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Doing e-learning – six rules

January 12, 2016 Leave a comment

As you may know, I spend a lot of my time working on e-learning materials and tutoring distance learning students. And it strikes me that if you’re going to start an e-learning course, especially a degree course that’s likely to keep you occupied for several years, there are several habits you need to cultivate.

  1. Read compulsively. Unlike students in traditional higher educational institutions, you don’t get the advantage of face-to-face lectures, seminars, the ability to have a conversation with your lecturer after class and so on. You may have a ‘group learning space’ (a bulletin-board type of thing), tutors you can email and occasionally phone, and so on. But believe me, it’s a poor substitute for face-to-face. Instead, you have access to electronic libraries and (of course) the internet. And second-hand bookshops. And newspapers. Read everything. Try to understand how the world works. No one ever got that from reading a single textbook.
  2. Understand that in everything you read, knowledge has a price and that price is ‘spin’ – newspapers, media sources and everyone else is writing to persuade you of the truth of their views. Develop ways to understand what’s reliable and what’s bullshit. Develop that elusive thing we call ‘critical awareness’ that enables you to sense when you’re only being told half a story, and if you had the other half things would look a little, or a lot, different.
  3. Be compulsively curious. Curiosity is a great habit. If you’re not curious about your chosen topic, why are you even studying it? Being curious and asking questions about what you’re taught, going back to original sources, and searching out information to fill in the gaps is always worthwhile.
  4. You may not have much electronic contact with tutors but you live in the real world, among real people, in a community. That community is a microcosm of the problems in wider society. Pay attention to local issues. Understand your local community.
  5. Write. Develop the habit that says ‘I don’t know what I think until I’ve written it’. If you think you have a good explanation, argument, or whatever, write it down. Then leave it a day and re-read it. I’d bet that when you do that, you read what you wrote and then start thinking things like ‘I can express this in a better way’ – and ‘I didn’t explain the logical steps’, and ‘I forgot to mention X, Y and Z which are also important factors’. The way you get better at expressing your thoughts is through writing.
  6. Remember that the aim isn’t just to get a qualification, it’s to get the knowledge that justifies the qualification. And knowledge is a slippery thing, because you really start to understand something, you realise it doesn’t stand still. It’s not just a set of facts. It’s more like a roomful of people, all having conversations about different aspects of some subject. Of course there are certain basic agreed points – until someone comes up with a convincing reason why we shouldn’t rely on those points and rely on something else instead, which might happen once every few decades. Beyond that, there’s a lot of stuff where different views need to be weighed on the basis of evidence, and sometimes on the basis of the ‘best we can do with the evidence that’s available’. In short, by studying a subject you’re not just ‘learning the facts’, you’re engaging in a long, slow, drawn-out conversation with a bunch of strangers.

Just a few thoughts. I hope they’re helpful, but I bet you could add more ‘rules’ (or argue with mine) if you thought about these issues for a couple of minutes. 

Just thought I’d say…

April 27, 2011 1 comment

… I ‘m still here. Just not blogging as much because I’m working hard on some new projects, some educational and some more speculative and fiction-based (I was tempted to day they’re fictional projects but that would give the wrong impression). As someone or other said on another blog I sped past the other day, I don’t have enough bandwidth to progress those projects and find interesting things to blog about. You don’t really want to know what I had for dinner and what time I got up this morning, do you? (If you’re really curious the answers are chicken risotto and 7am, which is uncharacteristically early for me since I’ve worked graveyard shifts for the last couple of decades – evening teaching, overnight editing, working until dawn to finish stories and so forth.)

One thing I have been tracking, though, is the ‘progress’ being made in universities to rationalise degree programmes (i.e. close many of them down), merge schools and faculties in order to effect budget cuts, and so forth. The Times ran a story last week about how some universities were likely to end up being taken over by private education companies. I haven’t seen other papers, even the Times Higher Education, run with that story though a more general one about cuts in humanities degrees is here.

It’s difficult to see quite how the government could force the issue (since universities are founded by royal warrants), though presumably reducing funding for selected programmes would close down financial options to the point that it becomes the least worst option for some institutions. How that would affect student experiences is a whole other question, I guess. In some respects it might make universities more ‘client centred’ though having worked with quite a few large companies in my time, I’m yet to be convinced that mainstream managerial culture is quite up to the job of managing degree programmes. Which is not to say some companies aren’t good at it – they are – but that it has very specific challenges that require specialised expertise to address.

I’ll add that to my list of things to blog about another time, though…

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