The 'e' in e-learning gets a makeover

Plymouth Enhanced Learning Conference


There has been much discussion in the twitterverse recently over whether we still need the ‘e’ in e-learning – what with all the new stuff coming along such as:

  • m-learning (e-learning on a mobile device)
  • social learning (self organising e-learning powered by social media tools)
  • live online learning (virtual e-learning classrooms)

I still use the term e-learning because it’s well known and reasonably well understood – though if you ask anyone at Learning Technologies next week you will get some quite different definitions. Personally I prefer the term online learning since it seems more inclusive of all that new stuff listed above.

However the primary aim of this short post is to highlight a new use of the ‘e’ in e-learning; enhanced learning. Where did I find this new usage? Pretty close to home actually – in Plymouth in Devon. It comes from the title of a conference on e-learning which has been run each year by Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) and his team a the University of Plymouth. This year though it has been re-branded as ‘The Plymouth Enhanced Learning Conference‘. I like this new usage – what about you? Should we re-invent the ‘e’ or just lose it altogether?

iBooks 2.0 is now in my 'bad books'

Yesterday I wrote about Apple’s two new releases that are significant for those of us working in online learning – iBooks2 and iTunes U2.

One of the issues for those of us in online learning, but in the non-education sector, is that iTunes U is aimed at educational institutions. True we can all consume the FREE content in iTunes U but ONLY educational institutions can use the course development platform (iTunes U Course Manager). This is a pity because it would provide a valuable alternative for those designing learning programmes in the non-education sector. I guess a ‘commercial’ version may feature somewhere on Apple’s secret roadmap but I think Apple also needs to recognise that ‘education’ is a business too and not get too carried away with its ‘free stuff for future Apple customers’ strategy.

More significantly there appears to be an even bigger spanner in the works when it comes to iBooks2. This product isn’t targeted just at the education market; though most of the posts on it over the last 24 hours have made a big play of interactive textbooks for students. Unlike iTunes U the authoring software for iBooks, iBooks Author, is available FREE to all (provided you use a Mac of course). The problem appears to be with the licence agreement. If you develop a book in iBooks Author the copyright of that book belongs to Apple! What’s more you can only sell an iBook through Apple – though you can give it away free on another platform (such as your own website).

Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. Dan Wineman

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Apple launches new iTunes U

Apple announced two very interesting new developments today for those involved in online learning.


eBooks get multimedia and interactivity embedded in the pages. This is an interesting development considering I have just been blogging about ‘learning from reading’ and ‘learning from watching video‘. iBooks2 even allows notetaking which pleases me immensely since I just blogged about the value of notetaking last month for 24Tips.

The new textbooks offer a host of functions which experts say will transform teaching – including images that turn into slideshows, links from the body text into glossaries, and multiple choice tests which are instantly assessed. Students will be able to create notes by highlighting text with their fingers, and then review all of their notes in one place – instantly creating a tailormade set of study cards. Guardian Online

Learn More: Review on Engadget

iTunes U

The most significant development though for e-learning is iTunes U. Apparently iTunes U has been around for some time but this new app provides a really cool interface for online learning. One of my favourite sayings was ‘If only Apple built an LMS.’ Well now it appears that they have. For me LMS’ have often been about the ‘MS’ not the ‘L’. Primarily they have been designed to enable L&D to manage learners and content as efficiently as possible. Well Apple’s approach has firmly placed the ball in the learner’s court.

If only Apple built an LMS. John Curran

iTunes U works in a similar way to other stuff on iTunes (music, video, apps). You browse the catalog, click to install, enter your password and bingo it downloads to your iOS device.

Currently all courses on iTunes U are free – most of it is provided by leading universities (see list of links at the end of this post). I guess this is Apple moving into the potentially lucrative education space by initially supporting Open Courseware, while the universities are experimenting with the freemium model. Or maybe I am too cynical and it’s all a genuine attempt to make the world a better place. I have only had a brief look at a couple of courses but they are quite comprehensive and clearly would have needed a reasonable amount of investment on the part of the universities. Other ‘courses’ however, such as some of those from Oxford University seem little more than a list of audio files – but it’s likely that this is legacy content from the initial version of iTunes U.

One key downside is that courses are asynchrounous – they are designed primarily for self-study. iTunes U appears to lack the ‘social learning’ activities that are becoming so popular in new LMS’. More significantly the content authoring platform is available to educational institutions ONLY. As a learning designer working in the non-education space I don’t appear to have any way of building programmes in iTunes U. That feels a lot like discrimination. Why not make the service open to all – surely a suitable business model could be identified?

One request please Apple – can we lose the iTunes when we’re not actually selling tunes? What about iOSU?

Here’s a very quick tour of an Open University course in iTunes U:

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BETT 2012: A Learning Technologist's Viewpoint

BETT 2012I normally try and get along to the BETT (British Educational Training and Technology) Show at London’s Olympia. I made it in 2011 but this year other commitments have got in the way.

Of course BETT is a show aimed at the education market so as a learning technologist and designer working in the commercial sector I’m not part of the core audience but aren’t learning technologies pretty much the same whatever the application? Well actually no, and once you’ve spent a couple of hours wandering around BETT you will see why.

The vast majority of learning technologies at BETT are designed for use within the classroom. Interactive whiteboards, classroom response systems, projectors, even special trolleys that contain banks of iPads or laptops for use in class. Educational learning technologies are all about keeping the power in the classroom. Last year I even struggled to find a Moodle vendor even though this is a massively popular platform in colleges and universities. Outside of education learning technologies are all about taking learning out of the classroom. Why is there such a disconnect? In my view it’s related to the two types of business model. Mainstream education’s business model is based on ‘bums on seats’. Schools and colleges get paid for each student they entice through their doors – there is no model to educate or partly educate online. In the commercial sector however the online learning business model works pretty well – reducing cost and providing flexibility for learners.

Things are changing however – colleges and universities are testing the water with online access to learning (proper learning technologies ;-) ). Open Courseware is now available from a number of leading educational institutions such as MIT in the US and The Open University in the UK. Of course Open Courseware is literally the ‘courseware’ which can only be a shadow of the full interactive learning experience (imagine PowerPoint without the presenter and audience). MIT though has recently announced that some of its courses will have free open access – not only to the courseware but also to the tutors, assignments, tests etc.

These are positive moves but the education business model is still rooted in the ‘bums on seats’ model. It always amazes me how one’s business model trumps almost anything else. Even though the research tells us that classroom model is outdated is so many ways we find it hard to change in case we cannibalise our core income stream.

Footnote – Next year BETT moves to Excel – this was a move that the CIPD HRD Show made a few years back and it resulted in poor attendances. As I’m not working in the education space I think it’s unlikely that I will make the trip out to Excel which is a shame because I always enjoyed the very different slant they had on learning technologies.



Converting Classroom to Online

This is the online version of the Pecha Kucha presentation (20 slides of 20 seconds each) that I gave at the e-Learning Network (ELN) event in London on 21 October 2011. I’ll be at the next ELN event in London later this week (Friday 9th December) where the subject will be; “Writing great copy, storyboards, and scenarios for e-learning”. It will also be the grand final of the 2011 Pecha Kucha competition. Hope you can make it!

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