Overview of Gráinne Conole’s “trajectories of e-learning”

Reviewing the trajectories of e-learning – Gráinne Conole

Gráinne Conole is Professor of Learning Innovation and Director of the Institute of Learning Innovation at the University of Leicester. Her work into applications of technology in learning is trailblazing and prolific (e.g., Conole & Fill, 2005; Conole, and Alevizou, 2010; ISC report JISC 2011; Conole, 2011; Conole, 2013). In this chapter from a forthcoming book that she posted to her blog today she summarizes the state of the art very well, however you may find as blogs go, it’s still a long read. Here’s an overview. I hope it’s of interest and you’ll visit her site to read the entire thing.

Professor Conole stresses The growing importance of ICT in education and quotes from a UNESCO 2005 report that saw 7 applications of technology in learning:

  1. to improve administrative efficiency and provide a pan-institutional infrastructure for managing learning, teaching and research.
  2. to disseminate teaching and learning materials to teachers and students, usually through an LMS and resource repositories.
  3. to improve the ICT skills of teachers and students and their digital literacies and competences
  4. to allow teachers and students access to sources of information from around the world.
  5. as examples of good practice and mechanisms for sharing ideas on education and learning.
  6. provide spaces for academics and students to collaborate on joint projects. These can also be used to support collaboration for research projects.
  7. to conduct lessons from remote locations and support distance learning. This can include both synchronous and asynchronous communication.

She provides a timeline of technology’s application “…from being a peripheral innovation to being part of the core services we offer learners. Each item on the timeline is discussed in turn.

Graphic, Figure 1: The e-learning timeline, source: Conole, 2014, blog

Figure 1 shows the e-learning timeline the chapter is based on. Professor Conole discusses each of the key technological developments that have arisen over the past thirty years

Professor Conole talks about the evolution of Multimedia Authoring Tools (like Adobe Captivate and others), The Web, “Learning Objects” (which are not the equivalent of “eLearning modules,” but “precursors to the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement”), and Learning Management Systems:

Graphic, Figure 2: Components of an institutional LMS, source: Conole, 2014, blog

Figure 2: Components of an institutional LMS
LMSs provide a hub for learning materials and course delivery and often also cover the management of course registration, course scheduling, discussion forums, blog sites, student scores, and student transcripts. LMSs contain a number of tools for presenting learning materials, for communication and collaboration and for managing assignments.

Professor Conole says Mobile Devices are gaining traction because they can be “used across different learning spaces, beyond the formal classroom setting, into the home and within informal learning contexts, such as museums.” And they are.

This very important distinction is highlighted in Professor Conole’s overview:

Learning Design emerged “as a counter measure to Instructional Design. Driven primarily by researchers in Europe and Australia, Learning Design aimed to provide practitioners with guidance and support to inform their design process which is pedagogically effective and makes appropriate use of technologies. It is seen as a more encompassing term than Instructional Design, which operates primarily at the level of multimedia; in contrast Learning Design provides a holistic approach to the design process.

Gamification is an immensely important trend “as a means of motivation and learner engagement” and Conole quotes Gee, 2008: “The potential of gamification, however, goes beyond promoting healthy lifestyles and marketing strategies. Gamers voluntarily invest countless hours in developing their problem-solving skills within the context of games” and says 21st century learning will reflect Gee’s ‘situated and embodied learning,’ “…meaning a student is not just being taught inert knowledge, rather using facts and information as tools for problem solving in a specific context and solving the problem (Gee 2011).”

[The Open Educational Resources (OER) is] …promoted by organisations such as UNSESCO and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. UNESCO argues that Education is a fundamental human right and therefore educational resources should be freely available.” She concludes this section “The OER movement has been successful in promoting the idea that knowledge is a public good, expanding the aspirations of organisations and individuals to publish OER. However as yet the potential of OER to transform practice has not being realised, there is a need for innovative forms of support on the creation and evaluation of OER” noting strongly that Hewlett Foundation, Atkins et al. (2007) said “adopt programs and policies to promote Open Educational Resources” is one of the five higher-level recommendations in the conclusion to the report.

Learning occurs wherever Social and participatory media appears (quality and scope of learning varies greatly). Conole draws from her prior work (Conole and Alevizou, 2010) “a review of the use of social and participatory media in Higher Education. [the authors] adapted a taxonomy of types of Web 2.0 tools (O’Reilly 2005) developed by Crook et al. (2008) based on the functionality of different tools.” She then lists 10 tool types, 3 trends and 5 characteristics—Peer critiquing, User-generated content, Collective aggregation, Community formation, Digital personas —that we can expect to continue into the 21st century.

She discusses the initial excitement around Virtual worlds, something I was also once very excited about, about which I came to the same conclusion: “Part of the problem is in the fact that the current Virtual Worlds are still difficult to use and part of the problem is that there are not many learning interventions where other technologies can be just as appropriate, i.e. it is not clear that the investment in time in building and using the Virtual World is worth it.”

The remainder of the article is devoted to the growing role and importance of E-books and smart devices, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), arguing effectively for an alternative classification system based on 12 dimensions, and the emergence of Learning Analytics—data collection and its uses.

Professor Gráinne Conole wraps up her review of the key technological developments of the last 30 years with advice on what to look out for in the months and years ahead, where to look, and the following ideas and assertions:

To conclude, the nature of learning, teaching and research is changing as a result of the increasing impact of technologies in education. We are seeing changing roles and evolving organisation structures. In addition, disruptive technologies, like MOOCs, are challenging traditional educational business models and new models are emerging. We need to think beyond the distinction of campus-based and online learning, to focus more on the notion of Technology-Enhanced learning spaces.[41] We cannot as individuals or institutions afford to ignore technologies, we need to harness the characteristics of new media and adopt more open practices in our learning, teaching and research.
– Gráinne Conole

I first learned of professor Conole’s work in graduate school while doing a major research project, when charting a path from cognitive apprenticeship to design research took me through the realm of Compendium.

If you’re interested in these things, I highly recommend the entire piece. Reviewing the trajectories of e-learning

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Professor Gráinne Conole, Professor of Learning Innovation
Director, Institute of Learning Innovation, School of Education, University of Leicester

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