Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Re-Visioning E-Learning: Breaking With Knowledge Silos in Formal Education and Business

The industrial model of education from the 19th century has left us as course designers and instructors, constructs that are no longer viable in the 21st century. One of the hold overs from this model that is still with us today is the idea that the knowledge of disciplines need to be taught from separate, specific compartments complete with their own vocabularies and guiding principles and pedagogy for instruction.


It is for this very reason that schools were designed the way they were with students going along a hallway from class to class. Replace the hallway with a conveyor belt and each class room with stations along that conveyor belt, you have the model of a factory floor where each product in process that is moving along must be conformed to a set pattern. The products, being students, must conform and be adapted to that pattern. Notice that this is not an action that they are performing but it is an action being performed on them.

So, what happens when you have a creative student who is either "gifted" or  what is euphemistically referred to as "challenged"? Putting this back in terms of the factory environment, these disparities would be seen as "defects" because they do not fit the set pattern. In this case, a defective product is either off-ramped to quality where the product is collected with other products for further experimentation or correction. In terms of the school this off-ramping would be to what has been called "classes for the gifted" and "classes for the challenged". These students represent exceptions to the defined norm.

This all brings up some very important questions which are:

  1. Is this model in sync with the needs of the 21st century, given the advances in technology and its application to conducting research and business in online global networks?
  2. In the continuing use of this model, are we preparing students for the past or the future? 
  3. What skillsets do we need to meet the challenges of finding solutions to very real world problems?
When you consider that the goals of this model of education were two fold:

  • to create a work force that that would conform to all required by areas devoted to mass production of goods and services. To discourage anything that did not fit the prescribed pattern, and
  • to create life-long consumers of products and services so that the workers who produced the products also became the consumers of them,
you realize very quickly that in the 21st century, we are still living out these goals especially with the over the top consumerism. Consider what happens, as a case in point, when a new I-Phone comes out:

Sir Kenneth Robinson, a well known author and speaker on the state of education systems in the 21st century makes a strong case for the need to dispense with this model that supports a continuance of a knowledge silos as useful constructs for learning in the following presentation:

As Robinson suggests, a change in paradigm is needed.

" So, if we need a change in the paradigm of education, what are we changing to?"

In this age of the 21st century, we need students who will become effective agents of change who will be able to work together on a global scale in a totally online environment to address the rising global issues that need innovative and effective solutions. They need to have the following skillsets:

  • Able to collaborate with others who may be resident in different cultures and world situations anywhere on Earth to solve global issues that impact multiple groups of nations
  • Able to recognize that the new global issues require the pooling of the talents from various sources in a cross disciplinary approach.

Problems in the 21st century are not one dimensional in nature and therefore can not be adequately resolved by one specialist addressing the problem These new problems require a multi-disciplinary approach. The interconnected relationship of such approach can be illustrated as in the diagram below.

Credit: Lina Markauskaite

Higher education institutions are starting to realize the importance of this needed paradigm change in that areas of study and collaboration are being created to advance  students in ways that are in sync with the realities of the 21st century world.

E-Learning and the New Paradigm

E-Learning is evolving to become a useful asset for meeting the demands that this new paradigm requires. However, it does not just mean a change to a whole new environment, it means a radical re-evaluation of our pedagogical methods that we have grown and entrenched in an education system built on the industrial model. The question that begs an answer is:

"Do our "best practices" still apply when looked at in the context of a completely new environment as represented in the online world?

There are still higher education institutions who allow their instructors to simply copy their courses over to an e-Learning environment in an uncritical fashion and call it e-Learning. The obvious down side to this is that students who attend courses have never known a time when they were not connected to the web so they can recognize that which is true e-Learning that makes use of all the assets of the web and that which is a phony, lazy, attempt to be an e-learning experience.

Attendance statistics for courses tell an interesting story and support the student's awareness of course offerings which are not true e-Learning courses. It seems that in these courses, the only time that attendance is up is when tests need to be done.

E-Learning, Knowledge Silos and Business Organizations

If there was ever an area in our society in need of a revolution in thinking it is in business organizations and the training regimens that they inflict on their employees. There is a very serious disconnect in learning done within business organizations compared to learning that employees engage in outside the hours of business. The idea of using silos of knowledge as a viable construct is alive and well within the learning culture of business organizations. Largely, this is driven by fear that any type of innovation or change will disrupt the flow of business.

So, the question that should be addressed by business is:

"Which is more important, the organizational needs or the learning needs of our employees which directly impact on innovation and performance?"

 Next--Steps for Business into the 21st Century

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Best Practices in 21st Century e-Learning in Formal Education and Business: A Flexible Future


The drive towards the compilation of  and implementation of  "best practices" has been the hallmark for success both in the training environment of business organizations and in the institutions of formal education for much of the 19th and 20th century. These selected practices have been the goal when mentoring new educators and trainers. However, with the rapid development of technology and the ever present web involved in every aspect of our lives, we are faced with some challenging questions:

"Has  technology and the world wide web changed our traditional concept of what best practices are? 

Do we need to re-think the nature of best practices because of rapid change in our society? Can the best practices that have essentially remained static over the years still afford us success and a competitive advantage in a world economy that has a greater focus on the online world of the world wide web?"

A Business Example: The PowerPoint Presentation

First, I want to assure you that I am not disputing the usefulness of the Microsoft collection of tools. What I am questioning is whether or not this approach is still meeting the real learning needs of business organizations as they seek to meet the demands of the 21st century globally connected business economy.


"Does this "best practice" still meet the learning needs of our employees and also our clients?"

This style of "training" is based upon two main assumptions:

  1. The "sage on the stage" approach is best because the person on the stage is the expert on the topic and the audience are the learners.
  2. The goal of training is to impart information that the employee needs in order to better perform his or her job.

In the first assumption there is a neglect to acknowledge a stark reality which is that the world has changed and the changes do have an impact on business organizations. Due to the rise of technology, information is growing at an exponential rate across many disciplines and to suggest that an "expert" has a strong hold on information that impacts a given business is naive at best. It also ignores the fact that because of the integration of technology into the lives of our employees outside the business environment, how they learn as adults has changed.  This brings us to the second assumption which is linked to the changes taking place.


Learning in the outside online world does not treat learners as passive receivers of wisdom. On the contrary, learning is very much interactive where the learner is engaged with the technology with the purpose of developing skills and mindsets that allow the individual to advance in his or her learning. Besides interacting with the technology, the idea of collaboration has taken on a whole new meaning where collaboration is not restricted to physical borders or time. Learning and collaboration is now in a 24/7 framework where any mobile device can have a participant join in and collaborate in a business organization that is a port networked with other ports anywhere in the world.

Credit: Rawpixel on Stocksnap(PIJUE9VV8D)

A third trait that runs contrary to the "training" best practices is the idea that learning needs to be ongoing rather than "one and off" training sessions. This means that the learning culture of a business organization needs to change the mindset of meeting organization needs in a checklist of needs to meeting, encouraging and GROWING the learning of employees. In such a change, the business will experience a greater ROI that is directly in harmony with what is really happening in the outside world.

So, what does this all mean for the concept of best practices in business learning?

Re-Visioning Best Practices: Five Qualities

  1. If  best practices are still be considered as a great guide to effective business learning then they need to be adaptive, flexible and individualized to the needs of the learner. Best practices should always point to the future and not be unchanging and rooted in the past because the one constant in the 21st century is constant change.
  2. The design of learning experiences need to have the qualities of being: meaningful, memorable, motivational and measurable for learners. Learners need to be engaged in their learning on a regular basis within the organization and the organization needs to weave a drive to learn throughout the organization from the C-Suite to the entry level personnel. It should become a natural mindset in the way a business competes and serves their client base.
  3. For the benefit and health of the organization, learning needs to have stronger connections to the ROI which will happen if decision makers make it part of their organizational mission.
  4. Employees need the assurance that their ideas that they arrive at through collaboration have value for the organization. To accomplish this, business organizations should have forums where employee collaborative groups can pitch and defend their ideas. Such a forum could follow similar parameters as the t.v. reality show called: "Shark Tank".
  5. Establish a new staff position titled: "Learning Principles Director". If you wish to know exactly what that means, ask me. HINT: It has to do with establishment of mentor networks.

Effectively competing in a globally connected world means capitalizing on the intellectual assets found within business organizations. This means establishing the free flow of information through networked collaboration. You as a business organization have a choice; you can stay on the treadmill constantly running to keep up or you can act proactively and force your competition to keep running to keep up. Business organizations such as Apple and Google testify to the importance of placing a priority on learning. 

Are you ready to join them?