So why E-learning? And why do I care?
The Open University. End of the 90’s. Internet access just becoming a thing. Course delivery comes in boxes, books and CD’s. Some lectures make you wait until 2am to record them from BBC2. And here I was, learning about the impact of technology on society, and internet protocols. There was an early discussion forum online where staff and students could interact. As ever, the porn industry was leading the way with multimedia, sending very poorly compresses, grainy images across the web to load chunk-by-chunk for a very patient user hunched over a 14’’ screen.
So what is the VALUE? What is the USE of it all?
I was studying Graphic Design. Which mainly meant Advertising. Which is basically a way of tricking people in to wanting what they don’t really need. The more I learnt about the industry, the more distasteful I found it. But the first tech boom was happening. Suddenly everyone wants a website. To do what? To do more of the same?
And then it struck me. Communicating. But communicating knowledge. That sending some information. Maybe how to solve a problem. To a stranger, on the other side of the planet. That seemed suddenly to me to be the most VALID use of the internet. What makes it unique. People could shop, or talk with each other before. But putting knowledge or training out there, potentially to a global audience. This was the year 2000, and I saw this was the way to go.
The harsh reality of e-learning then…
I still have some disks. Not sure they could be read now. Of E-learning, delivered on CD-ROM. The layout is bad. The graphics are worse. 480 x 320 pixels to squeeze everything in. Build by programmers and written by subject experts. The content is there, but reading it was hard work. Even the top software, companies addressing the HE sector, created mainly just electronic version of their text books. Any user interactions were crude and obviously included because someone on the development team had decided that there should be interactions, rather than because they added anything to the experience.
…Meant it was almost universally hated.
So that when people were told to work through this e-learning (and it usually was compulsory, part of their job), they resented it. Click through. Do as little as possible to engage. Complain at the end about how much you would have preferred to have that nice lady come who did the training last time. And “Don’t I spend enough time looking at a screen?”. And
“It keeps crashing”. And
“I lost my position and had to start again.”
“I just clicked on all of the answers until I found the right one”.
“Do I get a certificate at the end?”
“Can I take the disk home with me? Will it work on my Mac?”
But NO. NOOOOOO. This is all wrong! Don’t you see?
Here we have this wonderful communication technology, that is set to improve the world. To enable humans to share knowledge faster than ever before. To deliver a carefully designed, personalized learning experience to millions, anywhere in the world.
…and people won’t engage with it. And they won’t engage with it because every example they have ever seen of e-learning has been rubbish. Even if it wasn’t rubbish, they’ll think it’s rubbish. Just because they haven’t GOT IT YET. Humanity might never discover the true value of the web. This could still be a major evolutionary moment.
So I decided that someone needed to do something. And that someone should be ME.