Engaging Online Learners

onlinelearningHere’s a topic that doesn’t run across my feed reader too often: Why online education is mostly a fantasy. The title certainly intrigued me, especially as we work in my district to develop the next steps of our vision for teaching and learning.

I agree with most of the writer’s points:

  • “The online education utopians ignore the fact that free learning has existed for decades in the form of the public library and despite that availability, every kid within bicycling distance to his local branch didn’t turn into a self taught entrepreneur.”
  • “Education is primarily driven by motivation, and online learning doesn’t do anything to address people’s motivational needs.”
  • “I’m not arguing that online courses have no value. They have tremendous value for those who are self-motivated and prone to seeking out knowledge on their own.”

What really struck me was the last bullet point – online learning has tremendous value for those who are “self-motivated and prone to seeking out knowledge on their own.” Is the writer saying that most learners today are not self-motivated seekers of knowledge? I don’t doubt that, but WHY is that, and do we consciously work for learners to be self-motivated? Is it a natural inclination? Or has self-motivation for learning something we educators have drummed out of our students as part of the K-12 system.

Does K-12 create learners dependent on an organization that pushes knowledge their way – tells learners what to learn and how to learn it? Shouldn’t one of the goals of schooling be to connect with learners in ways THEY find meaningful in order to develop the habit of being self-motivated seekers of knowledge?

While the writer’s assertions may be correct based on the types of learners K-12 is (literally) cranking out today, isn’t it incumbent upon us to engage all learners, in all learning environments including online, in ways that develop the habit of seeking out knowledge rather than waiting for an institution to provide it? After all, isn’t self-motivated learning a skill most needed in entrepreneurial and innovative kinds of jobs?

Generally, we do not engage learners well in face-to-face learning environments. Too many online learning experiences try to engage learners in the same ineffective ways. Do instructional designers need to think as a learners and engage differently? If we do this, will the potential of online learning come closer to the “fantasy” that many have about this mode of learning?

By Randy Ziegenfuss Posted in Learning

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