Committed Teachers are the Real Architects of Education Generally, and for eLearning Specifically

I have been in the eLearning business for a long time and I am dismayed by its obsession with technology. Approximately 85% of industry-related emails I receive in my in-box are about the newest and slickest technologies that will supposedly transform online learning as we know it. Included among these emails are veiled messages that I am a Luddite if I do not incorporate the latest social media tool or mobile learning app or virtual presence tool into every online course I produce. There is form of technological determinism at work – it exists, therefore we must use it.

Well, I have become a little jaded and read each of these missives with a healthy dose of skepticism. My question is always what affordances does this new technology in question allow in being able to better engage learners and help them reach their goals than what exists now? If I cannot come up with a good answer to this, I move on.

However, I am finding many teachers that I work with – particularly university professors – who are very anxious in feeling that they will never be able to keep up with all the constant changes in eLearning technology. It becomes a little overwhelming for them. To counteract this, I tell the faculty members that I work with to forget about the technology. I urge them to focus on what competencies their learners need to develop and how best to ensure internal consistency between learning objectives, learning activities, and assessments. Only after this has been settled will be figure out “how” to accomplish this in a technological sense. This is when we start looking for the combination of tools (within and without the LMS) that will help us meet these goals.

Using technology as the starting point is much like playing Jeopardy…you have an answer in search of a question. Better to have your questions ready (i.e. in terms of what you are trying to accomplish in an online course) before having your answers in hand (i.e. what technology to use).

In my experience, the best online courses are not necessarily the ones with the best technology. The best online courses are those with committed instructors who are a regular presence in the course and who are engaging, challenging, and stretching their learners and providing regular and meaningful feedback on their work and contributions. A great teacher with lousy technology trumps a lousy teacher with great technology every time.

Along with this general anxiety about keeping up with technology, is a related fear of technology in some quarters. The fear is that technology will somehow supplant teachers. A few years ago, in my first meeting with a group of faculty at a university just starting to develop an online program, one faculty member asked, “So you are here to make us obsolete?” I reassured her that my job was not to make her obsolete, but to help her leverage her teaching skills to reach a new audience of learners, only in a slightly different way than she does currently.

It is for these reasons that I am heartened in checking out the schedule of sessions at the upcoming D2L Fusion Conference, titled “Architects of Education.” Balancing the many sessions on how to use the various D2L tools, are sessions on improving learner engagement, designing group work activities, providing personalized feedback, incorporating peer review strategies, developing learner competencies, etc. Tools are just tools, after all, and are only useful if you have a clear idea of what you want to build.

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