Parallels of Online Learning and Higher Education

Increasingly my mind returns to the parallels of online education and transitions to higher education. Challenges of both blend into similarities and hurdles which students need to overcome. A broad generalisation – that I am aware of. Nevertheless, let’s consider some of the parallels:

1 – For those who initiate online learning, particularly in the case of distance education, more than learning about the subject matter, they need to learn how to learn online. This means being an autonomous learner, taking responsibility for time-management, being able to read instructions and follow them. (any echo here of higher education expectations?)

Students who have grown up more accustomed to using digital platforms for learning may perhaps be accustomed to the features I mention, but for students who are commencing an online course, this is not so obvious. For instance, often,  participants will post replies where ever they want to, either not following instructions or not being used to reading carefully and understanding instructions. This is certainly not because instructions were obtuse or complex – merely because the learner has not had sufficient online learning experience, as well as studying within an paradigm of educational expectations/demands. Asking the teacher to repeat instructions is common; in online education, the learner has to re-read him/herself. In other words,  the learner must be independent.

It is within this shift of behaviour  that I clearly observe parallels.

2 – The time spent at higher education often represents the best years of youth; expanding minds, new encounters, a bliss of options and parties. Discipline does not come easily. Managing one’s time to focus and to enjoy all the frills of higher education (e.g. extra curriculum activities, free conferences, foreign visitors/speakers and so forth) is not a skill which one is born with. It is a learning process. Both as an online student and online teacher, I have experienced the urgency to refine one’s time management in order to meet deadlines and be a full participant of the course.

Time however, is relative. Concepts of time, concepts of deadlines vary from culture to culture. The emphasis of meeting a deadline seems to be closely entwined with personal and social accountability. If a particular social environment does not place responsibility on citizens nor expects responsibility from its citizens, how will learners from this setting perform online according to other cultural expectations?

As an educator who works in foreign settings, these are challenges I have observed in different countries; I am an outsider, imposing foreign norms and educational expectations on my students. Most norms are international – for example, being on time for class – yet time is not fixed and tomorrow’s deadline may be perceived as next week’s assignment.

Discipline with time management is closely woven with cultural perceptions of time.

3 – Despite the many years we now live with digital technology, not all students have been taught digital literacies. Yes, they may have their mobiles and use Facebook as an extension of their physical body, but digital literacies are much more than mobile texting, playing games on an iPad and spending time in coffee-shop talk on Facebook. Digital literacies, the ability to present and understand information in the multitude of digital forms, is no appendix to learning. Digital literacies are as essential as the skill to read and do basic mathematics.

For both students entering higher education and online learners, these skills are a challenge to master. From uploading an image to embedding, to using a digital tool to present information (e.g. a popplet, using SlideShare and so on),  there is a wealth of key language to understand and then skills to accomplish. Lack of knowledge may be de-motivating for many. If motivation is to be taken as a personal driving force, not all learners are equipped with this engine to successfully study at higher education nor on online courses. Nevertheless, few options exist today as so many colleges and alternative institutions have decided to become universities. A university may hold more prestige, may receive more financial support from ministeries of education, yet does not do justice to every single student – many who would perform much better in a higher education college where their real skills and interests could be developed, equipping students to become more productive in their societies.

Results in both cases are again similar. Drop-out rates in online education and incomplete or poorly achieved degrees.

From features of

distance learning,

online learning,

blended learning,

classroom learning,

characteristics of learning are present. It is not the label which defines; learning processes share similarities. In the quest to promote knowledge, to exchange and create knowledge, the digital tools we have today are one’s compass to achievement. Whether one follows the advice for learning on a MOOC or in a classroom, it is not a question of labels, but rather, mapping one’s learning process.

Further reference:

Amy’s MOOCs – Professional Digi-velopment


Can You Inspire Me?

Where does one find inspiration in education and learning?

I find inspiration in my students’ learning and positive progress.

I am inspired by so many of my immediate colleagues and  people I work with.  So many  in my networks and communities inspire, encourage me to think beyond the stereotype, the bland, the static.

I am inspired by friends and family – their successes as well as their failures. Failing, in my eyes, is another opportunity for learning, for evolving and developing.

I am inspired everyday.

(the above inspirational video with Seth Godin can be also viewed here)

Where do you find inspiration?

Can you inspire me?

Learning Loss, Living Learning

Tinker Bell

Every question opens a space. A space to explore, a field to learn, a new perspective in life.

Only a couple of days ago I spoke of heroes. This past week I lost one of my heroes. This was a different kind of loss. Not the loss of a parent or child, a friend or mentor but someone who opened new ways of thinking for me, new ways of doing and learning. He was an icon to many, an inspiration and visionary. More than believe in change, he valued change and had a passion for innovation.  Through his  company’s products I too innovated, learning new skills and in the process changed many features of my own learning process.

My first desktop was a MAC. It lingers in a quiet, shaded corner, too beautiful with its elegant grey lines, too significant to me to be mindlessly thrown away. That was over 20 years ago. Today I sit here, multi-tasking, focused, at times,  mind adrift, surrounded by Apple. It is no irony that while I started my day with a kick of caffeine  and reading the day’s headlines, that the news stared coldly and blankly at me. An expected loss, perhaps. Yet the space of loss is different to the spaces opened  by questioning. All loss is a hiatus.

Throughout that day I stole moments of silence and reflection. An icon of popular culture, a necessary reference when I taught at business schools and trained in companies, Steve Jobs made me love technology with the  MACs – computers not only to perform typing tasks but  later, to connect. So much has been written about Steve Jobs; in fact, in our age of connected nodes it is almost impossible to ignore the tsunami of articles in praise or criticism offered. This is neither.

With the demise of a hero, I turn from company culture, from innovative design and technology back to education, questioning  where  the inspirational leaders in education are; those who have vision, those who through love of learning, through love of life, connect with those who are to be inspired and motivated. Teachers provide a tremendous service to their communities. There are many teachers who I could name as being great, inspirational models but each learning context needs a leader of their own. Each context is different, unique, hence educational leadership needs to be both global and local for it to make any sense.

Richard Branson reminds readers of the passion that Steve Jobs always had for Apple – no matter how ill he was. Which brings me to how does practice relate to theory in the context of learning.

Passion and belief are determining in the learning process. Without them, there are no questions, no opening of spaces. Without inquiry there is no living. Without connecting there is no learning.

Hiatuses linger.

This is a learning thread unravelling.

Heroes for Today

In his posting on No More Heroes? – Who is the Hero?, Mark raises several crucial  issues which have been on my mind. In a way, this entry is my reply to Mark’s posting and my own reflections on the issue of being a hero, an educational leader and a facilitator today.

Let’s begin by expectations. Just like the bride to be who is left speechless and wondering how a suitor can be so heartless and insensitive, I too often wonder how common it is for educators to be talked down to by professional trainers who deliver PD sessions. Teachers today are more empowered than ever before; teachers today connect globally, making decisions which are shared, and often inspired by open sources of information. Teachers today expect  that PD will engage them, and that training courses will also take into consideration their personal  teaching context and professional expertise.

Which brings me now directly to Mark’s questioning of the role of the facilitator today. Referring to Nancy Duarte’s work on presentations, Mark questions the role of being a facilitator and the need to connect to people.  Just like Nancy Duarte’s explanation of how a public speaker needs to connect to the audience, I too think that this process of connection is vital when one considers classrooms and learning processes.

As an educator, I play out different roles. One moment I am the manager, the next moment, a facilitator, a carer, a participating member of a social group; and yet, no matter how I wish to soften and make my role more “democratic”, in the end  I am also the leader of the cIass I  am responsible for teaching. Above all, I am definitely an agent of change.

So, the question is – is there a difference between connecting with an audience when making a presentation and when one is teaching? Is there a difference being a facilitator or a leader in education?

In my view, one can only teach and lead others if one is able to connect with them. An educator can only “lead”, can only teach and enlighten students when there is a bond which positively connects them. Educators  – whether in the role of teachers or trainees – are bridges. Bridges to further understanding of knowledge and doing; this includes features such as understanding what really motivates us as human beings to other learning aspects, such as learning how to use a new tool for teaching. Being once again in the role of a student, I expect my trainers to be both leaders and facilitators. Just like the students who face me every day, I too want to be engaged,  intellectually challenged in order to learn and hopefully, inspired to become a better educator for today’s students. I expect my trainers to facilitate my learning, in the sense of guiding, while at the same time,  valuing  and acknowledging my professional expertise. I regard facilitators as bridges, pointing the way, letting me stumble, perhaps, but not letting me drop into the abyss of intellectual boredom and frustration.

These are not simplistic expectations. These are demanding and challenging. Nevertheless, these too are the expectations teachers are constantly being told in regard to their students. My question is,  if this is merely common knowledge, then why do so many teacher trainers still disregard their trainees – trainees who are often more connected, more updated in teaching practices  and in tune to younger generations?

Among other relevant points, Mark also raises a critical reference to a hero’s journey cycle.  I often tell my students that they are heroes, for learning is a heroic task which involves change and challenges. As a learner, I too question my learning process and whether I will overcome the anxiety of not meeting a deadline, not being able to connect constructively with my students (so that they may embrace learning and change), with my colleagues (whose support and collegiality I respect and need for change to occur in my immediate professional setting) and yes, I must refer to educational management.

For constructive change to take place, there needs to be inspirational leadership which will facilitate transformation and growth. This is one of the imperatives of education. This is a necessary connection.

And yet.

How does one connect with the hero within?