Where to from here? Choosing a path for eLearning.

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No way through – not without scratches!

There is no doubt about it, eLearning is here in a big way.

Doing a search online for free online courses will bring forth a multitude of opportunities. MOOC’s (massive open online courses) provided by start-ups such as Udacity, edX, MITx and Coursera already have pundits talking about how the traditional model of higher education – not to mention the business model – is under threat.

In the younger years of compulsory education, what does this mean for how we prepare students? Is there an opportunity for MOOC-style courses for high school students, for example?

In the past 12 months I have worked with a team to implement 1:1 computing in a high school of 1500 students. This process has been – and continues to be – a massive challenge for many students, teachers and parents to digest. Reflecting upon my journey whilst keeping an eye on future directions has highlighted the current lack of preparedness that exists in Australian education for a serious move towards blended learning. There are pockets of innovation – great teachers in great schools doing amazing things – but for the majority of individuals within education, a serious engagement with eLearning falls with a thud into the ‘too-hard’ basket.

At a grass-roots level, teachers need to take the lead and accept that education and technology are no longer distinct fields of influence. They are one and the same. Teachers must role-model the life-long learning behaviours that they want their students to embrace and do something about their own professional development around eLearning. They need to quit making excuses. No time? There are no more hours in the day – prioritize. Want more money? Sometimes you have to spend in order to receive – will your current skill set be relevant in 5 years, 2 years, 6 months?

At a regional level, School Executives need to see the writing on the wall and recognise that they will be doing their students damage by ignoring the shift toward educational technologies. This doesn’t take into consideration the possible legal liabilities from students who “fall through the cracks”. Ask yourself, does your school provide access to Assistive Learning Technologies that enable students with special needs to achieve – at any level, let alone their best? We have spoken about differentiated learning pathways for individual students since the 1970’s – technology allows us to achieve these ends, yet decision-makers drag their feet in providing the leadership required for action.

From a Government perspective, leadership again falls short. A petty, short-sighted, focus on the next election cycle continually constricts our elected leaders to focus on tinkering around the edges. When a big-picture, nation building, proposition is put forward (think the National Broadband Network in Australia) – it is immediately attacked as being ‘too expensive’, ‘old technology’ or just plain ‘bad policy’. This feeds short-term public angst, leading to poll pressure and then we get back to tinkering around the edges. Little can be achieved when there is a dearth of strong leadership. Like him or not, former-Premier Jeff Kennett had ideas on what needed to be done and went about achieving them. I can’t help but compare him to the current Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, who doesn’t quite stack up.

I will continue to work towards constructing an environment that enables engaged, passionate teachers to prepare their students for the world that currently exists. My only hope is that others shake off the inertia and join the push.

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