Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Revolution or evolution?

I feel increasingly uncomfortable about the terminology I use every day to describe what I work with. I talk and write about e-learning, m-learning, net-based learning, distance eductaion and so on as if they were something completely new and different from all that has gone before. Similarly there's a tendency to present radical visions of how the web will make schools, universities, libraries and books virtually obsolete. Examples of this are Bill Gates a few months ago proclaiming that In five years the best education will come from the web and Nicholas Negroponte at the same event claiming that The physical book is dead in five years. I fully understand how they think but maybe the shock tactics cause more harm than good.

Trench Direction Sign by Kevin H., on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Kevin H. 

There's a lot of truth there and I do believe that we are seeing a major change in how education is perceived but it's important not to polarise the issues. The web is not going to wipe out the great universities and kids will still need to attend school in the future. To sweep them away completely is simply too radical and we'd then need to create new fundamental structures in society. Similarly the way we access books and magazines is changing but the concept will remain roughly the same. What would we replace them with? Can't they evolve and develop?

Some people react to our talk about net-based learning by thinking that we're against all physical meetings. They mistakenly think that we want all learning to take place via a computer and that we reject anything that is not digital. This kind of either/or interpretation is very damaging and often leads to entrenched positions at schools and colleges between traditionalists and the net educators.

We need to gather round the concepts we all believe in such as learning, education, teaching, training and study and then look at how they can be developed using the tools and methods available today. I don't think there is any e-learning or m-learning; it's all learning but using different media when relevant. Sometimes chalk and talk can be very effective and other times social media can be used to great advantage. We should welcome new technology and ask ourselves what new avenues can we explore with their help rather than digging trenches against the threat of innovation.

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