Oxford Union sees e-learning defeat

Delegates at a recent Oxford Union debate voted down a motion which stated that e-learning is essential for the skills of tomorrow.

More than 250 individuals who are involved in e-learning heard panels of academics and technology experts speak for and against the motion: “This house believes that the e-learning of today is essential for the important skills of tomorrow.”

Professor Diana Laurillard, among others, spoke for the motion. She is professor of learning with digital technologies at the London Knowledge lab, and was professor of educational technology at the Open University.

She referred delegates back to the invention of writing and said that traditionalists would have opposed it as too impersonal. But, she asked: “Would anyone today side with those traditionalists of yesterday?

“The invention of the printing press fed the explosion of creativity and innovation that was the Renaissance. As people moved from oral traditions, they could divert mental capacity from memorisation to analysis. E-learning, still in its early stages, is the equivalent of the invention of writing; a technology that will enable us to organise our thoughts differently, represent knowledge differently, and so to change the nature of knowledge itself.”

Speakers against the motion included US management consultant and author of books on e-learning Marc Rosenberg.

He said today’s e-learning is both inadequate and ineffective and he recalled the punch-card learning he experienced 30 years ago and said enthusiasm for technology rather than pedagogy has all too often driven development.

“This has resulted in ‘vending machines’ churning out ‘PowerPoint learning’, poor learning experiences and a market penetration of only 20%.”

In conclusion, Rosenberg said he was at the Union “to save e-learning, not to bury it”, and demanded “new, better forms of e-learning to address the skills of tomorrow. For now though, the ‘e’ of e-learning stands for ‘enough’.”

When the motion was put to the floor, 90 delegates voted for it and 144 against.

The debate was organised by e-learning specialist Epic. Chief executive Jonathan Satchell said: “We now hope to use the discussion to take e-learning to the next level, embracing new ideas and designs, and in doing so increase engagement and access to a broader audience.

The debate continues online at www.elearningdebate.com

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