Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Collaborative E-Learning?

While E-Learning has been around for many years, a new and more sophisticated model is beginning to emerge as the standard for learning and comprehension. The concept adds a sense of community to the learning process where individuals can learn through a shared experience. The technical name is Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL).

The short description for this evolution in E-Learning is, it allows learning to venture outside of the individuals learning silo as they sit at their computer - and they can take advantage of social media tools to discuss relevant issues with other learners in forums, chat rooms and blogs. It can create a dialogue around learning that simulates the classroom experience without the many distractions and delays. It also helps reinforce comprehension leading to a change in behaviour, a common expected outcome in adult learning.

Most E-Learning in Canada remains antiquated and text based with the occasional use of images to underwhelm us - ultimately leading to an uninspired learning process, similar to written training that would sit on shelves in the past. The promise of a technology that would give learners the power to pursue knowledge and learn at their own pace has gone largely unfulfilled, and all in the name of lower cost. It is important to realize that the cost of developing an immersive E-learning experience is greater at the beginning. We just can’t take an existing curriculum or subject matter and convert it, as is, into E-Learning. E-Learning uses the full spectrum of media and in the case of Collaborative E-Learning, it utilizes social networking. This demands a more media savvy approach to developing collaborative E-Learning. Subject matter experts must undertake due diligence in developing the basic knowledge that will be presented in the E-Learning program but it is in the domain of the E-Learning content developer to synthesize that knowledge into a more immersive learning experience that is consistent with expected learning outcomes.

Our experience suggests that this can often lead to misunderstandings at the outset of E-Learning projects as subject matter experts seek to main control and authority over the content development process. Their experience in text and classroom based learning offers them a skewed understanding of what the final product might “look and feel” like. As a result it is important to “focus on content rather than the wrapper” in developing an E-Learning project to ensure that once the content is developed it will serve as a knowledge base and a learning experience that can be built upon rather than discarded as pedantic and boring.

This is where collaborative E-learning so comes in - it means really two things, first it suggests that we collaborate as learners with other learners in the pursuit of knowledge and secondly it creates a scenario where the learning content, once developed need not be re-developed by other organizations since the cost of developing sound content in a well thought out curriculum can be utilized and updated in perpetuity or shared with other organizations. Often times, sharing content with other organizations allows the original developer an opportunity to recover the costs of the more costly initial curriculum development and it allows the organization seeking to utilize the shared knowledge an opportunity to access the content at a significantly reduced cost.

In the end it simply means that an organization that has spent the time, effort and cost in developing a truly effective Collaborative E-learning module can recoup costs by sharing the content in a collaborative process. This coupled with the unique learning outcomes resulting from a truly CSCL approach can make Collaborative E-Learning more effective than classroom learning from a cost point of view and from a knowledge retention point of view.

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