eLearning and Teaching. What do you think?
While disruption and Digital Transformation go hand in hand, the last few years have disrupted more than the supply chain of things. We’ve seen everything from book companies now producing movies and television shows to car companies defining the market value of cryptocurrencies. Now the virtual supply chains of knowledge (both paid and free sources), communication (our phone apps and social media), and culture (news portals and social media) are becoming more and more influential. Old school ways are slipping away, but they do still pack a punch if we’re willing to give them a chance. Do you have a copier or a typewriter? Then you know what I mean.
It’s not only technological changes that have helped drive learning away from the physical classroom and into the metaverse – we can also thank COVID for that. Whether you’re watching a YouTube video, signed up for a Udemy course, or your school has moved to Zoom or Big Blue Button, education is becoming online education in a very big way.
Learning is More than Just Information Processing
While we process information much as a computer does, there are a few differences. It’s important that people are happy and motivated in order to save the data permanently in our memory. A computer just wants to be plugged in and kept free of dust, but we have to be happy if we’re going to learn. We have to be comfortable and motivated too. Learning motivation is important if we want to retain information for any length of time. Cramming for a test in a hated subject the night before never works very well because we don’t want to. We easily remember the way to our favourite store or the telephone number of the person we fell in love with at the bar. We only learn permanently what we like and want to learn. And, we learn a lot better when we’re moving about.
Whether it be in our brain or on our desktop, the most important prerequisite for information processing is good structure and order – and both can be learned. Every person learns through the differently developed learning channels of their sensory organs. Some people retain and learn better with a visual medium, others with audio, or print. Some people learn very well simply by doing. Learning channels and our sensory organs can also complement each other. For example, some people learn better if there is music playing in the background; others learn better if they write down what they are hearing.
“Research from embodied cognition – the study of the body’s role in thinking – shows that the body must first be interacting with the world to activate and open up the mind for learning. That’s why, for example, students working with a variety of tools and materials during a learning activity are better able to grasp abstract concepts, such as gravitational acceleration or fractions.”https://theconversation.com/why-students-learn-better-when-they-move-their-bodies-instead-of-sitting-still-at-their-desks-165717
This is Not Your Parent’s Classroom
Changes in technology, education, society – if the last two years have shown us anything, it’s that we can’t go back – at least any time soon. While online education is being taken for granted in many parts of the world, classroom education with books is still the norm in other parts. Even within our cities, there are those children who benefit from online classes, and others who do not by virtue of their socioeconomic situation. Not everyone has a device, fast enough wireless, or the space to learn at home. There is a growing digital divide complementing other privileges we might like to keep our eye on.
Over the last decade, much has changed. Society is different. It is changing, growing, or mutating, depending on your perspective. Either from home or remotely, we are working, learning, shopping, and socialising more than ever before. Many of our relationships have been made and consummated in that metaverse somewhere between our fingers, our hearts, and our brains.
Education as a discipline is changing too. It’s moving further from the classroom and the fixed lesson plan to somewhere more ad-hoc and less physical. Technology allows us new ways to study traditional subjects and, at the same time, offers us the chance to embrace new subjects in unexpected ways. Let’s think about how our tech culture has changed over the last generation. Education will probably undergo even more drastic changes as we enter the virtual worlds of research, teaching, and learning.
“Like the printed word and the internet before it, this new medium of information exchange will go from the novel curio many perceive today to one of the ubiquitous tools of our future work.”Neil McDonnell https://www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/metaverse-will-change-everything-including-academic-research
“I never teach my pupils, I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Albert Einstein
The Pros and Cons of eLearning
Helping a student in a virtual classroom is not always easy. It is made more difficult because they are not physically present and we need to rely more on verbal instructions. “Left, the icon on the left, the other left. You see the microphone icon, scroll down to the left of it.” Everyone has experienced this.
Technical issues plague all of us – issues that may not exist in a person to person classroom, even if that classroom is outside or at a cafe. The blackboard, whiteboard, and other teaching aids we enjoy in the physical classroom are made smaller by being on a computer screen. Often students do not turn on their cameras, turning the classroom into a sea of blank faces – even more than in a physical classroom! Technical difficulties can turn a thirty-minute talk into a fifteen-minute one. Helping one student with a problem can take much longer, thereby distracting and losing the focus of other students.
There are of course so many benefits to online education – once we are over the hurdles. Flexibility, self-paced learning, access to courses regardless of location, the ability to develop our technical skills … the list is long.
Added to the expected benefits and downsides of eLearning is the evolving idea of teaching and learning itself. The eLearning ideal is a vibrant, less structured, creative type of learning. This might not be the way teachers are trained, and might not be the best way all students learn. Some of us require more structure – others less. With each disruption for the best, there is some form of collateral damage.
I believe teaching online pushes you to be more creative and more flexible. It pushes students to be more diligent and thoughtful. It’s challenging for both parties, sitting and looking at a screen for long periods of time. Perhaps, as long as we are at home, where we ideally should be relaxing and feeling safe, education should consist of simple tools that are easily understood and accessible by both teacher and student.
“Many teachers understanding gets stuck on the interpretation that teaching and learning have meaning only in giving questions from the teacher to students and the teaching method.”https://www.atlantis-press.com/proceedings/icite-20/125948696 Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Information Technology and Education (ICITE 2020)
Anyone who has sat in a stuffy classroom while the sun is shining outside gets it. You’d rather be outside playing baseball, reading a book, playing Fortnite, skateboarding, or kissing your significant other – really anything is better than sitting there learning French, Maths, or SEO. Right? The benefit of a classroom is that there is no place for the student, or teacher, to go. Everyone can (should) focus. The downside is that not everyone can. Perhaps switching out the teachers and the students is the spark we need.
Homeschooling – eLearning, distance learning, online schooling, “de-classrooming” – whatever you call it, has its benefits as well as its downsides. On-demand learning from around the world while we sit in our pyjamas might be one benefit. We are more comfortable at home, but we can easily be distracted by everything from the doorbell to the cat. We can study around the world without mobility or language problems, but we need to have an internet connection, camera, headphones, and computer to do so. Both imparting and intaking knowledge are becoming more challenging, but any challenge can also have a silver lining.
eLearning and Teaching Questions #DigiBlogChat
- What do we mean by eLearning? What has your experience been?
- There are thousands of free courses offered online. Which have you taken advantage?
- In an ideal world, where could eLearning take us in the future?
The Best Way to Learn Something is to Teach it
Anyone who has tried to explain why it rains or snows, finds themselves quickly Googling the process. It’s something we take for granted, and we are rarely asked to explain it. Parents of small children find themselves asked about everything from why the ocean is blue to where babies come from. We need to put our thinking caps on, and usually, we learn something ourselves in the process.
Whether it be a new project or a new subject matter, we often find ourselves in over our heads at work, school, even day to day life. Ever tried to set up a new computer, or a piece of IKEA furniture? Exactly. We are faced with learning moments each and every day. Conquering these tasks enables us to teach ourselves, so that next time the task is easier. Unfortunately, this information is only something we can use. We need to step outside of ourselves when teaching others.
In practice, learning by teaching combines three major areas:
- intensive cognitive penetration of a subject
- communication so the material can be conveyed
- use of the necessary language and structure
In our digital society, learning by teaching lends itself to channelling a permanent flow of information in an innovative, continuous, and iterative way – much like a DevOps process. We’re becoming better at processing information and making decisions quicker too. A digital culture demands it, and if our generation isn’t fully integrated with tech, the younger generation certainly is.
How Do You Explain Something You Don’t Understand?
In order to explain something, we need to understand it. How can we teach someone if we don’t get it ourselves? Sounds illogical. However, if we need to pass along knowledge other factors come into play – such as pride, expectation, intuition, fear of failure … there is an extra dose of motivation that helps us clear that hurdle. And we do this all the time. How?
- we gain knowledge by asking direct questions
- we experiment to find the best solution
- we have related information – and we use it!
While you may not agree to teach a programming language you have never before encountered, you might be willing to teach CSS if all you’ve ever done is write HTML. How?
Applicability. Use what information you already know to achieve the maximum results in the minimum time. You don’t need to know it all. You need enough to get you started and keep people in their seats.
Relevance. Use the information you have at your disposal to build further information chains. Find connections with those you are teaching to connect with their experiences. Case studies make this that much easier, as do group exercises.
Substance. You need to show what you know. Create examples to show how the knowledge can be used in real-time examples. People want to be able to use what they learn. At the same time, this gives you the chance to test and iterate.
“When students actually teach the content of a lesson, they develop a deeper and longer-lasting understanding of the material than students who do not teach it. … the act of preparing to teach coupled with actually teaching another person is what leads to long-term retention and deeper learning.”https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-01-24-want-students-to-remember-what-they-learn-have-them-teach-it
Real-Life Example: Matomo Analytics
I use Google Analytics for my websites, as do all of my clients. I do show my students the Matomo (formerly Piwik) Analytics system in my classes, so they can see the alternatives. Matomo currently runs on about a million websites and is fee-based. Google Analytics runs on about twenty-eight million websites and is free. There has been a lot of discussion about data protection. Honestly, I don’t see how the two are any different. It doesn’t matter if you collect data, what matters is how you use it.
I agreed to give the workshop because, while I don’t understand Matomo as well as I should, there are enough connections to related nodes that I can rely on. There is a connection with Google Analytics, I understand SEO and page structures, and I have taught before. These are the relevant connections that allow me to say “yes.” Had they asked me to give a workshop on first aid I would have said no because aside from aiding myself I have zero other nodes to rely upon.
While I can use Matomo myself for my basic needs, I don’t use it enough to explain it to others. There’s the “rabbit in the pepper” as they say. We may use a tool, but we would find it difficult to explain it to someone else. So I spent two weeks learning it better than I already understood it. Teaching it as well builds my understanding because there will be unexpected questions. At the end of the day, however, I will now know much more about the product than had I not agreed to teach it.
Online or Offline, What is the Best Way to Teach and Learn?
It’s as difficult to talk about the best way to teach and learn, as it is to talk about the best menu for a restaurant. You don’t want anyone to be left out, but someone probably will be – either on the production or the consumption side. Someone needs to be available to teach that course in that way when that student with those needs appears. Honestly? You can’t even get breakfast at McDonald’s after 11 in the morning.
Creating our ideal teaching a learning program might seem daunting, but we should consider it. You need all the small rungs of a ladder between the first and the last to get to the top. In How Do People Learn? from Creating Courses for Adults: Design for Learning, by Ralf St. Clair. 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. we find a good basis for just those thinkings.
- Learning is a social process …
- People begin to learn by trying peripheral activities, then take on more complex activities as they grow in confidence …
- Individuals will repeat actions that are associated with a reward …
- People learn most profoundly, when faced with a dilemma or need to understand something relevant to them.
Learning, or Teaching, is, in a nutshell, an incremental, social process associated with a reward and based on a need to understand something relevant to the learner.
So. eLearning and Teaching. What do you think? Has the last two years been a change for the better or the worse, or somewhere in the middle? I enjoy not having to commute. It gives me extra time and saves me money. However, I really miss being able to help students in a physical classroom. I also miss moving about! What about you? Teacher or student? How has it been for you, and where do you think education is going?