Welcome Dave!

My friend Dave has just launched his new (wonderfully titled) blog: e e learning.

In it, he refers to a time back when he and I and others were at Universal Learning Technology (now WebCT) ” almost 10 years ago planning out what should be in this online learning tool we were creating. one of us lightened the stress of the meeting by commenting that it really didn’t matter that we get to bothered with the specifics. afterall, 10 years from then we’d be laughing at how naive we were.”

It was more like 5 years ago but with the time compression of the so-called “Internet age,” it’s *like* 10 years ago. I have no idea who said it either but it really was dead on. And yet, at the same time, there are some core ideas which we knew had to be in there. There are some things about teachers and about learners that have not changed for millennia. I’ve always fallen back on David Perkins’ four core ideas for any teaching/learning venture (as outlined in his book “Smart Schools”) which are:

1) Clear information: whatever you do, do it clearly. Don’t be cryptic with your learner. This applies not just to the learning content itself but also when communicating goals to the learner. What is expected of them? When is it due? What must they do to succeed?

2) Thoughtful Practice: give them real ways to work with the knowledge. And this, to me, is one of the two places that eLearning falls down all too often. The best we can usually do is multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank. It’s often just too hard to provide real interactions, real opportunties for learners to really work with what they are learning in a constructive way (watch out, you’re making me dredge up my constructivism bent…)

3) Informative Feedback: The learner needs to be given thoughtful, insightful, and useful feedback on how they are doing. It is not enough to say correct or incorrect. Rather, a why and a deeper explanation is best. Often this is an area where having an active human instructor is desirable to truly help the learner understand what they are doing well and what they need to work on further. To provide this in a distance education setting where there may not be a human instructor the website must be very well designed and capable of responding to a wide variety of situations so that the learner remains on track. This is the other area in which much eLearning falls down.

4) Intrinsic or Extrinsic Motivation: The full unit should be as interesting as possible. If the lesson itself is intrinsically motivating, research shows that the learner performs best. If this is not possible for whatever reason, having an extrinsic reward is a suitable substitute.

This is just one way to slice the teaching and learning pizza, but I’ve found it a useful model over the years. And it makes it clear where the true difficulties lie. 1 and 4 are easy. Being clear and making the content or experience motivating are both very possible (and some have argued that while eLearning is till new, you almost get #4 for free half the time). But 2 and 3 are the really hard problems. Especially #2. I’ll save for later talking about constructivism and the later extension of it at MIT of constructionism.

I’m glad Dave is writing. He’s a fantastic voice to add to fray and I am looking forward to what he’ll produce.