I have enjoyed this month’s issue of Wired, especially an article from senior writer, Mat Honan. I couldn’t find his article on the web, otherwise I would have just linked to it. I will have some sequential blog posts over the next few days with excerpts from his article, with some additional images, and thoughts to facilitate a conversation about social presence in eLearning which I have been writing and presenting about lately.
Originally written by Mat Honan on Wired Magazine. May 2014
“The history of the Internet is one of lonely people trying to find one another. Consider: CompuServe, AOL, MySpace, Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp. Ultimately, they’re all about communicating with others. We look into a glowing screen and see something human. But the best of these services let something human look back at us. And when technology just melts away, it almost feels like we’re not alone.
The Internet has gotten better and better at letting us talk to one another. I can pick up my phone, start a conversation with a friend in Europe and another in Asia, and watch as they both type replies. It’s as if I’m seeing their thoughts form. I can share something—on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram—about what I’s currently experiencing and immediately hear from others experiencing the same thing.”
What Mat is sharing above, if we could for a second, relate it to eLearning. Do our learners feel this way in either a synchronous or asynchronous course?
We need to remember that there is no classroom when learners are learning via eLearning. As Michelle Pacansky-Brock puts it when you read her book or hear from her at a conference, “students are isolated from their peers and instructor.” No matter how interactive it is, there is still no classroom. And there also is no “you,” that is, a teacher in an eLearning module. This may not be an original idea from Michelle but it definitely is a key one because our student’s in eLearning experiences are essentially learning alone.
Yes this can have it’s advantages which is probably why eLearning as often a method chosen by many students in the first place. It also has it’s inherent disadvantages as well and why students do not choose it. But yet, we cannot neglect that it could potentially save time, cut costs, and going to class in our pajamas is a plus!
I do believe they can but there must be intentional interactions built into the design of the experience so that, as Mat puts it, “technology just melts away, it almost feels like we’re not alone.” If we don’t cultivate a humanizing element into our eLearning then:
- Increase a learner’s anxiety about learning
- Decrease the learner’s use of the technology
- Decrease the learner’s successful completion of the eLearning experience
But there has been research and much discussion about how to combat these issues specifically over the last few years. Some would say that a learner feels like they are learning alone because they are missing that “human element.”
A recent MOOC that I actually participated in back in November of 2013 on the Canvas Network called, Human Element: An Essential Online Course Component, shared this video with us and I thought I would share it with you here today.
This course was one of my favorite MOOC experiences because it did have this element. I was truly connected with other students around the material, chatted with them on Twitter, and many of them I am still connected with today. Some of the other MOOCs and eLearning experiences I have had in the past were not setup this way. Even courses that I have personally designed in the past. I know my learners had anxieties … perhaps because they felt alone. As much as we design our online experiences to be the same as a face-to-face class, without the human element their learning may not be successful.