This uncertainty is merited and well-founded but not immune from further analysis.
Traditional classroom learning and eLearning differ in important ways such as time, medium of delivery, context, and various social dynamics. Moreover, traditional and eLearning can both deliver personalized instruction by tailoring pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments to meet the requirements and objectives of individual learners. And while it is certainly not impossible for traditional classrooms to customize training for individual students, personalization within eLearning platforms can afford the learner a much higher degree of choice about what is learned, when it is learned, and most importantly, how it is learned.
It might surprise you to hear that eLearning has been under a bit… ok, a lot of scrutiny in the media lately. Bill Gates an avid supporter of cultivating exciting new eLearning platforms recently admitted to a convention of Ed-tech entrepreneurs and investors that “it’s becoming clear the new orthodoxy comes with major drawbacks… Education technology hasn’t lived up to its transformational promise.” Dr. John Vallance, a notable headmaster of a top private school in Australia, identified an additional problem with personalized e-learning: " when conversation is removed from education, the students find themselves confronted with a uniform point of view. It’s making it quite difficult for children to learn how to disagree, how not to toe the party line, because they can’t question things – the possibility of questioning things has been taken away from them.”
I certainly echo Dr. Vallance’s sentiment that training the ability to thoughtfully question the status quo is a cornerstone of a good education but I do not see a compelling argument as to why the development of this crucial skill cannot occur on an eLearning platform. I am also not aware of any evidence that eLearning runs a higher risk of indoctrinating students any more than classroom learning.
Rather than simply waiting for more data to arrive, or hoping for public opinion to sway, developers of eLearning platforms must work now to inspire critical thought, reflection, and social activity amongst the students, peers, and instructors that interface with them. Inspire learners to impart ideas through discussion boards. Every time a student is tested on the how, include an opportunity for the student to reflect on the why. Integrate storytelling and relevant anecdotes into design approaches. Craft an emotional connection with learners, and initiate situations that requires users be accountable to their peers, instructors, and their own curiosities. Establish group collaboration projects that reverse student’s roles and serve the interests and strengths of not just one user, but multiple group members.
A well-designed, personalized eLearning platform can be an exciting frontier for the learner to explore, but it should never be a journey the learner takes alone.
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