Thursday, January 01, 2009

Educational Technologies and Online Standards

As an instructional design consultant who is passionate about effective learning, I persistently learn new technologies and evaluate their suitability for learning. However I find my vision for many applications is at present can be limited by the available technologies, and the time and cost needed for development. Even with all the choices we are presented with I sometimes feel like the early instructional researchers setting at a mainframe with keypunch cards generating simple questions and answers. The radical evolution of technology provides us almost unlimited possibilities to develop and disseminate learning, but much technology assisted learning and training seems to fall short of the mark. Is this due to our vision, the technologies themselves, or the relative infancy of understanding how individual human beings learn? Even with all of the research into how we learn as humans, we are still for the most part limited in our understanding of this complex process. We have powerful tools at our disposal but our present knowledge of learning does not allow us to fully utilize the technologies we have.

All the assistive technologies aside, we must first have a foundation upon which to build learning and training. At present we are still steeped in the tradition of the factory, sage on the stage model of learning. No matter how far we have come technologically much online learning I have encountered in my work is unfortunately an electronic version of this methodology. Quite frankly I have been appalled by the lack of standards for teaching and online education and have many unanswered questions. Among those are:
• Have institutions adequately planned and prepared migration of face-to-face classes to the online venue?
• Have many institutions rushed to provide online education just to keep up with the pack or to provide increased revenues?
• Who still believes that the paradigm of the face-to-face venue can/should be applied to the online one and why?
• Who is watching over the online education henhouse and why must we do so?
• Should the accrediting body require standards for ALL courses that are online or continue to allow institutions to choose example courses?
• Is our accrediting body equipped to properly evaluate online courses?
• Who is overseeing the quality of the courses and who decides what is good and what is not.
• Should there be standards that instructors must meet in order to be accredited to teach online?
• Should the institutions themselves formulate and implement standards or should this be the function of an accrediting body?
• Is how instructors present course materials and use or not use the capabilities of an online learning platform a part of their academic freedom?
• Can an instructor who is a subject matter expert in a particular area, but with little training/education in online instruction teach in this venue as they please, or must they learn and apply proper pedagogies/andragogies and technology tools?
• Should faculty be required to become technologically fluent and learn how to teach online/follow those standards before being allowed to teach online? …and the list goes on…

In addition there is the continuing obstacle of lack of understanding of technology as a tool for learning and not the solution by organizational heads in business and education. Yes, it is certainly an ID consultant’s job to educate their clients, but when they come to the table set on a certain direction and filled with ill-informed passionate enthusiasm for a specific direction it is incredibly difficult to dissuade them from continuing on this path. It is akin to stopping a freight train. No matter how much of an expert you are saying an idea is a bad one does not make way for open communication and problem solving. Key to changing these misconceptions is to ask why they have chosen the particular solution, then laying out the better possibilities, which may or may not include some of their original idea. If those in charge are open to alternative ideas and see you as an expert minds may change. If the potential client is still stuck on using an inappropriate solution the consultant must either delicately try to provide information that would present their case sufficiently as to change their minds, decide not to take the job, or ethics aside go with what they want even if it means going against better judgment and developing instruction that is less than stellar or that will be found to be ineffective. If every institution would acknowledge that researched and clear standards for learning are as important as those in place for running the business, the process of designing training and education would be simpler for those who must develop and use it.