Saturday, August 20

E-Learning: Channels, piracy, and outrage

I said back in a speech in 1999 that e-learning was over-rated in the short term and under-rated in the long term.

I believe that statement is probably more true today, at least for the formal learning area. (Tools like Google and IM have proven the killer-apps for the informal areas.)

Wearing my analyst hat, I am looking for at least three things to see when formal e-learning hits the big time:

  • One is channels. We have talked about this on this blog. When e-learning becomes its own category at Amazon, that will be a milestone. The best producer of the types of simulations I would call branching stories, WILL Interactive, created an experience about sexually transmitted diseases. Users play one of two characters as they live an afternoon and an evening, making key decisions. The experience is honest, educational, relevant, and potentially life saving. Why isn't this in every library in the United States? There are plenty of people "studying" simulations. I would say to all of them, use your resources instead to go on a mission and get that single experience widely distributed. You will both learn more, and help more, than studying eight year olds playing computer games or bringing together academics and corporate people to talk about best practices in simulation design.
  • The second is piracy. Are people ripping off e-learning courses? Are e-learning courses being downloaded, tinkered with, and being resold on the black (or gray) market? Are some government officials in a poorer nation deciding that it is worth a bit of heat to distribute knock-offs of life improving exeriences? Why not?
  • The third is outrage. We are seeing a tiny taste of it with University of Phoenix. At some point, however, the success of formal e-learning will be putting a lot of professors out of work. More importantly, there will be complaints of vast homoginization of high school and university content. Ironically, there will be a race, between using simulation techniques to actually better preserve local ways of doing business, and the the propagation of single ways (much, much better skills than are possible today) that will threaten to erase diversity of knowledge. Buzz words like mono-knowledge will get headlines.

Are we there yet? We are not even close.


jay said...

Thanks for the post, Clark. It's quite though-provoking.

1. Why libraries don't have the STD game: religious intolerance.

2. Piracy involves appropriating things of value. The market for learning software in wretchedly poor countries is nil. Might as well give it away.

3. Structural change always outrages some people. Ask former bank tellers, middle managers, gas station attendants, travel agents, etc.

Lee Kraus said...

Clark, for formal learning to hit the big time, it has to become easier at every level. There is still a lot of friction in the process. I think the experience must “feel” informal, while maintaining its formal outcomes. The commerce must be 1-click and the boundaries between the learning experience and the learners experiences must overlap. The learning must also be adaptive to the learner, in realtime, not unlike how the web is adapting to our world.

I’m not sure I understand your piracy statement. Are you saying when e-learning is good enough to be ripped-off it will be in the big time? Your example made me think of Cory Doctorow’s comments about a solution for providing developing nations his book using a new Creative Commons license, but I think this misses your point.

Finally, hopefully there is more outrage from those of us (example) who are demanding change then those who are holding onto the past. As I prepare to give a workshop to a local elementary school I am reminded that there is much to be done, so let’s start doing it.

Clark Aldrich said...

I was looking over this list, and mulling that computer games seem to meet all of these criteria (channels, piracy, outrage from educators).