Thursday, September 24, 2009

Social Learning: New Frontiers?

I had an interesting conversation on the scope of e-Learning and how much it will replace the traditional classroom training in the next five years. Obviously, there were many sceptics in the group, and they were pushing the opinion that e-Learning is not nearly as good or effective as someone standing up to teach. However, it was heartening to note that most people saw the argument for what it is - a passionate plea for horse-drawn cars when automobile has started coming to the market - and the fact that usually it is comparing some basic e-learning efforts with some very good teachers.

The general opinion, therefore, was that e-learning will continue to expand in scope and possibly replace most of what is done in classrooms today. The panel touched upon various media comparison studies, which proved, over a number of years [starting 1947, when such a study was first carried out, a comparison between video, paper-based and classroom training] that the learning outcomes do not vary significantly based on the media, or technology-assisted learning has slight advantages over tutored classes. We should not take it for granted that people would necessarily learn better when tutored by an excellent tutor than when taught through technology. Besides, one has to weigh in the fact that tutoring quality often varies, though it is possible to ensure a certain level of consistency in e-Learning.

However, though it seemed most people agreed on the effectiveness of e-Learning and seriously considered the possibility that it will replace most tutored classes in five years time, its detractors got some traction on one point: e-Learning misses out on the social features of learning. However, it need not be. One can possibly point out that synchronous learning, where a group of learners can attend a class virtually, is becoming more and more common, and fairly inexpensive with various free webinar tools. e-Learning is becoming as social as anything can be, as long as social features of learning do not mean free lunches.

I also think that these social features of learning can be enhanced in e-learning in a way it rarely works in classrooms. Leaving out a free elite institutions, how many times can one really have a 'LogicaCMG Six Sigma Class of April 17Th 2006'? It is getting some Phi Beta Kappa quality in the day to day learning, a bit of pride injected for achieving an additional skill at work. e-Learning can be recorded, displayed and a community can be built around it. It can help put pride and involvement back into learning. So, in this count too, I think e-learning will score, as upload/download web arrives in e-Learning and we are ushered into the brave new world of Learning 2.0.

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