A lot of new e-learning etcetera developments are discussed online and many of them sound great. But I don’t see many people wondering about what will happen to universities if they really do become widely embraced.
Universities will have to dismantle a lot of the structural and bureaucratic traditions to really embrace the learning revolution. Individual teachers are often confronted by all sorts of impediments from centralised bodies. While some of these road-blocks really do concern equity, many are derived from tradition and conservative thinking.
Until recently, online learning has not been particularly customisable to individual needs, and when it has been, the educator has had to put in a lot of work learning and establishing systems. The web is increasingly allowing individuals (teachers and students) to set up customisable environments to manage and pace learning and teaching without being expert programmers.
Flexibility, yes – but most universities operate with a very narrow concept of what that means. Why should we force students into a 4-month course / 2 semester per year turnaround? This model suits bureaucracies, not students. We need to be able to give our students learning environments that allow them to manage the pace of their learning (within reason, of course). Group work will be catered for by putting the onus on students to find group members who want to meet a collectively agreed-upon deadline. Teacher workload needs to be managed via peer learning, flipped lectures, and consultation times where the relationship is more like supervision than teaching.
This will force students to become proactive, independent learners actively seeking out their peer learning circle, probably partly via social media and managing their progress and deadlines much more than we currently allow. I think our institutional bureaucracies infantilise undergraduates, and they respond accordingly. This model does not renounce face-to-face classroom time, but treats it as an option rather than a necessity.
Students, of course, often expect to be spoon-fed. They don’t necessarily like it when you suggest they have to find their own answers, or set up their own learning timetable. They might think the teacher is just being lazy. But getting them over this hump is a significant outcome. And it should be possible to prove we are not lazy with the effort and care we take in other ways. It’s all about personalised learning environments and strategies, and that will never be lazy.