The new students, training and entertainment

By Murray Bourne, 01 Jan 2007

I am a subscriber to the SLED (Second Life Education group) listserv and there are some interesting people doing really interesting educational things in Second Life.

This was a recent introductory contribution by Karen Goeller of Bucks County Community College:

... What we’ve conceived of distance learning has evolved in huge and unexpected ways. I remember working on systems of “remote, on-demand document retrieval” (before online help was more than a glimmer), hypercard systems (the earliest non-linear authoring systems), and, of course, training videos and teleconferences, laser-disks, and finally non-networked online help systems. Then, with the birth of the web, things exploded and the possibilities seemed endless; our learning systems could be more complex, real-time, interactive, and social. We could get immediate performance feedback and deliver training and education exactly when and where it was needed. We could (and did) build complex education systems that were completely melded into the software and hardware systems that folks used to do their jobs… they were being trained and their performance was being improved without them being consciously aware that they were learning. How amazing!

This is how learning should be - authentic and situated. Sure, there is nothing too academic about training, (as opposed to education) but part of the crisis in education, I feel, is that students find little meaning in what they have to study. Goeller goes on to say:

Then, I moved to academia and things were SO different. There is a large amount of resistance to change and the adoption of new technologies and approaches to learning. There is a real and oft-expressed fear that the more we bring technology into the classroom, the more we crowd out human interaction. Justified? Maybe, maybe not. But there’s also a focus on explicit learning that is not tied to explicit, measurable goals… learning for the sake of learning, rather than learning for the sake of performance improvement.

"Measurable goals" is the key point in here. It is interesting that many lecturers have great difficulty writing learning objectives. I see a lot of statements like "students will understand..." or "students will be aware of ...". How is that measurable? How do the students, and the lecturer, know that any of those objectives have been met, especially if all that has happened is some reading of PowerPoint slides?

One of the odd juxtapositionings that I see happening right now is the fight between the two cultures. Today’s college students, by and large, want to be engaged and entertained while they learn. We lose them too easily with traditional lecture/notetaking/multi-choice test learning models. They have been acculturated from an early age to be multi-taskers, immersive, inherently digital, and easily bored by repetition. Put them in a traditional classroom and half of them immediately fall asleep; a quarter of them dutifully try to take notes; the other quarter stare at the lecturer with their heads resting on their hands and a little white cord snaking down their wrist from their iPod bud. They may want to learn, but they have to be engaged (kinesthetically, in many cases) in the learning experience. They tend more toward the applied-learning, performance support model where learning takes place in the “doing” context… rather than being told that they are learning, they want to pick it up and work with it and learn along the way.

Ah - entertainment in learning. It is interesting that this is quite a dirty word among many educators. But "entertainment" does not have to mean "song and dance". It should mean "engagement" in what is going on.

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