Jakob Nielsen is a usability guru I have followed ever since my PhD days, who over the years has expressed many sound and insightful opinions on usability and human-computer interaction. So I had a real jolt when I read that headline in his recent column “Writing Style for Print vs. Web”. He writes first
“I continue to believe in the linear, author-driven narrative for educational purposes. I just don’t believe the Web is optimal for delivering this experience. Instead, let’s praise old narrative forms like books and sitting around a flickering campfire — or its modern day counterpart, the PowerPoint projector — which have been around for 500 and 32,000 years, respectively.”
followed shortly by
“We should accept that the Web is too fast-paced for big-picture learning. No problem; we have other media, and each has its strengths. At the same time, the Web is perfect for narrow, just-in-time learning of information nuggets — so long as the learner already has the conceptual framework in place to make sense of the facts.”
I think that many in the e-learning community could reflect on this profitably. But though I may know a lot about e-portfolio related technology and interoperability, I certainly know much less about e-learning more widely, of which I have no practical experience. Does Jakob, I wonder? Is he thinking about the (too prevalent, but simplistic) model of e-learning as just putting lectures, notes and tests on-line?
And what’s this about books? To be sure, books are archetypally reader-paced, allowing time for reflection whenever wanted, and perhaps this is one factor missing from impoverished models of e-learning. But they could not be called interactive – that is more the province of the “sitting around the campfire”, when learners can ask questions and discuss matters with other learners and with their teachers.
Jakob favours “author-driven narrative” – but what about learner-driven learning? Can’t this be greatly facilitated by the kind of electronic tools that go along with enlightened approaches to e-learning? To risk being a little cynical, e-learning is probably less easy to profit from than books and lectures (for the author, that is!)
Renownedly, Moodle’s philosophy is constructivist – would that be a surprise to Jakob, or would he say that Moodle is attempting the impossible?
The “bottom line” here is that e-learning people need to check whether the modes of learning that they are encouraging, implying, suggesting or allowing do not fall foul of the valid points in Nielsen’s analysis.