E-Learning for the BC Tech Industry 

An opinionated monthly column exploring the current use, future potential, and commercial value of e-learning in BCs high tech sector.

People to People not just People to Content - Learning Environments for Active and Alive Content: February 14th, 2003

By Paul Stacey


The focus of much e-learning is on efficiently and effectively bringing people to content. Providing standardized learning content in a 24/7 form factor, accessible anywhere anytime, is an aspiration shared by all education providers be they private or public, large or small.


In response to the benefits this opportunity provides, a vast array of e-learning content has been produced. At its best we have libraries and curricula of off-the-shelf, or custom designed, e-learning content taken and accessed autonomously through independent self-service. At its worst we have course notes online.


If "content is king" then Canada's research investment in the creation of e-learning object repositories for shared distribution and reuse is sure to pay off.


Feeding the rush to more online content are international e-learning specifications and standards that focus on content meta-tagging - an essential attribute for all e-learning content.


The push is on for content, content, content. But e-learning's market pull is for the human side of e-learning.


The greatest value of e-learning is in its ability to bring people to people not just people to content.


Too much of e-learning content seeks efficiencies by reducing the human interactive aspect of learning.


I deplore the e-learning practice of eliminating the teacher from the actual delivery of a course. It limits student engagement, motivation and learning success.


I lament the overuse of independent, self-paced study as an e-learning pedagogical model, especially in corporate e-learning. Peer-to-peer learning and interaction is a must have, easily enabled through e-learning. Most adults in the workplace find interaction with peers one of the most valuable aspects of a course, workshop, or seminar.


I implore us all to move past our obsession with prepackaged, fossilized e-learning content, to active and alive e-learning content. Lets talk about how we create "learning moments" not "learning objects".


Learners don't want static, dead content. They want content that is dynamic and alive. People bring content to life.


What does active and alive content look like?


Active and alive content is co-constructed by students, teachers and others together.


I think we spend way to much of the e-learning effort on having teachers or subject matter experts create canned content. Why not just build an e-learning framework or scaffolding and have those who are learning construct the finished content of the course?


Lets redeploy some of the e-learning content creation effort into designing activities that enable active engagement with learning.


Active content is current and evolving.


Active and alive content changes and can be easily modified or updated.


Active and alive learning environments are places where questions are asked and answered. Where real people provide guidance and inspiration.


Active and alive learning environments are more like learning communities than learning repositories. They focus on bringing people to people not just people to content.


One of the greatest benefits e-learning provides is the ability to bring geographically dispersed participants into a shared learning experience. E-learning enables cohorts of distributed or multinational participants to all learn together. The resulting experience infuses the e-learning experience with a rich regional and multicultural perspective.


Learning environments that don't enable relationship are isolating and impersonal.


Active and alive learning environments make extensive use of peer-to-peer learning. One of the most valuable aspects of any learning moment is the interaction and exchange between peers not just with the teacher. Peer-to-peer online learning is surprisingly effective at generating bonds between participants and a sense of camaraderie that enables tacit learning exchange.


Learning paths and content created by peers is often just as good if not better than teacher or expert created content.


Active and alive e-learning environments enable access to remote or high demand experts. E-learning brings outside resources, inside. Experts can be anywhere and still facilitate learning. Experts can provide continuous feeds to a learning environment or be interspersed as scheduled "live" guests.


Real people, real problems, real experiences heighten learner motivation and bring relevance and immediacy to the learning.


Online the role of teachers diversifies from being the sole learning facilitator to being one of a range of learning leaders. Active and alive learning makes use of mentors, tutors, guides, demonstrators, evaluators, peers, and subject matter experts.


Over the last couple of years when we've talked about e-learning technologies we reference learning management systems, learning content management systems, and virtual classrooms.


These are necessary components of e-learning but not sufficient. The effective blend of these e-learning technologies with those that enable active and alive content will provide the full-package deal.


Over the next couple of years I expect technical discussions of e-learning to expand and include integration of applications for blogs, instant messaging, polling, voice boards, threaded discussion and conferencing, knowledge exchange, and webcasting.


I expect e-learning content to broaden and emphasize collaboration and interaction. Virtual meeting rooms, remote application sharing, Voice-Over-IP, and distributed participation in live events will all create new forms of e-learning content.


I beseech e-learning content developers to diversify pedagogical approaches from an emphasis on lectures, presentations, and course notes to active and alive pedagogies like webquests, game-based learning, simulations and team-based learning.


As the volume of e-learning content builds I can't help but wonder - Does learning require content?


Paul Stacey, is an e-learning specialist in corporate and higher education. Paul works in Simon Fraser University's eLearning Innovation Centre (eLINC). A frequent e-learning speaker and workshop leader Paul collaborates with Jonathan Finkelstein in providing and hosting a free online learning community for educators called LearningTimes. Contact: Paul Stacey

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