire changes in pedagogy it does not control pedagogy in E-Learning. Technology is but one means to a greater end.
  4. Are we prepared to entrench and model the teaching of systems thinking, critical thinking and innovative thinking into learning organizations both in the corporate world and higher education world to prepare learners to become global agents of change to the betterment of their societies?

 Taking Yet Another Step: Defending the Need to Create Conditions to Develop Agents of Change
In order to bring about and manage effective change in learning both in business organizations and within education systems proper, we need to recognize the need to overcome institutional inertia that is prevalent in so many institutions. Unlike the often repeated concern that change could be too disruptive to the organization, "treading water" in a globally connected world is more dangerous to the health of organizations. Organizations raise too many defense mechanisms when asked to consider making effective change guided by a new vision. A favourite in dealing with innovative ideas is termed "paralysis by analysis" . An idea is studied ad infinitum and gets to the point where subsequent leadership forget why they are studying the idea and it gets shelved.
The greatest travesty in such scenarios is that those who have the greatest stake in advancing the health of the business organization, the front line stakeholders, become disengaged and reduce themselves to "just doing the job but not contributing anything". With students, they simply disengage with their education all together, judging it to be irrelevant to the real world.
You can probably think of many more reflections you could add but the crucial factor that will decide where E-Learning goes is the quickly moving factor of time.
Consider what lies ahead for E-Learning in 2017 and make it your mandate as a professional to make a real difference in the quality of life for the people in our globally connected societies and most importantly, get off the "hamster wheel" and spend quality time with those who you love, who inspire you and who re-energize you to want to make a difference.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Drawing a Line In the Sand: Critical Thinking Vs. Post Truth Age-Part II

A point that needs to be re-emphasized is that accepting the "Post-Truth Age" as our new reality is dangerous on many levels and the key to whether this continues to take hold is education. It should also be pointed out that accepting this as our new reality will sow the seeds of disruption at many levels of our individual lives making us all vulnerable to manipulation by others who seek to impose their agenda on everybody.

 Again, by definition the Post-Truth Age refers to: "...relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief in the 21st century."  As was pointed out in the last post, the tenets of this "post-truth" mindset are in fact an attack on the idea of fostering effective critical thinking skills in the citizenry of our societies. This cynical mindset basically tells people that they really don't have to think because others will tell you what is true and what to think. The question that comes to mind is:

"Who are the enablers of this post-truth mindset and what are the underlying motives?

The truth about the answer to this might surprise you. We are the enablers because we have allowed rational thought to be eclipsed by emotional reasoning to the point that we are saying that we really don't have to have verifiable evidence to accept something as true as long as it stirs our emotions and we are told that it is quite acceptable to make serious decisions and take serious actions that affects many people based upon how we feel. The more violent the expression the more righteous is our cause.

Really?? Is this the message that we are passing on to school children; that temper tantrums are now socially acceptable? At first glance, you might say that this is an exaggeration and responsible adults in our society do not condone this. However, using the current events that we are all witness to, from the aftermath of the U.S. election to the trouble in the Ukraine where repeatedly, Russian governmental officials said that they had nothing to do with the conflict that erupted, I could easily rest my case.

I have already pointed out the errors in judgment education systems made when young people were taught that emotional reasoning dealing with social issues was more important than looking at the evidence on both sides of the issue; where the teaching of critical thinking skills looked good on paper but never made it into an essential mindset for dealing with all levels of curriculum.

What we didn't foresee was that the generations that were not effectively taught how to apply effective critical thinking skills are now people in office who wield a great deal of power over people's lives and they have become the enablers of a post-truth age.

The Tyranny of Opinion

It has been a well understood freedom in many societies that everyone is entitled to their opinion on any issue that affects human life. It has also been understood in many societies that the next person's opinion on an issue carries the same weight as the opinion of others. This form of equity has existed because we recognize that opinions by themselves are not required to be substantiated for them to be expressed. In contrast, in most societies of educated populations opinions that can be supported with verifiable, up to date and credible evidence are judged to carry more weight than those that are not supported. Based upon the evidence, a person may agree or disagree with the stated informed opinion. This has been the basis of civilized debate for centuries and it has been based upon societies placing a high value on critical thinking skills.


In the 21st century, we are experiencing a shift away from civilized and well reasoned debate and it comes about because of a generation that is either unable to defend their positions because they lack the necessary critical thinking skills sets or they have been indoctrinated into believing that emotions are far more important in deciding issues than the cognitive capacity they were born with. Therefore, when faced with reasoned and supported arguments against a position they hold, two strategies emerge:

  1. Use a new, contrived vocabulary whose sole purpose is to censor debate on issues based on how they are affected emotionally by having to deal with such an issue, or
  2. Use "ad hominem" argumentation to discredit the individual holding the contrary viewpoint to their own
This shift has been driven home more and more on university campuses where once they were touted as places where the constitutional right of freedom of expression was heralded as a great freedom, now have become institutions where the only free speech that is allowed is that of the group think of the social issue supporters of the day. These are groups who have re-interpreted freedom of speech as a freedom of forced conformity.

In a debate titled: Campus Gone Crazy: Is political correctness damaging our universities?”, held at the University of Toronto (Nov. 2016), Anthony Furey, a columnist from Sun media pointed out three important ways that such groups are hijacking true Freedom of Expression:
" Fringe activist groups demand money and power from the system and then use those resources to tell us how to think and speak ..."
" Often some of the key stories underlying social justice warriors’ grievances are exposed as bogus. Like the fake stories used to prop up the rape culture narrative."
Fuery points out that the three strategies that should be used to defend used by against this "group think" control are:
  1.  First, don’t let them make you think you don’t matter as an individual: The far left has used identity politics as a weapon for years. They reduce human beings into nothing more than their gender, colour of their skin, sexual orientation and so on.
  2. Second, don’t let them tell you you’re a bad person. One of the key tactics of PC bullies is to question the motives of people who don’t hold their views. Notice how on many issues they don’t even bother to debate the actual topic? Instead, all they do is rush to label you all of these bad names to seed the idea there’s something deficient with your character.
  3. Lastly, absolutely do not let them frame the debate.
 With respect to education, the word "integrity" should become the most vaunted ideal to engage students with and it is also a value that should be modeled by all educators. In today's education, it needs to be defended and people who model this value should be heralded as examples for becoming a citizen who contributes well to the quality of life of all people.
We need to disengage from baseless opinion mandates and empower reasoned evidential debate on all issues of human life.
Next--Seeking a Better E-Learning Mandate