Wednesday 19 December 2012

The Current State of Online Learning: the Pregnancy Analogy

Take 2:

Have you ever been pregnant? Didn’t it seem as though nearly every other woman of childbearing age was pregnant too? Amazing.

Ever enrolled in a MOOC? Everyone with an interest in education (students and teachers alike) seems to be doing one. In fact, everyone's online, isn't that the way all education, at every level is heading?

My coursera experience has taken me down a path where I was starting to think that anything face to face or slightly blended was just so 20th century and that I’d better pick up the pace before I was left behind, even though I already teach a fully online graduate course!  

My EDCmooc conversations were beginning to consolidate those thoughts, with every day, new links on twitter about pedagogy, classrooms of the future that are already here, ink and paper now obsolete…..

The first article which really started me thinking I was behind the eight ball with connectivism was  “Learning technology through three generations of technology enhanced distance education pedagogy”, a great read on the evolution of distance education pedagogy. One line in particular, which I have quoted several times since reading, mainly in response to those who are overwhelmed with the accelerating pace of life in general and fear for things that may be lost to technology:

From  1928: “Students today depend upon store-bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”

I wonder for how long that particular educator continued to insist on ink making lessons in their classes?

The next twitter link to impact on my worried mind was “12 YouTube Videos Every Online Educator Should View”, specifically, an animation titled “The Voice of the Active Learner”. I was starting to feel that things had moved ahead much further than I had been aware of. Time to panic?

By the very nature of my post graduate course, most students are adult, ranging from mid 20’s upwards. Perhaps being digital immigrants, they set the pace and now we’re in trouble, becoming dinosaurial before our eyes?????

Then our facebook discussions with Eric on the use of iPads in education made me think about iPad classrooms and bring your own device, which will be happening in 2013 for my 9yo son. And next to thinking very hard about my own experience and that of my offspring. I've helped fundraise for the school to provide funky coloured iMacs in the classroom at a ratio of 1 for every 4 students in 2000, then change to PCs as soon as the Macs became obsolete. I've seen netbooks provided in the Digital Education Revolution Scheme of 2008 not only diminish the online experience for secondary students, but now 4 years on, become ewaste. The next great thing is but a fleeting experience in the 21st century.

As for my own children: they range from digital native (my 9yo who has advanced skills with powerpoint, publisher, word, photo editing, image editing, edmodo…OK, minecraft, and well everything really) to digital refugee (my 23 yo honours student daughter who has steered away from social media and still attends face to face lectures in preference to just learning from the downloaded versions) with everything in between. None of them use digital cameras, all still shoot on film and process their own. But are far from Luddite.

So their verdict?

My youngest watched the animated video with me and remarked that he would still prefer a pen and paper because it feels more real, and that edmodo is fine as long as the teacher only makes them use it occasionally. He thought the vision did not represent his reality. The 23 yo, well of course she is a major beneficiary of online education tools and technology, but she really can’t see any benefit in it over the analogue world. Nice to be able to pick and choose, although I’d like to see her sequencing genomes without pyrosequencing…..

And all on the iPad? Well one only has to look at the stats on any of your blogsites to see where the views come from. And it sure looks like Windows is still the dominant point of entry for this blog, with only 2% of views on iPads, maybe because we are “mature”, but what the heck, I own a tablet…

So what is really happening? Sure, we live in an age of accelerating technological advancement where space time compression is an unavoidable reality. I’m really into reading about the singularity, and can’t wait till the trans-humanists start uploading their consciousness onto their iPad25s. Who needs a body. 

But until then, the future for online education is a certainty, although whether it will play out any more predictably than it has in the past is unlikely. Who knows what will happen with MOOCs. My guess is as good as the next. Perhaps they will head to the digital black hole where napster and myspace ended up or morph into another form like iTunes or Facebook.

In the meantime, I’m applying my Pregnancy Principle to online education. Despite being totally immersed in the cutting edge online education experience myself, I just have to remember that it's not a pressing reality for everyone...yet!!


  1. HI Angela.Thanks for being our first Quad blogger...very brave of you. I like your first blog because it gave me a glimpse of who you are and what you have been doing. It helps me stay focused on what you have to say, if I know a little about you and your background and interests. This class is about connections and networking and learning from others. Nigel, I thought your comments were somewhat harsh. I do not think we are here to critique writing technique, but to share. I am new to blogging, but when I teach writing to third graders, we begin our comments on another's writing with 2 positive observations and then one suggestion for improvement. Anyway,Angela, my favorite part of your second post was the video "The Voice of the Active Learner" Isn't that why we are all taking this class? So we can meet the needs of students today and students of the future?

    1. Willa
      I was not being critical. I think you will find that I said I enjoyed the post and in fact, as Angela has pointed out, I was responding to the post script.
      I never have nor will I ever in the future criticise someone’s post. It is their post and should be written in a way that they are happy with and, as I have experienced, the writing style changes. Of course style depends what the subject is. A serious subject requires something more thoughtful than a frivolous one.

    2. By the way guys, I am up for some healthy critique. Maybe not on my grammar, but certainly the content!

      I am grappling a little (just a little) with the directions of online learning, but I might be living in a bubble, or then again, maybe everyone is pregnant, or not... So love to hear your views on my views any time.

      The article I posted on my last comment is interesting, UWS providing iPads to student and staff, because currently only 5% use them. Doesn't that say something??? That means 95% don't. But I can't imagine they all submit hand written work, so must be using computers of some kind. Also, this particular institution does service a lot of disadvantaged areas. So maybe it is not really about online learning. Just thinking...

    3. Nigel
      I am such a dolt. I read Angela's post script and because I saw NB, I thought that those were your comments. I never read the post about your liking her blog until now. I'm hoping you will forgive my blundering.

  2. Thanks Willa, never thought that our background would help reading & writing, but I guess it puts someone's thoughts in context, and after all, we often know about an author before we read their book. Can I look forward to hearing about your lives then?!
    Ary and I had a chat on facebook last night while she walked me through a technical issue. We talked also about where we live and the pain of slow internet connections outside the city. So now we can place each other too... it helps.

    Now to Nigel, I didn't think he was in any way harsh, but responding to my post script perhaps, where it was me being critical. On that point, I think it was just me rereading my post the next day and wondering how it wandered so much that I didn't make my point in the end. No matter, made it through a second post and I think it has helped. It certainly helps knowing you have a specific audience, if only to remember that an actual human, regardless of their interests, has to read my rantings. Might temper them!
    It was also interesting to read the comments at the end of that video. Not everyone agrees with its sentiment.

    I wonder what the age range is for our course? I think age might be a reason for taking it, so we understand the world, culture and thinking of future students, by definition, younger than us?

    1. Angela
      Sorry to say still not experienced pregnancy, I feel quite left out.
      I am still uncertain about on line education. I think you are correct in that it is certain to gain momentum but I wonder if there is a fad phase to this and after more research is conducted it will be seen as dumbing down education. I don't see why it should as long as the educators adopt the technology and pedagogic methodology to suit.
      I also suspect that it will not be long until MOOCS will be charged for. As I have said previously at the moment they are loss leaders so that institutions can get their claws into potential sponsors, oh I mean students.
      Love the video you added. Nice touch.

    2. Pregnancy is not good for the figure anyhow Nigel, so don't worry about it!

      I don't think online dumbs down education. Like face to face, surely it depends on many, many things as in how a course is constructed, delivered, presented and assessed. And not every subject is suitable for online delivery of course. There are always cries that education in general is dumbed down. But I just don't see this being the case, anywhere. Sure, there are always whacky education trends that are questionable, but ultimately these seem to be corrected in time, and perhaps they might have dumbing effects, but I don't see online as one of them.
      I think online education, as provided by MOOCs, SMOOCS, whatever, can only surely help to elevate the general education level of all societies, in many age groups.

      I was one of the lucky students in Australia who got their undergrad degrees when university was free in the 70s and 80s. I also suspect I will be one of the (many) lucky people of the free MOOC period! So lets do a few while we have the opportunity! I don't think I would pay much for a MOOC anyhow, unless it was a really top course at a top institution. I'd rather pay for a "real" qualification if I were to invest many $.

  3. Looks like I am really lagging, have a look at this!
    UWS, the uni closest to where I live giving away iPads!

  4. Hi Angela - thanks for your post - I like the activelearner point - but it takes me right back to my dystopian view of organised education...
    There seems to be an implicit belief that it is a 'good thing', that it is designed to do what it says: to educate and 'lead out', that is is meritocratic... and that if you do not or can not learn within it - then you are the problem rather than the way that education is organised - and typically to mirror or reinforce the inequalities of the society that shaped it. Given that we are born learning animals, how can it be that so many fail in the system? Surely it can only be that it is designed that way? Here I return to John Holt - and how schools make children fail. One reason that I do believe that Digital Diploma Mills is still a seminal text in this debate is that he also refers to the point of 'education' and compares it to training -which is what the majority are actually offered. (That is, he does in the 2002 version of his article - which is the one I prefer - and there's a link in my blog.) This MOOC - because it is peopled and driven by you and so many others of integrity and energy - is wonderful... but I do not think that that is why Govts push us into online learning. I think, with Noble (2002), that it is to de-professionalise staff and de-nature education (for the majority) even further. This does not mean that we cannot wrest back control - but we can only do that if we notice what is going on in the first place. My metaphor for 'learning development', my field, but I hope that it could apply to all education including the online - is that it is an Adventure Playground: a bit dangerous, a bit risky, a total adventure - and absorbing because our intrinsic love of learning is harnessed...
    PS: can I ask a technical question - how do you customise your page so that you can add your quad-bloggers and the other blogs that you are following? I would like to do the same with mine... Best, Sandra

  5. Did you manage to see that other article I posted? Perhaps you might enjoy it, I think it says it all.

    And of course the other is the Ken Robinson RSA talk which has similar sentiments: the educational model reflects manufacturing and is designed to produce a labor force to service the economy.

    I wrote this blog post as I was getting the hang of blogging, I think it was my first quadblog one. I wanted to revisit it in light of the first week. I think my sentiments sill hold about digital natives and immigrants. But maybe I now have a slightly more considered view. Maybe I will add a post script later.

    I don't tend to be dystopic, however, the more I learn, the more I am agreeing with you. I have also been joining my son with his lectures in Sociology and as we have explored conflict theory and education as an instrument to maintain hegemony, I go even further into the wormhole! I daren't read any more Chomsky!

    I will read the articles you suggest and post on your blog. FOr me, the question is how to swim against the tide in one liftime. It's a big tide too!

    To change your page, you go into your dashboard and click on layout. Then in the space you want to put the widget, you click "add a gadget" and it brings up a whole lot of gadgets you can add. There are lots, you can get carried away! You can also add your own by getting the code. I think Ary has a world clock on hers which is handy for time conversions. Let me know if you get stuck. Angela