A Chance to Really Make Change – The Potential of On-Line Learning

E-Learning, of which on line learning is a sub set, finally offers the possibility of fully moving from faculty centric to student centric education. But this will not be an easy shift. There are two main reasons, one cultural and one managerial.

The cultural shift.

Faculty (in collaboration with educational administrators) have dominated education for centuries. Classroom based learning has large economic advantages – 1 person delivering educational material to anywhere from a few to several hundred student, even though the average is in the 20’s and 30’s. Although there have been some advances in teaching technology, by and large, the average teacher (at whether level) teaches in a way that reflects the teacher’s own learning style, assuming that students, especially the better ones, will learn in this way as well.

In the 20th century, investments in educational plant started to increase, but largely only for the specialized sciences and disciplines that required laboratories and access to specialized equipment. By and large, the fundamental unit of education investment is still a classroom, equipped with some relatively cheap television and projection equipment. This is the core of faculty centric teaching. Most classrooms are laid out in a way that makes the social power dimension of teaching extremely clear – teachers are the front are the power players in learning. Asking faculty to give up this role, and become consultants to and servants of “students” is not likely to be an easy social shift.

The managerial shift

With e-learning and on-line learning the economics shift. Course delivery is no longer limited by the physical limitation of the classroom. Well designed e-learning programs could potentially be delivered to thousands of learners, dramatically shifting the unit cost nature of the education business.

But something else will shift as well. With careful design and creative implementation, educational content could shift dynamically to make the learning style of each student. We know enough today to be able to put an on-line student through a series of short experiences which provide insight into the learning style of the student. Once that is clear, on-line educational programs could dynamically shift their delivery of content to maximize the learning possibility to “this student”. Instead of faculty centric learning, we are now in a world where we can be truly student centric.

Creating such e-learning content also means a managerial shift. The process and the steps needed will require a combination of skills – from software development and engineering, from curriculum design, from appropriate subject matter experts, and potentially, from online gaming development and simulation experts. Developing educational content suddenly requires team work among experts, not faculty member by faculty member individual endeavor. Project management skills become essential. Personal team work skills become critical.

To date, educational management has largely required leaders who could manage relatively simple plant – classrooms and individual contributors – faculty members. On-line education, if is not be simply be the replication of traditional faculty centric education on the Internet will require something much more in educational leaders – the ability to shape teams that create dynamic educational programs that dynamically change the way that their content is delivered to a student to maximize that student’s learning potential – student centric education.

Creating that on-line educational reality is the real challenge. Educational leaders in the developed world largely do not understand this in my view. But the creative ones in the third world, driven by the need to educate large numbers of students, constrained by a lack of existing classroom plant and government funding, might. If they do, they will truly evolve education to be what we now need it to be in our planet’s history – cheap (at the unit cost of each delivery level), effective, student centric learning that dramatically increases each student’s forward movement on their personal learning journey.

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