Since I'm reaching the end of the first year of my two-year contract at UCOL, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my experiences of designing and using e-learning. With any luck, putting it all down will help me to clarify the good, the bad and the ugly, and I can work more efficiently next year.
I suppose I need to be upfront and say that I love e-learning, and I tend to get carried away by the opportunities it offers. As an ex-teacher (is one ever ex-?) I am convinced that using blended learning allows more learners to access more knowledge and skills in ways that best suit them, and at times which suit them. So I'm probably more than a little biased...
For me, time is the biggest barrier to e-learning. Although I believe it speeds up the learning experience, creating effective e-learning is time-consuming. A couple of months ago I created blood-pressure and urinalysis simulations to run via Moodle. The entire activity probably took students about an hour to do, assuming they did every step. Designing and building the simulations, on the other hand, took me days, and I am forced to question whether this is the best use of my time, given that I work for the entire school, across four sites, rather than on one paper.
Another issue is engagement. I often wonder how often students, particularly those form a more traditional education background, actually engage with the 'e' components of their courses. I am trying to measure this at the moment by surveying the use of Moodle by first-years, but this will give me fairly limited data. As we move towards an increasingly blended world, it seems essential that we consider if and how learners use e-learning before we run too far in what may be the wrong direction.
Resources will always be a problem with e-learning. The 'e' world changes so fast that it is almost impossible to stay up-to-date with all the technologies, and the cost of installing new software and training people to use it is a real issue in the current political climate in New Zealand. So e-learning will probably always be under-resourced and under-staffed, and therefore probably under-utilised!
The ability to reach people from diverse learning styles and educational backgrounds must be a primary advantage of e-learning. At UCOL we cater for people from a huge range of backgrounds, and e-learning allows us to meet more of their needs. A number of our students are also in part-time employment, and so the flexible nature of e-learning is important for them.
The nature of our students is changing. More and more students have access to e-learning technologies and use social networking on a regular basis. Failing to shift the way we deliver learning to accommodate these students would be foolish, especially when one considers the additional opportunities that accompany these. So, for example, I want to try using Twitter to deliver science vocabulary to our mid-year 500 level students. I've designed flashcard-type quizzes that can be downloaded to their mobile phones, and I'm going to be working with the clinical skills lecturers to trial using mobile phone cameras to video students practising their various clinical skills. These clips will be uploaded to a site such as www.livestream.com, and their peers can comment on (i.e. formatively assess) their performance in real time. With any luck we'll have a smart board in the skills' lab which will make all this even more immediate.
I subscribe to David Hopkins' blog, e-learning blog//dontwasteyourtime, and a while ago he posted this video clip, which brilliantly sums up why we need to move forwards with e-learning, and mobile learning in particular.
So much to do, and so little time!