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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

eLearning or Learning? - More to It

I just saw a post by B.J. Schone -Is the Term ‘eLearning’ Going to Become Extinct? In his post, B.J. points to a post that I had seen as well but he tracks the issue back to an article from CLO Magazine that discusses the renaming of the E-Learning Industry Group in Europe. According to the article:

The E-Learning Industry Group is now the European Learning Industry Group, a change that reflects a shift within the organization itself, as well as within the learning industry.

“The term ‘e-learning’ has been overused,” said Joe Hegarty, Intel Innovation Centres director of business operations. “Technology is now clearly embedded in all modern learning solutions.”

This is certainly an issue that has been discussed a lot. Do a search for "drop the e" elearning and you'll get 74 results, but there are literally thousands more out there. Including an earlier article from CLO itself: What's in a Name? and a post by me: What to Call Ourselves and Our Industry?

I definitely sympathize with the sentiment about dropping the "e" from eLearning because we are really focused on the same problem as people who are involved in learning - and likely they use digital technologies (the "e" part) to accomplish parts of that.

However, I'm still with B.J. that it's still helpful to have a term for the fact that we are discussing the use of the digital technologies. So, it's still helpful to me to use the "e".

I really think there's a lot more to this question these days. Take a look back at my post: More on Personal Learning Environments. There I discuss a post by Ray Sims where he makes the point that we are converging on solutions that:
combine learning AND doing.
Certainly, my environments are combined. Am I learning right now or doing. Both. And I would say the concepts of Personal Knowledge Management, personal information management, Performance Support tools, ePerformance, Productivity Systems, etc. are not that far away. Really, once you get to information and doing, you pretty much are talking about everything an information worker does.

Clark Quinn and I had a conversation about this issue back in December 2006. And we lamented that we don't really have a good term to describe the broader range of systems that we work on. I tend to get involved when there's opportunity to do something more creative or interesting with technology that goes beyond what is often labeled as "eLearning."

For example, one system we built took customer satisfaction scores already being collected by the organization, combined it with management best practices, to form an action plan. There's was almost no "eLearning" - really these were tools. It took a sophisticated person in the organization to know how to cross boundaries (Operations, Marketing/Survey Research, Training, HR) to get it to happen. And at the end of the day, I would claim this was much more eManagement than eLearning. It really aimed at helping managers understand what they needed to accomplish, create a plan to accomplish it, get buy-in from others around the plan, track the plan, get conversations to happen around the plan in an on-going fashion. Basically, if you had coaches or good managers, they would be doing this in an ad hoc fashion.

What do you call this?

After watching the video yesterday of Everything is Miscellaneous, I find myself questioning the value of trying to define terms. At the same time, terminology in some form (e.g., tags) is critical to help us understand where things fit. For example, what conference should I go to where I would find people who create similar kinds of solutions or who are interested in working together on this kind of solution? It would be great if there was an accepted term because likely I could find the conference.

Clark and I are still struggling with these questions as are many, many other people. Likely there are no simple answers, but finding how to discuss these things, making sense of them is important for us to be able to explain what it is we do.


Michael Hanley said...

It's serendipidous that you should post this question; I addressed the same topic in my recently-submitted MSc in Learning & Technology.

Here's an (edited) extract from the thesis text:

“Elearning” means different things to different people. When you consider that you can call the discipline “e-learning”, “elearning” or even “eLearning”, it’s no surprise that there is a range of definitions of the subject, as “we prefer to define things according to how we use them” (Morrison, 2004, p.4). Clark and Mayer (2003) consider the “how, why and what” of elearning: that the “e” in e-learning refers to the “how” - the course is digitised so that it can be stored. The “learning” refers to the “what” - the course includes content and ways to help people learn it, and the “why” - that the purpose is to help learners achieve educational goals or to help organisations build skills related to improve job performance (pp.13-14). The assumptions in their definition are telling: note the use of the term “course” and references to organisational skill-building – there is an inherent, unspoken claim on elearning (what ever that is!) to be part of the corporate, human resources development arena.

Now consider Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, published only three years later. In the elearning context, a quick scan through a text’s table of contents, introduction, or index will usually orient the reader to the author’s perspective on what they think elearning is: not in this text. The very first point Richardson makes is that “this may look like a book about technology, but it’s really a book about …connections” (p.vii). With a nod to Jonassen, the author discusses “cool tools”, “collaborations and conversations” and “creatively motivating students to learn more deeply” using a teaching and learning “toolbox” (p.9). He’s obviously talking about elearning, but does not see the need to define what it is. So, elearning has become a common if imprecise term used to refer to technology-enhanced learning. The two views described above signify the breadth and the richness of the terrain that elearning encompasses, and I contend highlight its importance of the context of learning generally."

My own opinion on the nomenclature of the the discipline is that use defines shape; as the discipline becomes more pervasive in the culture, I think we shall see a move away from the hyphenations and proper- and quasi-proper noun spellings, it will be left with "elearning."

There are a number of reasons for suggesting that this will be the case; in the last few years, for example, the BBC sent out an edict to standardise the use of the term "internet" as a common noun descibing a thing (and maybe in this instance, also a place) in all its publications and websites. It's not important that it was the Beeb did this per se, but it was an institutional acknowledgement that the term had entered common parlance.

From a practical perspective, there is a very good reason why the term will standardise (and I know this from authoring a 35 000-word report): 'elearning' has less keystrokes than the alternatives.

Tony Karrer said...

Great points Michael and thanks for weighing in.

KH@SyberWorks said...

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