Why I’m done talking about e-learning and you should be too

Mac Love
Mac Love (photo by author)

Right now that I’ve got your attention hear me out. I can assure I will still be blogging, tweeting and generally living my life through a browser. However while reflecting on my e-learning philosophies and practice for a job application I suddenly had a thought, why don’t we just call it learning?

I’ve been using the internet to learn for almost 15 years which means I’ve spent more time learning with an internet connection than I have without. In fact I’ve been online so long I can’t imagine going back to learning only through textbooks and an individual teacher’s knowledge. So why do we persist in using language to describe this sort of learning as new and somehow unorthodox?

Is it a generational thing?

I understand that there is a need in the market for people with specific skills using ICT to learn and you betcha I’ll be working that angle in any job application harder than the contestants on a photo shoot of New Zealand’s Next Top Model. More importantly e-learning can mean different things to different people. Does using a computer automatically mean someone is learning? Nope but neither does using a pencil, a whiteboard marker or a chisel.

As an learner here are some quick diagnostics I use to gauge a person’s interest in e-learning.

  • If a teacher can’t point to a digital presence that either they or their students created, then they are not interested e-learning.
  • If a teacher can’t name a blog that they follow, then they are not interested in e-learning.
  • If a teacher can’t name an app they’ve recently implemented into their teaching, then they are not interested into e-learning.

Right now the biggest hurdle I see in effectively e-learning into teaching practice is that there are too many people waiting to be taught when the most effective learners, e or otherwise, know that learning is an ongoing process not something that occurs only in a classroom.

Case in point telescopic texts.

I found telescopic texts on twitter the night before I was teaching shared writing session on using describing words to make. I had a quick play and decided it suited my learners’ needs so the next morning I flung the website up on the classroom’s two-touch and bang that’s something in my teaching arsenal. Will I use it all the time? Nope. But that just in time learning is what e-learning is all about. See an idea, give it a go. If it is great, keep it and share it. If it’s a lemon, ditch it.

For the purposes of this tool I knew my students learning needs were to go beyond answering the who, what, when, where, why and how in their recount stories and start to add adjectives to make their stories more interesting however doing it on paper is kind of boring and messy. Being able to construct sentences which they could unfold on screen was the hook the students needed to starting thinking about editing their work which was the focus of their learning for that session. The students were so enthralled that they begged to ‘play’ with the sentences before school the next day.

This type of learning seems so natural to me, a quick 15 minute scan of my twitter feed yielding ideas relevant to my practice as teacher. I didn’t need to be told to learn or show up at a time or place in order to learn from an expert because I built up a community of people who support my learning. The opportunity for me to learn is never more than 140 character tweet away.

The question is should this sort of self-directed learning, professional or otherwise, be the exception or the norm?

I’m guessing if you are reading this blog, then you don’t need much convincing.

But shouldn’t everyone in the business of teaching should be constantly be in a process of learning? The rate at which knowledge and technology is expanding is so rapidly that anyone choosing to stand still is in effect choosing to slip behind. An e-learner knows that to be successful in this environment you need to take initiative, build and contribute to communities of knowledge and most importantly be open to learning anywhere from anyone at anytime. Aren’t these the sort of traits we should be encouraging in all teachers not just those who choose to put an e in front of their learning?

Because at the heart of it e-learning isn’t about learning technology but using technology to learn.

The focus needs to move from the technology to the behaviours and habits of mind that enable effective learning. E-learning by its very terminology puts the technology ahead of the learning. Granted learning-e doesn’t roll of the lips as nicely as the alternative but the implication of using terms like ‘ICT integration’ or ‘e-learning’ is that using technology in teaching practice is somehow special or different. An optional extra that the ICT coordinator takes charge of or something individual teachers put the effort into if they have the time, not something that should be at the heart of everyone’s teaching practice.


When I hear people joke they don’t know how to programme the VCR/DVD player or say that they don’t have the time to spend on integrating ICT what I hear is that they are not interested in sharing and connecting with the world outside the classroom.

In short they are not interested in learning.

Perhaps I’ve stumbled upon my philosophy of e-learning, it should be so ubiquitous that we don’t need to think of it as a special category of learning anymore.

10 thoughts on “Why I’m done talking about e-learning and you should be too

Add yours

  1. Fantastic. Love it all. You hooked me in, sucker that I am, and I kept reading. Great persuasive writing. Actually would be a great model to share with my students!! Stephanie you always inspire. Thanks.


  2. Yep, I agree with your take on this too. It’s about focusing on the process rather than the tools, and supporting the learning goals – but that we have to have a good think about the real goals of preparing students for life, employment and further learning.

    The big challenge we face is that whilst teachers can respond, until the assessment system is changed, the system has a strong built-in disincentive. No employer will ever ask an employee to sit down with pen and paper and solve a problem, without external references and without working with colleagues. Somehow we have to solve this challenge for the assessment system, so that the skills students learn in the classroom – and use in the workplace – are also core to the assessment system.


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