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From eLearning to eTeaching Pt1

When we discuss eLearning as if it were a thing, we miss the point. Since learning is a process, why do we demote eLearning simply to the courseware that instructional designers, developers and instructors create?

In the same vein, teaching is also a process, a process with at least some observable behaviors. When teachers are observed in their classrooms, they perform teaching behaviors. For example, drawing a diagram on the board to illustrate a concept or asking questions designed to promote new thoughts are both examples of teaching behaviors. Checking the facial expressions of students and using non-verbal feedback to gauge their understanding of the material, then adding an example or changing the pace are teaching behaviors in response to student feedback.

Where is the instructor when a student is working through an eLearning or online course? Unless the eLearning has a coach type avatar or the online course has an online feed to twitter, the instructor or virtual surrogate is obviously absent from the scene. In these cases the technology is being used in a push mode like broadcast TV. In a recorded Webinar, the instructor is virtually present, but cannot get direct feedback from the students, so the delivery mode is still push.

In a recent Canadian study, Kaznowska et. al. were surprised that the digital natives who have grown up connected were not very happy with their eLearning and online courses. While they liked the convenience of having readings online, they seemed to miss the interactivity normally found in brick and mortar classrooms. Issues of motivation and lack of follow through appear to plague many online courses.

Looking at my Tweetdeck, I see more than a few negative tweet rants directed right at #eLearning; many with colorful studentese. A few years back my team converted a large amount of dry, fact heavy eLearning modules into functional SCOs. Adding interactive elements to current materials is neither not easy nor quick, but it is often doable. Financial incentives are at the root pushing eLearning and online instruction trends ever higher. Given this reality, what can IDs, developers, and instructors do to maintain and improve the quality of the teaching/learning processes?

Many Colleges and Universities are beginning to establish functional standards for online instruction. It is a bit silly to presume that dumping the reading list, syllabus, practice exams and even online access to readings.on to a website creates an online course. Shouldn’t a well designed online course make use of social media elements and advanced interactivity to encourage feedback, increase engagement and collaboration?

Many eLearning and edTech pros are working very hard making eLearning more engaging and involving. The use of scenarios and avatars with audio and video certainly makes eLearning modules more than page turners, but we still need to get away from the old style push mode. Since both teaching and learning are processes, it seems logical to use our new, ever evolving technologies to bring more parts of both processes into eLearning and online instruction. In short we need to think in terms of eTeaching not just eLearning and online instruction.

Note also that most digital natives and even some boomers are used to working in non-linear virtual spaces where they get to choose what to see and do much of the time. Except for core fundamentals, expecting a linear progression through courseware seems an unrealistic assumption about many of today’s learners. Clearly, IDs and developers should consider the current social media environments that students live in when seeking to create better models for eLearning and online instruction. In the posts to follow, I will review some new technology concepts and consider how we can use them to move from eLearning to eTeaching.


Kaznowska, E., Rogers, J., and Usher, A. (2011). The State of E-Learning in Canadian
Universities, 2011: If Students Are Digital Natives, Why Don’t They Like E-Learning?
Toronto: Higher Education Strategy Associates.

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