Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Evolution of Learning

Although I've been blogging enthusiastically about photography and remote places over the last year I've been somewhat remiss about keeping this blog current.  In the year since I left the Open University I've had time to think about how I see e-learning evolving, and since I’ve just used the phrase it’s about time I came clean.  I've never liked the terms e-learning or m-learning.  I'm also no longer sure that I like terms like on-line learning or even distance learning either.  It’s all just learning.

The same argument applies to virtual learning environments and virtual communities, and I've had this discussion several times recently.  There isn't anything virtual about the learning that’s done within a virtual learning environment, or anything virtual about the communities that an individual interacts with on-line rather than face-to-face.  We should just be talking about learning environments and communities.  The communities and learning environments that we interact with now are very real they just happen to be a bit different to the ones that we might have used in the past.

The reality of evolution, and this works in almost any context, is that the bits that don’t work well should (and do eventually) get abandoned, and new things get tried.  And just occasionally one or two of the new things do ultimately survive to sit alongside the things that have survived from the past.  This simplistic model is fairly easy to picture in the steady state environment, but it’s more of a challenge when we start to think about a changing environment when more stresses are placed on existing things and there is a temptation to declare ‘everything broken’ and to throw it all away.

The learning community has historically been split into two parts, one advocating changing nothing and the other advocating changing everything.  A lot of my working life in education has been on the ‘changing everything’ end of the spectrum.  I've always advocated trying new stuff and been keen to take risks to see how new stuff works in practice.  Maybe this is best described as ‘Encouraged Evolution’.   Very few teachers, and I’ll use this in the broadest sense, say that they are unwilling to improve on what they are doing, but there are many who I've heard say that they don’t have the time to experiment, and that the risks inherent in trying something different are too high.

My intention is to use this blog over the next few months to talk about how I see Encouraged Evolution in the area of on-line learning.


  1. When we talk about online learning (or elearning) we're invariably actually talking about online teaching. A VLE is an online teaching environment. Online teaching is different from face to face. Grainne talks about the co-evolution of people and technology and I think that's a better way of thinking about how teaching practices should adapt as we have new mechanisms available for use for education.

    1. Thanks Will. I think the teaching vs learning issue is a complex one to disentangle. I think a VLE can be either, but I suspect that institutional pressures are for it to considered as a teaching platform. The evolution of the OUVLE got a lot more input from teachers than learners.