|Elearning concepts on a 2-dimensional grid|
1. What pattern was formed when you placed these concepts on the grid? Were they evenly spaced or in a cluster?
I could place most concepts on the axis ‘Existing – New’. It made me think about whether these concepts represented something really new you can do with technology, or whether they described an existing concept that is affected by technology. It’s still somewhat arbitrary however, as personalisation, virtual communities and flexibility arguably are not new concepts and might be relevant in a technology-poor learning environment as well. I placed most concept half-way on the axis between formal and informal learning, as I found that distinction quite problematic to make for most concepts. As argued below, the distinction between formal and informal learning is blurring with learners develop Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) in a formal learning environment and informal learning initiatives are looking for ways of more formally recognizing learning.
As an alternative placing the concepts on a timeline could be interesting, as most concepts drift in and out of favour. Google’s nGram viewer for GoogleBooks shows how collaborative learning and personalisation and peer assessment are already mentioned before the widespread adoption of the internet. Other terms such as blended learning, elearning and just-in-time learning seem more connected to the rise of the Internet. It’s a pity that the timeline only runs until 2008, as there appears some indication that the term ‘elearning’ is slightly shifting out of favour.
|Occurrence of elearning concepts with Google's Ngram viewer|
2. To what extent should we think of elearning as a distinct discipline with a need for its own concepts and vocabulary?
I don’t think we should consider elearning as a distinct discipline. Theories on how people learn draw on ideas from psychology, neuroscience, sociology, economy etc. Technology has an impact on all these elements, changing the nature of information, altering business models, impacting modes of delivery, arguably affecting our brains etc., but basically the research domain is still the same, optimizing the way people learn things. The profound impact technology has on learning makes it certainly worthwhile to study, but I don’t see why it should form a distinct discipline. I prefer the term “technology-enhanced’ learning to elearning, because it doesn’t seem to imply a separate discipline.
3. Do you think the formal–informal divide is more or less evident in elearning than in more traditional forms of learning?
I think elearning blurs the distinction between formal and informal learning, mainly by offering more opportunities for informal learning. In the OU courses there is the formal part with the course guide, the forum activities etc. But there is also an important informal element with reading and commenting on others’ blog posts, writing on my own blog, discussing course concepts with friends and engaging with my Twitter network. Not all these elements are limited to technology, but the internet has certainly made it easier to create an online network of people with similar interests and objectives.
The divide is related to what makes learning formal. There are the accreditation, the guidance, the selection and making available of course materials. However, for each of these aspects of formal education there are initiatives challenging the traditional institutions, such as various MOOCs, Stanford’s AI course, MITx, CodeYear and Livemocha.
All these initiatives offer free access to information, guidance and support and (sometimes) some way of accreditation, as a letter of notification (in the Stanford course), free or non-free badges (CodeYear, MITx) or course credits (Livemocha). It seems that, after content and guidance, accreditation is the next (and last?) monopoly of traditional educational institutions that is increasingly coming under attack.
4. Did you find any of the concepts difficult to place on the grid provided? If so, why was this?
Some concepts are difficult to locate because they are not clearly defined. I find ‘mobile learning’ a fuzzy and rather meaningless term, in particular with the growth of tablets, netbooks, e-readers etc. If a read an article in the train on an e-reader or mobile phone, I’m engaging in mobile learning. If I print the same article, print it out and read it on the same train, I’m not engaging in mobile learning. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.