Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Guarding Against Primitive eLearning Programs

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Are we too focused on the use of technologies in elearning that we overlook the opportunity to reflect and contemplate? In our love of everything instant, we tend to develop “primitive-like” behaviors in learning and lose significant insights present in a “contemplation mindset”learning environment. In “The Spaces of Contemplation” eLearning, we can provide an environment that promotes learners to reflect, ponder,work, collaborate and produce outputs applying the meaning of context learned.

I was reminded of the challenge in adding space for contemplation in eLearning when I listened to Pat Morrison, KPCC Public, and her May 3, 2011 interview with Sheryl Turkle (MIT Social Media Scientist) and Nicholas Carr (New York Times writer) on the topic “Technology and the Internet: can they change our brains and behavior?”

The training and learning industry has this love affair with technology. We openly embrace technology since it makes our job of providing and delivering learning faster, cheaper and highly effective. However, this romance with technology always evokes the “love at first sight” feeling. We love it – we adopt it. But we forget to investigate the deeper impacts on learning and behavior. Hence, before we know it, we are rushing from one technology to the next one– from eLearning to mobile learning to semantic learning – with the “wow” of technological romance sweeping us all off our feet.

“It is good to take advantage of the benefits and abundance of technology. But not knowing when and how to stop to reflect and contemplate on the barrage of information, causes some harm. We are closer yet, detached from one another”, according to Turkle.

“We are closer and connected, yet detached from one another”

Nicholas Carr has been a consistent critique of technology. In "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"he suggested that the Internet impacts the way we think. In the NPA interview, Carr said: “Our need to be reactive, busy, and constantlyalert and always playing with gadgets has something to do with the part of us that is primitive. The busyness is rooted from our hunting and self-protecting instinct. We want to be constantly alert for the hunt. People’s inability to take a pause and reflect deprives them the need to assess the value of information.”

“The busyness is rooted from our hunting and self-preservation instinct. We want to be constantly alert for the hunt.”

After listening to the interview, I felt that in many instances our eLearning design is advanced from the technical viewpoint, but is primitive in the way we help learners contemplate, add meaning and context in their own lives. How do we guard against this pitfall?

My reflections from the comments of Carr and Turkle

Digesting the ideas of Carr and Turkle from that interview caused me to ponder on these thoughts:

• We need to appropriate time to go beyond mere eLearning busyness– page turning, multimedia, games, texting, messaging, Facebooking, etc. – to allow reflection and contemplation.

• We need to be cautious not to lose touch with the values that we acquire in closeness, intimacy and valued relationships.

• Test our adoption of technology to avoid reinforcing or building “primitive-like” behaviors such as focusing on the use of technologies and ignoring the opportunity to provide time for reflection and contemplation.

The place of contemplation in learning and eLearning

eLearning has its own strengths and limitations. It is a carrier ofmessages and information. With the integration of social media tools,eLearning further transforms the way learners learn, think, work and collaborate with peers. Even as eLearning does well in helping learners interact with content, it is often driven by the “production mindset” rather than the “application mindset.” Production mindset focuses on rapid delivery of massive content, whereas, application mindset focuses on contemplation to bring content to the learners’ context.

In the past few decades the focus of technical advances in the Internet was simply on “content”. More recently, we now see the movement towards the development of technologies which enable people to link content with their own context.

eLearning has a “production mindset” rather than the “application mindset”
To illustrate the value of context, a number of presentations at Caltech’s TEDX event, touched on the challenge of making scientific knowledge more accessible and navigable to allow non-experts to take advantage of the available data. “Our dream is to make scientific knowledge of the universe at the fingertips of teachers, students, businesses and industry. We want them to play with the knowledge and apply them in their own context”, according to George Djorgovski.

In the games development area, Jane McGonigal from the Institute of the Future espouses the idea that online game players should extend their game by continuing group actions in real life situation. McGonigal says “games offer meaningful social experiences that can translate into the real world.”(See more on World without Oil.)

How to add contemplation in eLearning design

Can we add structure in eLearning to guarantee that learners contemplate on the content? The answer is no.Is it possible for us to create an environment, spaces or private sanctuaries in our design wherelearners are encouragedto contemplate? The answer is, yes.

Consider testing the ideas in the “Spaces of eLearning Contemplation” – a concept that I have repeatedly applied to a mixture of approaches and mutations. The main focus of the idea is to advocate a time of contemplation among learners.

The Spaces of eLearning Contemplation “eLearning Contemplation Flow”

The Spaces of Contemplation

Contemplation comes from different types of actions (spaces). Four processes occur as learner practices contemplation: 1) Constant search to fulfill a need and find meaning (central core – inner circle); 2) different actions of contemplation, context searching, and application (outer ring); 3) transference of content (arrow in and out of the outer and inner core). The tools enable the learners and facilitate the process.

1. Regardless of the size or type of the eLearning content -be it a very small one (one minute), 30 to 60 minutes or synchronous or asynchronous, we can always find opportunities to add a contemplation flow.

2. There is an abundance of tools from eLearning and social media that is able to provide the platform. Select and integrate a single tool that can help accomplish the Contemplation Flow. You may use an LMS with social media modules, Share Point, PBWorks Wiki, Yammer or Facebook -like tools. Incidentally, I have developed two platforms also suitable for the contemplation process: and Vignettes Videos.

3. Contemplation in open spaces or private sanctuaries

a. Journaling – encourage learners to keep and share a journal of their learning. Ask learners to do their journals as observers like anthropologists, sociologists or scientists. is a good place to see how people share blogs.
I blog because this serves as a journal of my research and thoughts. Ray’s Blog.

b. Mapping – help learners to visualize the key concepts and map them in such a way that they can visualize the “gestalt” of the ideas. Ask learners to create a map as if they are navigators, travellers, or adventurers. is a good resource for mapping activities.

See an example of an idea map.

See an example of a mapping tool.

c. Drawing – enable learners to translate their learning into an illustration that portrays something meaningful to them. Ask learners to be like painters and artists from the caveman days etching away patiently with crude tools upon an empty wall. Allow them to visualize the content.

Drawing tool. Try it.

d. Survey and pooling – leaners can design short polling or survey questions that help them to discover answers to their questions. Ask learners to be researchers, pollsters and analysts of data and inject their interpretations.

Polling web 2.0 tools

e. Offline - good old face to face – a learner can be a Merlin, doctor, friend, coach,mentor, etc.

Old-fashion conversations; Have conversations with people that matter.

f. Projects – learners “dirty”their hands. Take up a craft as a project and be artisans.

g. Learning impacts – learners can share learning impacts - qualitative or quantitative, anecdotal or factual - from the impacts of their on-the-job learning, let them prepare a report like an accountant, efficiency expert, bean counter, CFO.

In we have a Learning Impacts tool.

Learning Impact detail

Learning Impact overview

View Video by Nicholas Carr

Carr speaks about: how the brain works; how the Internet changes how we think; the value of solitary thinking, and many others.


Technology at our fingertips has its advantages and benefits in elearning. However, as we nurture that need to be constantly alert, busy and always connected, we face the danger of engaging in “primitive- like" behavior. We appear to be better connected yet detached.

As we embrace technology to provide faster and easier learning, precautions must be taken when absorbing things too fast we don't forget to reflect and contemplate on the true meaning of the contents being learned. Contemplation learning provides the “application mindset” which brings content to the learners’ context.” and a better appreciation of the value of learning. Applying “Spaces of Contemplation”, bridges the gap between the technology of a “production mindset” and a more reflective and meaningful contemplative learning design.

Related blog

Transforming Minds - Using Metaphors in eLearning

How to add the human touch in your eLearning design

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

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