Well, it’s the end of the year, and so why not a personal retrospective of the worldwide state of e-learning at the end of 2008? I did this originally for the European Eqibelt project, based in Croatia, but thought I would share it with you all. Once I have had some Christmas pudding, I might be somewhat more optimistic.
First, there is a lot of activity and an increasing number of professors and instructors using e-learning, all around the world. In the USA, online enrolments have increased on an average of about 12 per cent per annum for the last five years (Allen and Seaman, 2008), compared with an average of about 2 per cent per annum of overall enrolments. Just over 25 per cent of all post-secondary students in the USA are taking at least one course fully online.
Second, many institutions have stopped thinking strategically about e-learning, seeing it is an everyday and normal part of teaching. The issue then is how best to teach, and then e-learning will be used as part of that. This may seem to be progress, in that the use of technology is now being taken for granted. However, the danger is that many of the issues around the use of technology don’t get adequately addressed when it is ‘buried’ within normal curriculum discussions.
This concern has been raised in two different ways. One is a lack of return on investment. The European Commissioner responsible for this area expressed this concern at the 2008 EDEN conference in Lisbon. He pointed out that national governments and the European Commission have invested over a billion dollars in ICTs for education, but have seen little change or improvement as a result.
The other, related, issue is the lack of innovation. The World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Committee on Technology and Education at its recent meeting in Dubai (November, 2008) commented:
‘Education is in a state of transition from a traditional model to one where technology plays an integral role. However, technology has not yet transformed education
• Student expectations about the educational experiences (e.g., connected, participatory, engaging) are not being realized
• Students are digital “natives” while teachers are “laggards”
• Rather than introducing 21st century skills, technology is often being used to automate outdated education paradigms
• Technology changes what students/citizens need to learn (e.g., analysis over rote memorization)’
In other words, technology is in the main just being added-on to the traditional classroom experience. Thus, while there are ‘pockets’ of innovation, technology is not being used for systematic change. This was well illustrated recently by a Ph.D. study of ICT integration in five European universities by Albert Sangra Morer, of the Open University of Catalonia (2008). He found few if any institutions had a formal strategic plan for ICTs and its impact on teaching and learning, and none had any way of evaluating or measuring performance resulting from ICT investment.
What would true innovation look like? Well, it would be a break from the 9 to 5, block timetabling of classes. With students able to access teaching and learning anywhere at any time, there is no need to have everyone coming to the same place at the same time, every day. This is not to say there is no role for the campus, but teaching could – and should – be organised quite differently from today’s predominantly 19th century model of education.
Where are the ‘pockets’ of innovation? The area with the most potential is the use of Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs, wikis, virtual worlds, and mobile technologies such as phones, cameras, and iPods, that allow learners to collect, create, share and evaluate their own learning materials. A second area where innovation is possible – but still very slow to develop – is the use of open educational resources. However, not for use by instructors too lazy to create their own teaching materials, but by students where instructors have created a learning environment that encourages learners, to seek, find, analyse and apply information appropriately.
Why is change and innovation through the use of technology so necessary in our education systems? Because the traditional methods are preparation for an industrial society that is fast vanishing. We need to use technology as an integral part of our teaching and learning activities to prepare learners for a knowledge-based society, where learning prepares for and matches the world of work, leisure and society. This is just not happening to any degree yet. Albert Sangra’s thesis provides some of the reasons for this, but they are pretty much well known: lack of incentives for institutions to change, lack of reward for instructors who improve their teaching, lack of management training for senior university administrators, and above all, a systemic failure by educators to understand the teaching implications of the knowledge-based society.
There: I feel better for that
Allen, I. E. and Seaman, J. (2008) Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008 Needham MA: Sloan Consortiun
Sangra, A. (2008) La Integració de les TICs a la Universitat: Models, Problemes i Reptes Unpublished Ph.D., Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain.
World Economic Forum