"Online learning should be fast, fun, crazy, unplanned, and inspirational."
I worry about statements like this coming from educational leaders, because most research shows that this doesn't work that well for formal or informal learning in any modality… https://t.co/txydcEnpsJ
— Matt (squeaky cog in the Ed-Tech™ machine) (@grandeped) April 3, 2020
It led to a bit of discussion, and I found myself being dragged in regardless of my best impulses. What was supposed to be a drive-by comment tweaking folks turned out to be a bit of a broader issue in my mind, so I figured it was high time to move it to the blog before the 250 character trap failed me even more, not to mention fear of alienating folks I deeply respect. Also, I know that everybody is a bit frayed right now for a variety of reasons, personally I am heading into week 5 of lockdown and it is definitely taking its toll. So, maybe trying to blog through it will be a bit therapeutic, or maybe not 🙂
Online learning should be fast, fun, crazy, unplanned, and inspirational. It should be provided by people who are more like DJs than television producers. It should move and swim, be ad hoc and on the fly. I wish educators could get out of their classroom mindsets and actually go out and look at how the rest of the world is doing online learning. Watch a dance craze spread through TikTok, follow through-hikers on YouTube, organize a community in a Facebook group, discuss economic policy in Slack. All of that is online learning – and (resolutely) not the carefully planned courses that are over-engineered, over-produced, over-priced and over-wrought.
The above quote was the bit by Stephen Downes Matt Crosslin was taking issue with, but it is one I was sympathetic to given I tend to favor the more spontaneous approach to online course design. What’s more, the idea that Clint Lalonde suggested that anything happening now can’t be considered online learning is what Downes appeared to be taking issue with specifically. If you’re teaching a course there should be some assumption around expertise in your take on the subject matter, so there should be some foundation to work within immediately. I was reading Downes as suggesting the nature of the online pivot might open some space for forgiveness for subject experts to explore and experiment a bit. I know this is counter to the bunker down mentality on the frontline, and admittedly I am not supporting faculty directly at the moment so I may be speaking out of turn. But again, I was not seeing Downes as suggesting explore brave new technologies and learn how to broadcast on the radio or something, but rather just be flexible and try different approaches whether via email, LMS, WordPress, Youtube, etc. I imagine some faculty will do this and get turned on to a whole new world of possibilities for online learning, but that isn’t necessarily salvo to the pain so many edtech folks like Matt and Brian are feeling as the try and scale up for this Herculean “pivot.” The concern I have is the idea that what happens in the next few months is not considered “real online learning” might discount some of the emergent approaches born of necessity. What’s more, I tend to associate the idea of extensive planning and real, serious online learning as mandate for big, costly edtech that is overly produced, and I am assuming given his post Downes was making the same connection.
And frankly, I do not think it is crazy given the way MOOCs went in 2011 and 2012. What was supposed to be a more fluid experiment with new approaches quickly became co-opted (one could argue willingly) as highly-produced videos with LMS backends that scale. That said, given the rapid uptake and seemingly high stakes for R1 schools there was little room for experimentation and pushing the boundaries of this model beyond video-taped lectures delivered at scale, and that was a travesty for the field. I recognize now is no time for experimentation, and that is not what I am getting at here, but I do think the outsourcing to entities like Coursera, EdX, Udemy, etc. over the last decade, not to mention the arguably even more financially disastrous role of the Online Program Managers (OPMs) that have hollowed out entire programs in higher ed, sometimes scandalously, has a role in the current crisis. This points to some of the real questions so many higher ed schools (at least in the U.S.) face more broadly when it comes to investing in outsourced solutions rather than paying livable wages for teams of talented people.
So, I am wondering if more than a few universities are making their staff pay for the undervaluing and outsourcing of their expertise right now, moreover edtech programs are bearing the brunt of this and find themselves faced with an untenable charge. In fact, it’s a broader question of labor and responsibility on the part of HE administrations that have not invested in people.
With all that said, I don’t see this as a reason to say what happens for the next few weeks is not “real online learning,” but rather it might demonstrate the necessity of that expertise as well as some of the limits of those paid third-party services that provide the turn-key solution technically—are they enough to scale online learning? Maybe it can act as a cautionary tale for schools that did not have the folks on the ground to help. But given there’s a chance that this lockdown could have impact through Fall and possibly next Spring, I am afraid it will be more about big-tech and serious LMS-like solutions than anything resembling innovative and exploratory attempts to explore the very DNA of online learning given the current situation. That was the reason for my original tweaking of Brian and Matt, and let me be clear that I am not suggesting this is the time for wild experimentation, but I hope there will be space for that once the dust settles a bit and folks dig out, that’s all I meant—but I am currently curled up under my desk in the event I am unintentionally inspiring the wrath of edtechs on the ground everywhere 🙂