What my Dad taught me about e-learning

There are many things I could thank my father for (such as my Irish heritage that fuels my ability for endless conversation and unstoppable need to bake as soon as I know someone might be visiting!) but for today, I will focus on how his influence has shaped my career in online learning. In many ways, my father was exactly what you would have expected of an engineer – logical, systematic, considered and of course, kept the toolshed meticulously organised! But as I set off to write an article on the art and science online learning design, it put me in mind of why he was both a great engineer and mentor and how the skills he needed are the ones needed in my line of work also. He knew the difference between theory and practice, when to apply trusted techniques and when to employ creative problem solving. He understood that each project stood on it’s own merit – a career forged in the forces was a great education in understanding how each situation requires a solution fit for the environment, not straight out the handbook. So as some food for thought, these are just a few of the things that I, the psychologist and learning designer learnt from my father, the engineer! 1. Know your terrain – a career forged in some of the most politically challenging locations meant my father ensured he was knowledgable in current affairs. A keen appreciation of the political environment you are entering is vital – the over eager puppy that lurks in all those passionate about the possibilities of online learning needs to be reined in from time to time! Early conversations are needed to understand where the starting point is. What is the prior experience of online learning?(the good, the bad and the ugly!) What learning resources are well used, what have struggled to take off? How collaborative is the organisation, is knowledge sharing common or are territories closely guarded? Quickly and poorly executed e-learning can leave bad memories for some time. Creating confidence in the journey you are going to take together is a vital step. 2. In guiding apprentices, it’s about facilitating learning, not proving what you know. My father was never one for the fuss and bother of an officers life and chose to take his promotion in the form of teaching – passing on his experience through mentoring apprentices. It stood him in good stead for stroppy teenagers reluctant to buckle down to revision! Pouring over science textbooks, one equation merging into the other, my father never took the shortcut in helping with my revision. He would ask me questions, use analogy, encourage me to apply concepts to a practical problem. There was so much to learn, so overwhelming – his gift was in signposting, helping build the skills to understand and relate theory to things I was interested in, not to learn an answer by rote. In the world of online learning, there’s so much we could learn, so many resources, no end of user generated content. Our skill is in creating learning scaffolds where learners are provided with the foundations that they can then build on, apply their experience to put things in context, make concepts come alive. 3. Tools that suit your environment – just like me, my father was something of a nerd yet as much as he would have been the first to adopt a new piece of gadgetry, he knew that when out in the jungle, the new ultra sensitive diagnostic tool may not respond well to 100% humidity! Just because a tool exists doesn’t mean it’s suitable – there’s plenty on offer out there and that in itself creates problems. Your client may be adamant that they must offer an iPad app or develop a fully immersive virtual world style simulation, often feeling under pressure to prove their online credentials. This is born of a lack of confidence and is remedied by your ability to keep learning outcomes at the top of the agenda.