Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The 'Myth' of eLearning? A reply

 Posted in reply to Trent Batson's article, "The Myth of eLearning: There Is No 'There' There". I found Batson's article (and a worthy discussion about it) from Eric Tremblay's excellent blog, E-Learning Acupuncture

Many of Batson's claims about exciting new classroom prospects--coordinating learning done elsewhere, the use of portfolios, focus on written communication and collaboration, authentic learning and assessment--are hallmarks of the distance learning approach. That's intriguing given his flat claim that "distance education is an oxymoron". I wonder if he's reading the same research I am--or whether his claim is based in evidence. I'd love to hear.

The first page of his article seems to devote itself to carving out turf: "distance education is not, and should never be considered, a replacement of traditional on-the-ground learning". The irony is that most distance learning folks aren't interested in _replacing_ F2F universities; the focus is more on providing complementary alternatives, and much of the distance education literature focuses on blended approaches that incorporate both distant and face-to-face contexts.

I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that employers want people who write well, collaborate well, and are skilled at assessing and handling complicated, difficult problems. I think he's wrong about the idea that in-situ universities are automatically the best way to reach these goals simply by dint of their physical presence.

As a check of concept, if his ideas are correct about the importance of being in a physical community with lots of other learners doing authentic tasks, we should expect that homeschoolers would have significantly poorer assessments than people who went to high schools--after all, the difference between a high school senior and a college freshman is quite small, and homeschoolers don't get a huge physical community with lots of other learners. But we don't see that difference in performance.

Some of Batson's points are excellent. But claiming them as a mandate for campus-based education and a rebuke of distance learning is a rhetorical device, not an evidential one, and it doesn't work for me.

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