Online and Web-based Learning: 1990-2005
Web-based learning exploded onto the educational scene in the 1990s. During that time, when I visited a school, college, university, or corporate training setting, most people were unaware of the changes taking place related to using the Web for learning. My appearance in their school or institution was a novelty item. I was a curious oddity that would hopefully appear for a short talk or mini-workshop and quickly go away.
By the turn of the 21st century, however, my travels took on a frantic pace as Web-based learning accelerated in schools, higher education institutions, and corporate and military settings spanning the planet. Some years I gave over 100 talks .As I presented around the world about how to collaborate online, share documents, conduct cross-cultural exchanges, or share pedagogical ideas with other educators, I heard the same basic response time and time again. It went like this: “They may share in the United States, but educators do not share here in Australia.” I heard the same things in South Korea, New Zealand, Finland, and any other place I visited during that time. Then when I returned back to the U.S., people said to me, “Curt, teachers may share in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and wherever else you have visited, but we do not share in the United States.” End of story. No one wanted to share. Add to this dilemma the never ending announcement of new e-learning tools, certificates, courses, and programs and most people said, “E-nough!” Let’s just say, I was extremely disappointed. I may have even privately cried at one point.
The “InstructorShare” website I had designed for teachers and trainers around the world remained sparsely populated. There were copyright, content quality, and knowledge exposure issues. And there seemed to be resistance or reluctance to everything “E”.In response, for several years I would don a cyborg mask during a transition near the middle of my talks and yell out “resistance is futile!” Embedded audio from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” helped me make the point. When attempting this little parody in the UK in the spring 2005, someone told me not to use the word “resistant” to describe educators there. However, he quickly added that I could safely replace it with the word “hesitant.” So I did. And during the next few years things gradually started to change. I could feel it. I am sure some of you did too.
The E-Learning Explosion: 2005-2009
At the K-12 level, there has been an explosion of e-learning enrollments during the past few years. A decade ago, few K-12 students learned online. Today there are over 1 million K-12 students and over 3.5 million college students learning online in the United States alone. Such drastic changes have forced many educators to reconsider online learning. Instead of ignoring it, wishing it would go away, or suggesting that it was only important in other countries, they are starting to take it to heart. Teachers, while not fully embracing it yet, are doing many things to make themselves better online instructors. You might wonder what exactly is happening and how these teachers are becoming better trained for online environments.Well, that funny new thing of the 1990s called Web-based learning is no longer something that can be laughed at or ignored. The very same teachers who once looked cross-eyed at me are now signing up for online teaching and learning certificates from places like the Illinois Online Network, theUniversity of Wisconsin, and the University of Maryland. They are enrolling in summer workshops as well as those held during the year. Online forums such as Ning for Educators, School 2.0 or Classroom 2.0 (both also in Ning), and SCoPE offer valuable insights into the world of online teaching and learning. Laptop programs sponsored by one’s school district or state might provide the means with which to experiment with different technology tools and programs. In addition, mentoring programs might match up those possessing less technology experience with instructors who have extensively integrated Web tools and resources in their classes.
The Writing on the E-Wall for Education Leadership
The writing certainly seems to be on the wall for many—start integrating technology in your teaching or perhaps consider a different career. That is as true for teachers as it is for the administrators they report to. As I have traversed the world from 2006 to 2009, I feel more receptivity and acceptance to my message about e-learning. Educators have really warmed up to it. Unlike the late 1990s and first few years of this decade, I enter their buildings welcomed and thanked with the hope that I can stay for a few days; at least I am no longer immediately shown the door at the end of my talks. Unfortunately, I still see too few principals, administrators, and other school leaders during these events. Librarians and cyberians are always there. Computer technology coordinators, of course. School superintendents, principals, and other educational leaders are typically not anywhere to be seen and they are perhaps my most preferred audience. In fact, I encourage them to join in anytime they ask. Suffice to say, for educational transformation to occur, I need to be speaking to the change agents in education leadership. In future posts, I’ll share some thoughts about what education leaders can do over the next few years to integrate aspects of the Web and open education mechanisms into the educational system.