This week we have been discussing – together with some colleagues – pros and cons of digital learning or e-learning. We arrived to the conclusion that it seems quite impossible to imagine today a new university course without facing the dilemma of incorporate or not e-learning modules in new curricula.
Communication technology seems to be obvious. Students come to classrooms with their portable devises such as laptops, tablets or the newest version of smartphones… for not talking about those laying in our own attaches or pockets! Because these devises are here to stay, then why not to incorporate them as part of our pedagogical tools that we could use in our learning and teaching activities. In fact, nowadays it is quite more and more common to read about the benefits of m-learning in education, which stands for mobile learning or ‘the process of learning mediated by a mobile device’ (Kearney, Schuck, Burden & Aubusson, 2012).
Therefore, the question would be whether these relatively new portable technologies will substitute our traditional classroom for a portable space, hosted in a virtual dimension. Or, in other words, whether do we need to have unmediated eyes contact with our students or would be enough to be a digital synchronous or even asynchronous supportive avatar in the digital realm. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
In order to understand the (potential) contribution of e-learning or m-learning to education, it is necessary to reconsider the time and space dimensions. For instance, m-learning takes place in a virtual space, detached from a specific physical/geographical location, and do not necessarily follows fixed notions of linear time (Kearney, Schuck, Burden & Aubusson, 2012).
Thus, portable technologies allows learning and teaching to happen in different locations (i.e. at home, in a cyber café, in a library or just in a wonderful summer destination), and in different times and time zones. Learning activities could be organized in a synchronous (video-conferencing, chat, etc.) or asynchronous (e-mailing, on-line collective documents, etc.) manner, providing learners with an autonomous, personalised and flexible educational tool that could match their socio-cultural and educational needs.
But… how to make these virtual experiences as vibrant and engaging as the traditional face-to-face classrooms are?
The digital space could be seen as not only less adequate to support teacher’s control and mentoring direction, but also diminishing social support and companionship among learners. The identification of needed pedagogical adjustments will require more time than in a face-to-face interaction.
Therefore, the key challenge seems to be connected with communication. How to maintain adequate and efficient level of quality communication between learners and teachers? Chosen the right digital support seems to be essential in order to overcome this challenge by enhancing the digital dialogical interaction between teachers and learners, and between the latter.
In other words, flexibility in e-learning must not be understood as requiring less counselling or mentoring time from teachers. On the contrary, effective digital communication needs active teachers’ support, in particular in connection with the substantive content of the learning module, the tasks expected to be performed by students and the strengthening of social (digital) interaction among them, which is necessary for ‘creating an atmosphere that fosters collaborative learning’ (Hrastinski, 2008).
Last but not least, teachers and educators need to build their own digital literacy before embracing an e-learning or m-learning module, if they would like to effectively and successfully achieve the proposed learning outcomes. This seems to be an obvious and simple task. However, my own personal experience has taught me that it is not.
Kearney, M., Schuck, S., Burden, K., & Aubusson, P. (2012). Viewing mobile learning from a pedagogical perspective. Research in Learning Technology, 20. Available here.
Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. Educause quarterly, 31(4), 51-55. Available here.
Picture: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by jairoagua. Available here.
Digital, mobile & flexible (to say nothing but education) by Alejandro Fuentes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.