E-learning – what could “e” do for “learning”?

There seems to be no need to argue whether digital transformation will, or will not, have great impact on the way we organize education and facilitate learning processes in the future. Undoubtedly, the transformation goes deep into human existence, and has an impact on almost every part of our life. Education and learning couldn't possibly be exceptions. At least not if we should believe in those who says that “We Haven't Seen Anything Yet”:


Furthermore, the fact that this blog post is an assignment of the “E-learning and Digital Cultures” Massive Open Online Course of The University of Edinburgh would be enough evidence that e-learning actually works. I can’t deny, I’m actually reflecting upon the themes of the course by writing this post.

Instead, inquiries are raised on how e-learning and online education can use digital technology to improve teaching and learning performances compared to traditional classrooms – rather than if the technology in itself could be used for this purpose. The latter has proven itself, I would think.

And there seems to be an uprising generation who tends to not care about what I think of digital technology anyway:

Whether digital technology can be used to improve teaching and learning performances or not, might be determined by the meaning we put into the words of “knowledge”, “learning”, “education” and “technology” and so on. Or on an even more fundamental basis; what meaning we put into being “human”.

Isn’t there more to the “e” than “learning” as we already know it?

In the course discussion forum, the following advertisement about a futuristic vision of education was a popular object of reflections:

To me – rooted in the tradition of considering learning as a deeply humanistic act, where knowledge preferably would be described as experiences made by individuals in the interaction with others – the ad was both a dystopian and a utopian vision.

On one hand, it visualized some astonishing possibilities. The instant access to massive amount of information could certainly be an efficient tool in the act of learning. On the other hand, there still seems to be a rather traditional classroom learning design in the ad; teacher driven and mostly classroom based lessons, where it’s implied that the technology itself (a glass tablet) is the answer to how knowledge will be achieved.

I can't help but asking myself if that ad-vision, with the digital technology and all the possibilities it seems to hold, really is an educational transformation into something radically new - or if it´s more of what’s have been for a long time, but in a slightly different (a glass tablet) way?

In the context of education and learning we may argue that knowledge is something different from just the access to information by digital technology. Maybe knowledge could be described as processed and internalized information. From this perspective, information becomes knowledge first at that point when a human interprets and in some sense uses this information. I hope this way to understand the “human” side – or the human unconditional part of learning –won’t be mistaken for the idea that human beings are “exceptionally”, superior, or that there is a radical and distinctive difference between humanity and its surroundings (technology for an example).

Instead, by stressing the human act of learning, we might avoid such technological determinism where many - social, psychological, physical, biological and many others - factors are reduced to technology as the one single cause to the effects of learning. Maybe, we could even be reminded that humans always have been learning - even without digital technology – but of course, as it seems, closely intertwined with technology as an unconditional aspect.

It’s indeed an amusing idea to do some further studies about how the learning act has been defined by its technological aspect. Would we find historical concepts of “cave painting-learning”, “book-learning”, “whiteboard-learning” and so on, or just an historical mirror where humanity once again reflects upon her ability to learn?

It might seem that digital technology not necessarily would give educators the answers to, but instead emphasizes, some of the eternal questions in the field of pedagogy:

What is knowledge and how do we learn?

Educational transformation

At the same time, never before has there been so many – and easy ways – to interact, to communicate and to experience things that never else would have been possible without the help of digital technology. The conception of classroom based and teacher driven education, meets some hard competition in a world where humans could find their own way of learning and to progress in whatever areas of their life they want or need.

A colleague of mine accentuates the possibility technology holds, by demonstrating an interactive learning session. Hopefully, the Swedish language won’t stop us from imagining an educational transformation:

The online learning session demonstrated above, seems to do no good if the participants won’t participate. Maybe this is one – of many yet to come – insights of what a digital educational transformation will do, and what new rules will come to the game. You participate – interactively and by sharing new experiences with others – because you want to, or need to, but not because you have to.

Are we ready for that?

3 december 2014
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