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eMerging eLearning in Abu Dhabi
Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The next morning, we took the bus to the Men’s Higher College of Technology. When his Excellency and his entourage strode into the auditorium, everyone rose. Miss World reappeared, as did the Bollywood movie star. Twelve cameramen captured every move with Nikons and videocams. Fresh flowers abounded. (Forgive my changing verb tense here; I wrote most of this as it happened, as I would for a live blog.)

His Excellency gave the opening keynote to several hundred of us in the auditorium of the Men’s Higher College of Technology. “A good online education must be a good education.” Some believe that the greatest contribution of eLearning is the improvements that carry over to F2F instruction. The sheikh is reciting the best practices of eLearning – interactivity, great faculty, combining F2F and distance ed, support services.

Next came a ceremonial contract signing on the main stage with ICL and Tata. The photographers swarmed. His Excellency departed immediately thereafter to go falcon hunting with the leader of Pakistan.

The shape of accreditation today

Dr. Mary Peace Lynn, The Center for Quality Assurance in International Education, on quality and assessment. Growth is the catalyst for external quality assurance agencies. Accreditation is her focus. I appreciate that accreditation is important, but it’s not a thrilling story. After all, higher education is borderless. Professions are globalizing. Countries need to keep pace. Dr Lynn was clearly upset that His Excellency put a higher priority on his hunting trip than on staying for her message.

IBM’s Richard Straub is up next. He is director Learning Solutions, IBM EMEA, and Chairman of the eLearning Industry Group. The definition of eLearning is expanding. Now we are doing new things rather than automating the old ones. Informal learning is becoming more important. Simultaneously, the technology is evolving. There are many moving targets. Tech is the smarter challenge; the real challenge is change management and breaking free of our old habits.

A Digital Literacy Standard is required today, says David Carpenter, inventor of the Internet Driving License. Digital literacy is today’s 3 R’s. ECDL has proposed a digital literacy standard. The skills include word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, database – essentially the Microsoft Office Suite.

The official conference sugar cubes

On the way back from the Gala Dinner last night, John Hedburg and I had grabbed the front row on the bus. On the 90-minute ride from Dubai back to Abu Dhabi, John told me about his work with fifth- and seventh-grade math teachers. So many math examples have no relationships to students’ lives. “If 12 boys make up 32% of the class and 4 more join, making them 40% of the class, how many students are in the class?” No one ever encounters a question like that in the real world. Better to teach from an example of figuring out which cell phone plan to choose.

John’s message is about mixing marketing and learning. Keep the audience in mind. I wish the next speaker had factored this into his presentation which was all me-me-me how-cool-we-are, with little empathy for the listeners.

Bernie Luskin says the Internet, population demographics, bandwidth, etc… everything changes everything. Convergence happening everywhere. The issue is What needs to change? And What needs to remain the same? Most things last. 70% - 90% of what we deal with is the old stuff. Given his topic of learning psychology, it was ironic to have Bernie fell into the me-me-me trap, listing the names of what topics we need to know but don’t have time to talk about today.

Curt Bonk takes the stage in a Dr. Evil costume. Then Mini-Me appears. Dr Evil explodes ten myths:

  1. We can wait it out. 83% of higher-ed institutions use some eLearning. eLearning is hot. It’s exploding. U. Illinois is putting every course online. By the end of the decade a billion people will be online. It’s the second and third billion that will be the challenge of the next decade.
  2. College instructors can just teach the same way they always have. No…. Socratic questioning doesn’t work online. The tools online are coaching, guided learning, mentoring, collaboration…. Korea embracing eLearning.
  3. I must have a technology background… Course developers, facilitators, and SMEs are what’s required.
  4. Can’t afford it. NiceNet. Moodle. Sakai. (sakaiproject.org). These are free tools.
  5. Learning is not improved by technology. Slight favour of e in the latest research. Tech support improved learning in 25 or 30 examples. Less failure; fewer dropouts.
  6. Online is easy. Online instructors require before and after as well as doing. Becoming an Online Teacher.
  7. More females teaching online than males.
  8. No models for teaching. Actually, there are nots of books and guides.
  9. Everyone is making money in eLearning. Or everyone is losing money.
  10. College instructors and trainers are loyal. Actually, most instructors would prefer to be freelance.

The Emirati seated next to me pointed out that the speakers all point to great content, great faculty, and great tech as the golden path. However, he thinks these are non-issues: money can fix them. The problem is the people. They are not motivated, in large measure because the online institutions of higher learning are not accredited. It’s ironic to discover that at a conference on eLearning, degrees issued by online institutions here are not seen as legitimate credentials when it comes to qualifying for jobs.

Bonk appears as Merlin. His surveys of corp and higher ed finds both sectors in favor of eLearning. Sometimes it’s supplemental. Certificate programs are going up. Short degrees are popular.

to be continued


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