Maxim Jean-Louis, as special advisor to the Minister on the Ontario Online Institute, has being doing a lot of homework recently.
He asked 20 world experts on online learning and distance education for their responses to five key questions about online learning. Here is his summary of the responses to each question of the 13 who replied by the deadline:
Question 1: What is the biggest challenge facing online and distance learning in general today?
Maxim summarized the responses to this question as follows:
Theme 1: Quality design
‘the mindful design of learning experienced by engaged learners which fully leverages the available technology.’ Other iterations around this theme was to focus on the pedagogy, not on the latest developments in technology, and on the need for a team approach to design involving subject experts, educational technologists and web designers.
Theme 2: Access to learning
the provision of access to learning opportunities to those who would not otherwise be able to obtain them.
Question 2: What is the biggest opportunity that online and distance learning in general has today?
Theme 1: Personalizing Learning
Theme 2: Making Quality Learning Widely Available
Theme 3: Growing a Global Market
Question 3:….what is the one overriding step that Ontario ought to take as it attempts to take its online learning system to the next level?
One pointed out that, of the five questions, “this is by far the most difficult one to answer”. In part because it requires a knowledge and understanding of the current state of the online learning developments in Ontario, but also, in part, because the respondents were asked to “land” on one suggestion.
The major theme was a call for evidence-based decision making.
Others suggested that there should be a strategic vision that is bold, compelling and challenging.
Others were less bold, focusing more on the need for decision making to be collaborative.
And there were several comments about the need for adequate resourcing.
Question 4: Conversely, what is the one thing Ontario should avoid?
The key message here is very direct: “avoid focusing too much on the technology instead of focusing on the pedagogy and continuum of approaches to teaching and learning”.
Question 5: What current or emerging technology has the potential of radically transforming online and distance learning?
Theme 1: Don’t be preoccupied with the technology
Theme 2: If you want to lead, focus on mobile learning (the most dominant response to this question)
What this group of experts did not say
Maxim’s analysis of this is very interesting. He noted that the following three things were NOT said:
- they did not say that Ontario needs to abandon anything….Building on strengths is at the heart of the challenge they identify.
- they did not focus on technology in a way that many writers and authorities do.
- no one suggested that we need a new institution or a new form of institution.
First, I should say that I was one of the 13 who replied, so my comments are included in these responses. I would certainly not argue with some of the conclusions.
However, I was somewhat surprised all the same with a number of things:
1. I was surprised that there was a fair degree of consensus on some of the questions. I would have thought there might be more differentiation among experts.
2. Although I agree strongly with the importance of design, I’m not sure I agree with playing down the importance of technology. In my view, the technology, and especially web 2.0 technologies, are potential game changers. What makes the difference is the shift in power: web 2.0 technologies give learners as equal if not better access to learning technologies as instructors, and thus more control over their learning. True, if instructors don’t take advantage of this, things may not appear to be changing, but in the end, if instructors and institutions do not adapt and respond appropriately to this technology shift, they will lose control.
Coming next to a screen near you
Maxim also sent out a different set of questions to private sector providers of platforms, services and infrastructure for online learning in Ontario. I will also provide a summary of their responses, and compare and comment on their responses.within the next day or two.
Go to the source
This is a summary of a summary. The full document can be downloaded from here: Advice From 13 Canadian World Experts.
Questions for you
Are you surprised by these responses, or are they in line with what you would have suggested?
Do you have other responses to these questions?
Would they apply to your jurisdiction of post-secondary education system? If not, what would be the differences?