Wednesday, November 26, 2014

E-Learners of the Future: New Skill Sets and the New Breed of E-Learning 2 Instructors

I have a question for you as instructors:

What if when you applied for a position with a E-Learning organization you were told the following:

  • You will not be expected to teach content
  • You will not have to perform students assessments on your own but instead assessments on students would be done as part of a team
  • You will not have to do administrative tasks that involve filling out forms for various administration officials
"What would your response be to this?"
I would suggest to you that the most obvious question you would probably have is:

"If I am not doing the above, then as an E-Learning instructor, what exactly would I be doing with the students under my care?"

It is my contention, and you can quote me on this, that instructors and corporate trainers as a group are the most badly utilized people in the professions. People who are educators are normally highly intelligent and highly creative people with a strong desire to bring out the best in their students. It is not that the magnitude of what they are asked to do is great but that the nature of what they are asked to do very often does not capitalize on their greatest gifts found in their intellect and their high level of creativity. More and more they have been asked to commit to tasks not within their experience and training and yet are held accountable for getting results. Couple this with the attacks on their professional reputations from the public that they serve, it leads to an increasing level of burn out.

The point is that whether we are talking about e-learning educators or corporate trainers, we need to make smarter use of their talents than to task them with duties that could either be automated or handled more effectively by people who have administrative talents and interests.

So, this brings us back to the question: "What exactly will an e-learning instructor or corporate trainer do with those under their care?"

Given the new role of the e-learning instructor as a change agent in societies that desire to see the growth of a culture of innovation that will enrich the lives of people, the following would become some of the duties of a new breed of e-learning instructor:

  • Create irresistibly engaging learning experiences within the organization that utilize effective pedagogy within an online environment. They would research the use of both social media tools, mobile learning tools and tools that promote an interactive experience for the learners. Educators become design thinkers.

  • Create a sense of community in the online environment similar to what the brick and mortar classroom teacher attempts to do at the start of every school year.

  • Promote a cross disciplinary approach to learning. This effectively means that less emphasis is placed on the past compartmentalized format of disciplines in favour of the understanding that learning to solve real world issues requires the skill sets and concepts from more than one discipline. The entrenchment of the separation of disciplines can be seen when a student in a history class is given a problem that also involves mathematical calculations. Their protest takes the form of a question:"Why do I have to do math? This is a history class!"

  • Make contact with the learners and establish a profile that describes their aptitudes, interests and goals. Introduce learners to each other so that they may get to know each other in regards to interests, talents and aptitudes. This is important since one of the goals would be to harness these talents in targeted online collaboration activities.

  • Make contact with leading people in the disciplines which learners will have to draw from for the level of education that they are at. There are two purposes for doing this. First, the educator will be creating a professional network which students will use as a resource as they work through their education. The mentor would volunteer their time for a variety of connections with students. Students would be able to call upon them for guidance when confronted by real world issue in order to be able to analyze the problem from more than one perspective. They would be able to receive feedback on their proposed solutions. The mentor would also provide an audience for student to air their ideas through the use of professional sites where they could post and receive feedback. The benefit for the mentors would be that they would get a glimpse of potentially good candidates for their fields of endeavour.

  • Mentors would also become part of the assessment team along with the instructor to help evaluate student thinking and progress.

  • Instructors would mentor students in effective habits of the mind based upon the critical thinking skills outlined in Bloom's Revised Taxonomy but this would be fully adapted for an online environment. This would also be incorporated into the design of e-learning courses and their activities.


  • Instructors could conduct their course anywhere in the world where there is a high speed connection to the web and at a time that they determine in concert with the learners and the mentor network.
 We need to stop wasting the intellectual and creative capital found with our instructors. With the coming of a new breed of e-learning instructor, we need to educate the following groups in the new model of online learning which is evolving as a result of the development of transformative pedagogy and rapid change in knowledge and technology:
  • Politicians need to be educated so that they understand that if they truly desire innovative change in the quality of life for their citizens that will match other countries, it needs to start with a sincere commitment to an educational path that will bring this about. This will not be easy because what is being suggested is change that is disruptive but that is the very nature of effective innovation. Politicians in turn need to educate the public they represent on the merits of these changes.
  • Educator training faculties need to be educated so that they understand that the present pattern of training that has been based upon the industrial model of education for so long is not in synch with the 21st century world that students will teach in. If they persist in adhering to this pattern the disconnect by students from their education that is happening right now will continue to increase and will in fact call into question their own usefulness.
  • Educators need to be educated so that they understand that there is a great opportunity arising in which finally their talents can be effectively used, that they will be highly valued as important agents of change in our societies and they will see a new generation of learner moulded  who will make a very positive difference in the quality of life of people that will be enjoyed by all due to their efforts.
  • Corporate entrepreneurs need to be educated so that they understand and can see how high the ROI will be with the right investments in education.

At this point, many might suggest that its a nice dream but it will never happen. One of the greatest obstacles that we face in such a vision coming to fruition is the systemic cynicism that pervades much of the thinking in our societies. In dwelling upon the negatives in our lives we make the negatives into self-fulfilling prophecies in which we promise the new generations nothing but a future of despair. We owe them a better future and need to involve them as architects of that future early in their educational lives.

More later.......

Friday, November 21, 2014

E-Learners of the Future--Learning On the Edge--Part III-- Student and Instructor Skill Sets

In the last post I suggested to you that overcoming ingrained attitudes that do not synch with the online environment would be a struggle for some. There are those who try to rationalize away the idea that perhaps we are venturing into something new with the attitude that "there is nothing new in the way of learning under the sun" and that each technology generation is no different from the one that came before. In effect this is a plea to maintain the status quo in learning and learning environments. However, the facts that we have available to us suggest differently. No time in human history has knowledge in the various disciplines expanded exponentially compared to what is happening now. Learners have access to more knowledge via the world wide web than teachers could possibly teach them in many life times. Research into how the brain works in regards to how humans learn has revealed more that what we had known in previous decades and this research has to be a factor in transforming our pedagogy. To suggest that one age is no different from the next in terms of adapting new skill sets is naive at best. The online learning environment is decidedly different from the brick and mortar environment of last two hundred years and it is the skill set requirements for this learning environment that I wish to focus on in this post.

Harnessing the new technologies in the transforming of pedagogy is the key to the types of skill sets required. Lets consider some learning experiences that students might come across in an e-learning organization and then ask the question:

"What skill sets do students and instructors need in order to address this learning experience successfully?"

In posts in the past I have suggested to you that learning experiences need to be:

  • irresistibly engaging
  • make use of technologies that engage as many of the learners' senses as possible
  • be focused on learners dealing with real world issues in which they have an opportunity to receive relevant feedback from professional learning communities in the global networks
  • foster collaboration among learners
  • have learning objectives that are derived from a focus on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy
  • have strong mentoring resources
  • make use of the lessons learned from PBL and experiential learning
I also suggested that the use of simulations and real life scenarios be an integral part of student learning experiences. Here is a rough scenario description:

Scenario:  "Ebola and North American Response"
Task: "You and your fellow students are being enlisted to come up with workable protocols for dealing with the potential outbreak of Ebola in North America. You must devise a plan for hospitals to put in place that will enable them to quickly identify and deal with potential cases without creating undue stress on their resources and keeping medical staff safe from possible infection. You are on a time limit and must present your plan and defend its merits to a panel of professionals who have a stake in a solution."
Setting the Scene: "To work on this task, you will choose an avatar to represent you in the collaboration and then enter into a virtual reality immersive laboratory environment. Your teacher will monitor and control the simulation. Your teacher at any time may introduce a confounding variable in the shape of a "breaking news" flash which may require you to re-think your plan. While in the virtual lab you will have access to resources found on the web as well as mentors who will offer suggestions when asked but will not do your work for you. Your goal is to work collaboratively gathering, analyzing and synthesizing data to arrive at an innovative solution to the problem."

Getting a rough understanding of what students are being asked to do, we ask the question:

"What skill sets are required by students and instructors in order to accomplish the goal successfully?"

The traditionalist would say that there is nothing new here. In so doing they are forgetting that the environment is much different than the traditional learning environment and has a far greater and enriching reach. Starting with the student, I would suggest the following:

A/. Students: Getting use to the immersive environment is not something that comes naturally or that they have experienced before unless they have been involved in online worlds such as Second Life . Anyone who has put on the new version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headgear will tell you that just getting use to the synchronization of what they are seeing and moving within a 360 degree immersive environment is a skill set that takes time to develop. To learn to manipulate objects in 3D space is something that in the past learners have associated with playing video games but now the focus is on solving real world issues as part of  an e-learning experience. The use of augmented reality technology governed by pedagogy is something that learners will experience in the near future.

  1. The idea of breaking away from the ingrained idea of separate compartmentalized disciplines and developing the skill of approaching problems from a cross disciplinary perspective is a new habit of the mind that needs to be developed by the learner and dealing with immediate feedback in regards to their solutions from professionals in cyberspace requires more thoughtful engagement than what has been expected from them before.
  2. Development of habits of the mind in which critical thinking is modified to fit the context of an online environment is an important re-focus. In the past the focus has been on students studying content prescribed by the departments of education and then being asked to regurgitate that content back to the instructor through assignments, oral examination and in written tests. Today, it is more important that students be able to analyze a presented problem, decide collaboratively which disciplines of knowledge will be needed to arrive at a solution, where to find the information in the online world, how to evaluate the information as well as the source of information, how, as collaborators, to identify each others strengths and harness those strengths to solving a real world problem and how to create new bodies of knowledge and skill sets.
The following infographic gives an overview of the nature of the habits of the mind we are talking about:


These are just a few ideas concerning the learner but what about educators and mentors? How do they fit in?

More in the next post.......

Friday, November 14, 2014

E-Learners of the Future: Learning On the Edge--Part II

"Learning on the edge" requires changes in two specific areas:

  1. It requires a change of ingrained attitudes towards the purpose of education and the roles of the participants.
  2. It requires the development of skills sets that are inline with design thinking that will be used more and more in the construction of effective online learning experiences.

With respect to ingrained attitudes we have to remember that both learners and educators have had these attitudes impressed on them over almost 200 years of education. The idea that education's purpose was for self-improvement in ways that serve the economic sectors of nations has brought about the need to consume and to be efficient workers in the cause of mass production of goods. The benefits to the working consumer were that he or she could expect to be able to compete for and acquire personal wealth as a result of the education received. This attitude has translated in the youth of the 21st century as an often uncontrolled desire to acquire more and more goods. This is readily apparent when we view the behaviour of not only youth but adults as well, any time a new Apple I-Phone is introduced at retail outlets. We also see what Psychologists describe as "mob behaviour" when a sales event is advertised with the opening of a retail outlet for a "midnight sale". The actions of consumers, caught on video cameras" should be disturbing to us. However, this type of attitude of rabid consumerism is carefully nurtured by economic interests who accept this type of consumerism as desirable. This attitude has also given birth to an attitude of self-entitlement among 21st century youth in everything from the acquisition of material goods to their education online.

These attitudes are the product of an education model that are on a collision course with a greater awareness of the need to aspire to something greater than ourselves. The new attitudes that are needed are tied to the powerful purpose that learners need in online education. If you accept that the new role of educators and learners in online education is to be change agents in our societies and that they need to strive to create new knowledge and new skills sets so that a a culture of innovation can flourish in all countries then learners must acquire attitudes of empathy and altruism. Powerful and beneficial change in our societies can not happen if the prevalent attitude of those who will be its citizens and leaders is narcissism! A powerful purpose requires that powerful questions be asked such as the following:

"In my global society, what constitutes the greatest good for the greatest numbers?"
"Will my powerful purpose that I aspire to in education serve the greater good of others?"

With respect to describing the idea of "learning on the edge", we have to start with attitudes before describing skill sets because attitudes are the fruit of vision and will determine what skill sets we develop and which ones will go undiscovered. Just as attitudes of learners were formed in the past by examples set by educators, changing attitudes requires a new type of educator who embraces a new role and is willing to live that role before his or her students in plain sight. The online world of education is still a frontier that is forming and evolving. In order to encourage engagement that will be sustained by learners we need to demonstrate that we are willing to break with the attitudes of the past in favour of ones that will benefit the greater good and that their contributions during their education to the solving the problems that we all face are valued and will be legitimately examined.

Next post----Specific skill sets that students need to develop in order to be faithful to a new powerful purpose in pursuing online education.

Monday, November 10, 2014

E-Learners of the Future: Tip #5 - Learning On the Edge--Part I

Educators who work in e-learning with students recognize very quickly that they are conducting a civilized operation in an uncivilized frontier. Students have some degree of understanding of this because when they enter e-learning they bring with them certain understandings of the online world which they have gleaned from their forays into this frontier via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and of course the online gaming world. The question we need to ask is:

 "Are these understandings accurate and can we expect reasonable transfer to the online learning enterprise?"

On the others side of the coin, we have the situation of educators who have been schooled and trained according to a model of education that no longer fits in the 21st century. The question we posed concerning students might equally apply to educators. Do their understandings of the online world ring true and can we expect reasonable transfer to the online learning enterprise?

Keep in mind the deep irony that for educators who have been educating students to accept change in their lives that they themselves are highly resistant to venturing outside their comfort zone in real and tangible ways. Educators do not want to venture into this uncivilized frontier without bringing baggage with them that is familiar to them which partially explains why teachers who delve into the online education world try to transfer their courses en masse. For them, this is a sanctuary in the uncivilized frontier.

In order to be truly effective in this uncivilized world of online education, both educators and students need to learn what it means to "learn on the edge". This means that both parties need to be willing to develop new skill sets that will not just enable them to survive the experience but also make a real difference in their goal to acquire deeper sustained learning which will lead them to be creators of new knowledge and skill sets in a developing culture of innovation.

A question that you might be thinking is why would I call the online education world " an uncivilized frontier"?

To answer that think about what you are hearing and reading concerning developments in the online education world. You have major universities jumping into the MOOC arena because they feel that their registrations are dropping and they need to stem the financial bleeding. Not much thought is given to how effective such constructs are only that they involve the latest technology and their competition have already broken ground in this area. You have a variety of big business interests jumping into the arena as well as niche businesses. The question that needs to be asked is how do you tell the "snake oil" salesmen from the bona fide offerings? I was part of a round table discussion this past week that was hosted by government ministry of education officials who were lamenting on how private online schools were robbing the brick and mortar school systems of valued clients. I didn't have the heart to tell them that I worked for a private online school.

This is the type of uncivilized frontier that both educators and students enter when they take the path of online education.

What I am going to suggest to you is that there are understandings and skill sets that will bring order to this frontier for both students and educators. It will require sacrificing tenets that in the past we have held as true. It will require taking on the mindset of both an explorer and perhaps that of a digital Wyatt Earp from United States history fame.

Revealing the ideas in the next posting....

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

E-Learners of the Future: Tip #4 - The Need to Personalize E-Learning

One of the criticisms that have been leveled against the e-learning experience is that the online experience is impersonal, cold and even clinical compared to the face to face experience in traditional schools. I have to admit that to a degree this is true but it is not the final state of e-learning and it does not mean that we should abandon e-learning and go back to the status quo.

We can take steps to really personalize e-learning not only for the students but also for the mentors and instructors. Communication and collaboration needs to go beyond what some organizations primarily use which e-mail. We have a plethora of social media available to us that can be used to personalize e-learning and they are a means of communication that students are familiar with but is that enough to personalize the experience. I would say no.  To elaborate on this I would like to describe to you the ways in which a new model of online education would mean different relationships between instructors, students and mentors.

To start with we need to be clear about the roles played by each person in the learning process and how their relationships to each other change. In the systems of education under the old industrial model, subject area teachers were expected to have a rounded education that touched on a variety of disciplines but were masters of none. The limit of their expertise when dealing with students and particular aptitudes students had did not allow for a serious nurturing of the aptitudes the student was displaying. When students went on to secondary education the situation improved but due to the demands placed upon teachers by the education systems, students were still limited in the development of their talents. In fact teachers were given orders to tailor their teaching to the lowest common denominator which led to a disconnect by students who needed more than the basics. Some students were labelled as "gifted" which allowed them to be routed into another group. Again in higher education, the situation improved but at that point the skill development which should have started in early education was not there.

One of the fond experiences that I have had in the past as a student was to have the opportunity to talk one on one with a person who was on the cutting edge of a discipline that I was interested in. I enjoyed the quiet talks, the encouragement, the challenges to my thinking. What this person did was more than pass on his knowledge of his discipline; he passed on wisdom to see what was possible and what was not. The closest analogy I could use to describe our relationship is that he was like a master and I was his apprentice just like in the trade guilds of the past. He cared for my growth in the wisdom of his discipline and he nurtured the highest standard in regards to skills that he perceived in me. This is what true mentoring should be like. This is making the experience personal.

In a previous post I described the function of a mentor network and I believe that for online learners we need to establish this type of mentoring to help students excel in their chosen area of study. Also in the previous post I suggested a way in which this process can begin in a real and relevant manner. If we want to educate students in the art of collaborative online inquiry when it comes to real world issues, the mentor network is one of the ways to really personalize the experience.

In regards to the instructor, again the relationship changes between the instructor and the student. Keep in mind that the role of both instructor and student is to be a change agent within their societies. With that in mind, for the online instructor his or her path is to educate students how to learn in an online environment with the goal of nurturing skills necessary for students to be innovative individuals in a world that desires a culture of innovation. Nurturing students' skills in online learning environments requires a relationship of mutual trust be developed and an instructor who models what he or she believes is important.

Next---Why would people on the leading edge of their disciplines even volunteer their time for mentoring?