Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I need to get a first life first - part II

Continuing from the last post:

One would have to ask: what is it that you want to aim for with e-learning? What is the shangri-la? I would posit that it's collaborative, self-directed learning, with the learner at least somewhat in charge of his or her own development, and working with other learners to achieve meaningful learning outcomes. The idea of using Second Life--or any virtual world, for that matter--to achieve this is that, sure enough, it is a collaborative environment, in that you can communicate and engage with other learners and the instructor (if there is one) in a somewhat meaningful way. In other words, it's geared towards having all the advantages of a physical classroom, except online. But in a virtual classroom, does this actually happen? I mean, do people actually engage? There is no doubt that people behave differently on the Internet, as this video highlights (Warning: contains some
harmless ribald humour)


In other words--the communication with other learners is compromised. Or at least it could be. How is the teacher--or other learners--going to know how you respond to enlightenment? With no facial tics, body language, or plain-old-falling-asleep on your desk available to others, how will they direct learning and communication? And how will you? For on such things is true interaction based. So one would have to say that, if you're just going to sit around in a classroom on virtual chairs, looking at a virtual blackboard, being told stuff by a virtual teacher, and it's a compromised version of a real classroom at best, where's the benefit of that?

But perhaps I'm being harsh, because no doubt there is lots of learning going on in Second Life. Yet even the
founder of the Second Life ICT library, himself a former teacher, has misgivings about it as an educational tool. Or at least, he feels creating a "Teacher's Tool" package would simply not work. He makes a very good point in which he posits that

most of the tools… as good as they are… only promote a teacher-centered, didactic form of teaching…

In other words, you're not taking advantage of technology to really open up dialogue between learners.

Also, my feeling is that, in the area of IT (which is the e-learning field in which I work), and especially in the area of coding and GUI-based instruction, that's when you're really making things hard for yourself. For this kind of instruction, people need to really use the tools, or practice the code, to accompany the instruction. It strikes me that a virtual classroom wouldn't be of much benefit in this case. And that for collaboration, message boards, blogs, newsgroups and the like are more useful. The point has been made that, in the area of e-learning, Second Life might be better as a Webex-type tool, supplementary to the real core instruction.

Just a thought though--and I'm willing to have my head turned by Second Life yet. It certainly is a-growin', and there's no doubt there's more to it than gimmickry.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I need to get a first life first

A friend of mine, in discussing Second Life, once commented that it was named incorrectly, in that it implied that its users don't have a life to begin with. Evidently satisfied with this piece of scurrilous slander, he turned back to his PlayStation, chuckling to himself, but I got thinking: what is Second Life and, more importantly, what does it mean for e-learning?

It would seem I'm way behind the pack here, so I've been reading up on it. I've even joined up with Second Life and created my own avatar. He's not as starry-eyed and windswept as I, though to his credit he is swarthier. It's so sunny in Second Life. The closest you get to a tan in rain-sodden, real-life Dublin these days is a tinge of rust.

And okay--it would seem that second life is more than just a playground for folks who want to knock around in virtual worlds. There's real-life (sort of) education stuff going on there! There's even a non-profit resource, Educause, who really take it seriously as a meaningful educational tool. Universities like Harvard are even delving in and arming up with bigger muscles and angular jaws. And you can learn, say, languages on dedicated "islands". So I suppose it's about time I started taking it seriously too.

More about this tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Getting entangled in the spider's web

Post number two, and it's time to get down to the real business of discussing learning design and e-learning in general. But where to start? There's such a mass of information out there, and such a spider's web of interconnections between them, that getting my head around it all makes my head go like one of those Curly Wurly bars (pictured below in its packaging, so you can't really see the actual curly-wurliness per se. But you get what I'm talking about.)

A Curly Wurly bar, yesterday.

Lucky for me that nobody reads this blog yet, eh? I have yet to weave my own thoughts into the aforementioned spider's web and mix it around with the best of them. So to get myself started, I'm simply going to discuss the various blogs I like that specifically relate to learning design.

I like Tony Karrer's eLearning Technology blog. He's an e-learning specialist based in California and also contributes to the ATSD's Learning Circuits Blog. eLearning Technology is all about modern trends in, well, e-learning technologies, but the focus balances between the "learning" part and the "e" part, which I like. He updates it daily and it's usually quite entertaining and--crucially--seems to have its finger on the pulse. In fact, it was the post "Blogging - I'm Pushing Harder Now" in which he says

"... I believe the evidence is mounting that it's an incredible personal learning practice"

that got me thinking about blogging myself, and the post "Top Ten Reasons To Blog and Top Ten Not to Blog" that sealed the deal. (You may perhaps note that these posts were from 2007 and 2006 respectively. Why, you may chirp, did I take so long to get started? Why indeed.)

Then there's Corporate eLearning Strategies and Development, by a guy called Brent Shlenker in Arizona. He has some good stuff and I liked his recent post There is no Brain2.0...so why Learning2.0?

I also like the insights on the blog (No Longer) Alone in a Library. Just today I found out about personal learning networks, or PLNs, as they're called (more spiderwebs to curly-wurlify the brain). Clark Quinn's Learnlets is also a good read and, just to keep things fair and not all Americo-centric, Clive on Learning is an informative, UK-based blog.

But really, these are just the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Even a cursory skim through the blogosphere reveals that there's a gazillion e-learning bloggers joining the throng out there every day, getting their publishing fix and exponentially increasing the size and entanglement of this aready-tangled web.

But you know what would be nice? Another Irish blog on learning design--anyone out there?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

First steps

Well, here goes. I'm dipping my toes into the rather daunting world of blogging and feeling excited. Can you feel the excitement? I really have no idea how to do this so if this all seems a bit clunky, a bit awkward, a bit unprofessional, please bear with me. I'm a noobie (apparently that means I'm new to all this. I looked it up.)

Where to start, hmm.....

Okay, so I suppose I should really start off by saying why I'm starting this learning design blog. Oh did I mention that? It's a learning design blog. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here's what Google has to say about it:

"No definitions were found for learning design."

Well, there you go. Let's try Wikipedia, then:

"The IMS Learning Design specification supports the use of a wide range of pedagogies in online learning...."and then it goes on to blather about outcomes of learning design and the distinction between it and instructional design and....phew. I have no idea what the IMS Learning Design specification is, or what "pedagogies" are. Fruit, possibly. It strikes me that, as a learning designer I really should know, so there you go. That's something for me to do, right there.

Which brings me, rather neatly, around to my reasons for starting this blog: to learn. They say the best way to teach is to be continually learning yourself. So, you know, I figure if I talk about learning design and make my thoughts public, i.e., put my ignorance out there like dirty underwear on a clear day, I might actually shame myself into learning what exactly it's all about! And that can only be a good thing.

Now, to find a nice font...ah, Trebuchet.
I was joking about thinking pedagogies are fruit by the way. Of course I know what pedagogies are. Sheesh!

No, really. I do.