Posts Tagged ‘e-learning’

E-Learning and Knowing – Or Why the Classroom Lecturer Will Rapidly Become Extinct?


Let’s really simplify a complex topic – how we as human beings know – by creating a model of knowing that says there 3 ways that we know.

We Know That – this is the world of facts and ideas. We know these things as chunks of knowledge we can repeat and share with others. This kind of knowing is tested in the academic world by asking us to respond to multiple choice questions and questions that require short essay answers.

We Know How To – this is the world of skills and techniques. It ranges from the simple (e.g. how to add 2 plus 2) – to the complex (e.g. how to lead an organization through a period of profound change).

We Know Why – this is the world of valued consequences and moral understanding. It is as important for giving us insight into why NOT to do things as it is for helping motivate us to do things. It also ranges from the simple (e.g. why not to touch the hot stove) to the complex (e.g. why not to abuse those we love and those we live with). It requires us to have as much insight into consequences as it does into facts and techniques. (1)

Can e-learning address all three kinds of knowing? The simple answer is yes. The more thoughtful one is yes, but how, and with what price and effort?

Here is what I believe.

  1. With 25 years, all Know That learning will be delivered via e-learning.

Today, we can already build e-learning programs that rapidly figure out the learning style of the person currently using the program, and dynamically adapt the delivery of learning material to best suit that person’s learning style. It is not the norm yet, but it soon will be.

Once that starts to happen, the classroom lecturer will become extinct. Unfortunately, practically all university professors are still not really clear about this. But then, the non-adaptive ones, who depend on the traditional power structure of the classroom and the punitive power of exams, deserve to become extinct. Bored students, who only pay attention because of the power of these exams, will cheer their demise.

  1. Know How To learning is a more difficult issue. The answer is yes, but ….

We are already seeing the spread of how to e-learning programs in the areas of programming and computer use. As the technology evolving in the computer gaming world becomes more readily available, we will see this technology spread to how to e-learning. Computer simulated application environments will become the norm in how to e-learning.

Real time computer simulated environments coupled with responsive programming that dynamically adapts what is presented to the learner based on the learner’s immediate performance in a simulation are not simple to create. They require combining the skills that make movies with the skills that program computers. It will take talent and money to develop such e-learning programs. They will have to be used by hundreds, even thousands and tens of thousands of users, to create reasonable per delivery unit costs. That can only begin to happen now that the Internet as a delivery tool has become socially pervasive.

Flight simulators are an already existing example of where this kind of e-learning is going. Computer games, whose users rapidly learn the in’s and out’s of the game environment, show us what is possible. All that is missing is teams of creative educators and gaming programmers with the budgets to make this promise real.

Some how to learning will never migrate to e-learning. Skills and competencies involving physical motor skills will always require real world training. Surgery is an example. The perquisite know that learning will be delivered via e-learning. That includes learning the “steps” involved in the applying the skill. But the skill of surgery will be acquired through actually doing it in a closely supervised environment. This will be also be true of other complex skills that combine cognitive knowing with physical doing. Such learning will always require a dynamic “in the moment mentoring / coaching component” that depends a great deal on the personal relationship between learner and teacher.

Instead, once perquisite know that and know how to learning is delivered by e-learning, the role of mentor / coach in such learning will become more dynamic. Guiding learners who already know a great deal is a different job from guiding learners who are acquiring know that and basic know how to learning at the same time as they are developing physical doing skills. The power dynamics between learner and mentor / coach will shift dramatically. Instead of being role based, successful mentor-coaches in this new learning world will be individuals who have great self and other insight. They will also have the personal confidence that comes having “done it” in a large variety of situations. The importance of role based dynamics, buffered by the traditional structure of universities and the like, will fade.

  1. Know why learning is not straight forward. The answer is yes, but involves sorting out complex issues about who ….

Know why learning requires that the “learner” respect the “teacher” in a very unique way. People are motivated to do things, and even more importantly, motivated NOT TO DO things, because they respect the person who is providing them guidance. Respect is a complex interpersonal dynamic. It involves personal component originating in the learner, not the teacher. It is not created based on a power dynamic that derives from stratified organizational roles.

Know Why learning involves morality and ethics. There is no doubt that people often learn why they should or should not do thing from being exposed to stories with a moral component. But this only works when the learner extends respect to the story teller. E-learning can be used to deliver stories. But the story teller must still be someone to whom the learner extends respect in order for know why learning to occur.

Some individuals already extend respect to “automated teaching tools”. Such people may acquire “know why” learning from e-learning programs. Perhaps this will become the norm some where in the future. But I do not believe it will be. I believe that the real value of the Internet in know why learning comes from its ability to expose people to the individuals whom they respect in a way that transcends the limits of space and time.

When I design e-learning programs with a know why component, my first question is always – “Who will these learners extend respect to – who can motivate them to do or not do?” Then I find ways to incorporate these people into the e-learning program though quotes, pictures, short video clips and so on. I also look to provide follow up connections to these people that allow the learners to interact with them through their writings, through their Internet presence, or even face to face.

Let’s sum it up.

E-Learning takes over Know that learning and makes the classroom lecture model of learning extinct.

E-learning delivers Know how to learning by incorporating more and more gaming and simulation techniques. It supplements and supports complex Know how to learning that involves the whole body by ensuring that the only people who succeed as coaches and mentors are great doers who also have superb interpersonal skills.

E-learning facilitates Know why learning by providing more direct connections between learners and the people who they respect to motivate them to do and not do.

That’s my vision of the future of e-learning.


  1. You can see much more about this model of knowing in two publications of mine available at the following places on the Internet “The Know That / Know How To / Know Why Model of Knowledge” and “Making Effective Decisions About E-Learning Content”.