Why online education fails to engage

I am currently preparing for a meeting later in the week about LMS systems, hosted by the Ministry of Education. The meeting is part of a project aimed at establishing a set of criteria that schools might use for selecting a LMS to use.

These sorts of discussions I find pretty riveting on the whole, but I’ve had a nagging feeling about the purpose and direction that we’re going here – and today many of those thoughts were chrystalised when I read Double Duh! as an entry on the Cognitive Dissonance blog. In a nutshell the author captured my anxiety:

    “My contention is that nobody likes being talked down to. The same people who think instant messaging is disruptive and who don??t like answering email on weekends are the ones who are designing and driving these online classes. The same people who are mixing cheesy clipart with unfortunate font choices on crowded slides are building the materials in use in these classes. The same faculty who are having problems sorting the good email from the bad ?? and who have difficulty in dealing with an extra 50 or so important messages a week ?? are the same faculty who are teaching courses to students who are plugged in 24/7, who can cope with hundreds of emails a day, who sort through multiple channels of communication so fast that it appears that they multi-task, and who can interpret moving 2d and 3d graphical data in real time without losing track of the battle in progress in Everquest”

The author maintains that the reason so much of what is done in the name of online education today fails to engage learners is the result of “disabled faculty”, and the limitations of LMS systems to meet the demands that tech-savvy youngsters make of them.

Like me, the author of this entry had been reading through the Educause publication Educating the Net Generation.. When I first came across this online publication it attracted my attention because of the link in my mind to the work of Tapscott some years ago now where he used the term “Net Generation”, writing about the characteristics of this generation and identifying the areas that educators would need to address in order to engage them in learning – although not all agree with these conclusions.

Still – I find it all very helpful as background – to paint a picture of where we’re at and where we’re headed. Some informed debate and controversy are what is required if we are going to successfully move beyond where we simply do a lot of the old things in new ways (or is that new things in old ways???)

2 thoughts on “Why online education fails to engage

  1. Hi Derek

    I agree. Engaging and continuing to stimulate learners is a key driver for me here in Sydney. Trying to get developers of education material (usually ex-classroom or distance teachers) to actually think about what engages learners is a quest, not helped by the formulaic approaches to content design (although the formulas do provide a way for people terrified of the digital media to put their toes in the water).

    The gaming scenario discussed in the extract is pertinent too. There is great potential in immersive digital environmets, but these will never be realised by practitioners who think in a print (and print on line) paradigm.

    We are also looking at LMSs here – I roll my eyes at how little the basic structure of the LMS has changed in the last eight years. The focus of the developers of them appears to be to do the same thing better, rather than thinking about if their basic structure is still relevant (and the endless self referencing cycle of LMS practice informing development which in turn informs practice).


  2. I agree too.

    “My contention is that nobody likes being talked down to.”

    Hits the nail on the head. Far too many patronising ex-schoolteachers and ex-headteachers involved in running the one I’m currently enrolled on. And “running” the online communities while not answering at weekends when they’re most needed is very close to the mark too.

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