Technology is changing the way we view both distance and virtual learning; they no longer need to be solo activities in which learners struggle to make sense of a text, or watch a documentary in isolation with nobody nearby to share and interact with their interpretation or help to critique it. One catalyst is video technologies – in both recorded and live formats and they are transforming the way learners engage with their teachers, their peers and the world to provide for a more collaborative, informed and authentic education. This does not preclude solitary working but, instead, offers the learner choice – choice as to whether they learn on their own or with others, either close by or at a distance. Learners choose whether to attend in person, from their home or another location via virtual classrooms or videoconference, or to catch up later by listening to a podcast or watching a video of the session – along with all the discussion, questions asked and responses given. They add their own responses by tagging the recording and ask further questions, point to resources that refute or validate a theory a teacher has proposed, and generally catch up with, and maybe go beyond the content their teacher or external expert has presented to develop a unique understanding of the subject which they then share back with the group.
Additionally, students are able to select resources to learn from in the formats that suit them best. Some may prefer to read and think about what they have read then discuss it with others. They may choose to discuss it in real time through text, voice, video, or in person, or asynchronously in a discussion forum with others. Others may chose to discuss some ideas first to clarify their thoughts and then follow up with readings and more discussion; while others may prefer to watch or listen to a lecture on the subject before doing any of the above. There are a myriad of ways in which learners access knowledge and assimilate it in ways that may be useful now or at a later date.
As distance and virtual learning become increasingly collaborative, the old models of static text and online multiple-choice assignments will start to disappear. They will be replaced by multimodal resources and new opportunities to demonstrate understanding, both collectively and individually, through selecting the tools and resources that demonstrate their understanding of that subject best – this might be a wiki, an essay, an animation, a set of images, a podcast, a video, or a web page that uses more than one of these media.
Collaboration is at the heart of most successful organisations. Workers need to collaborate more and more as they learn to do their job and improve the profitability and/or effectiveness of the organisation as it becomes more complex, more global and as the knowledge needed to keep up with the ever-changing economy expands. No one person will be able to do their job without the support of others. Why is it that education has not changed and developed good models of collaboration for students to take with them and adapt to the work place. Why is so much still emphasis placed on the achievements of an individual learning in isolation? Don’t get me wrong, we need to know what an individual knows and how they apply that knowledge, but surely students need to be able to work on their own and in teams and we need to find ways to measure the latter.
Distance and virtual learning is a good place to start – the model can then be developed for blended learning to include the physical learning spaces within educational institutions giving rise to a new implementation of learning blend. We have so many good collaboration tools at our disposal that leaning need no longer be a solitary activity, unless we want it to be, and collaboration need no longer be just an aysnchronous activity, nor a text-based activity. Video and audio tools abound and virtual learning takes on new forms. Perhaps we need a new term to best describe this new form of multi-modal, synchronous learning? How about “HD learning?
This post is taken from the chapter I have written with Richard Jones for a forthcoming book, The new educational development paradigm, to be published by Peter Lang, New York in December 21012 or January 2013