Friday, April 29, 2011

There is already an e in learning

This week I've taken part in a meeting about quality in e-learning. This is a crucial field for the credibility of net-based education and despite the enormous range of online courses available from the world's universities and colleges there are still relatively few who have any consistent and recognized quality systems in place. Internationally acknowledged standards are essential so that e-learning can become a fully integrated part of the academic world.

However I wonder if partitioning off e-learning as a somehow separate field isn't self-defeating. The traditional approach to education with filled lecture halls, chalkboards, heavy course books and lots of paper and pencils is always viewed as the default. E-learning/flexible learning/net-based learning or whatever you want to call it is the upstart outsider always having to prove its worth. In a world where computers and net access have become largely ubiquitous and the vast majority of the population uses the net for communication, collaboration and creative work is there really still an argument for any type of education to be offline? How can you run a course for today's students that completely ignores the last 20 years of technical development and if you do how relevant is it for those students?

Instead of partitioning off e-learning as a curiosity we should be talking about measuring the quality of all education in the same way, assuming that the net is used for a great deal of the course material, communication and collaboration. Some may be more online than others but you will need very good arguments to claim that you can run a relevant course as it was run in the 1960s. Learning has already got the letter e in it; the prefix should be superfluous.

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