Monday, July 07, 2008

On the side of the good guys

From time to time I get a bit worried that what I'm doing isn't, well, "worthy". Each week I meet a group of guys to play Ultimate Frisbee. As a game it's a bit different and the crowd that gather are a bit different - renewable energy engineers, sustainable development advisors, livestock researchers, conservationists.

"So what do you do?" comes the question, to which I mumble "elearning designer". Once I've explained what elearning is, "You know, that stuff you get sat down at a computer when you join a new company and have to check off..." they roll their eyes, if they haven't completely glazed over.

Against the roll call of fascinating, planet saving jobs my team-mates boast, I feel like perhaps I could be doing something a bit more useful right now instead of taking the comfortable option of cosying up to big corporates for a living.

But then again - I could be doing stuff like this: The story of stuff.

The first "internet documentary" I've seen (as opposed to video documentaries broadcast via YouTube or similar FLV based sites), this short piece is a great example of high fidelity knowledge sharing online - easy to watch, well animated, easy to navigate (reminds of TED which is no bad thing). And it is, of sorts, elearning (without a concept checking quiz or list of objectives in sight).

But cool technical points aside, the documentary reminds me that elearning is on the right side - elearning helps to make a positive difference:
  • People don't travel as much if they are participating in elearning.
  • By and large we don't make huge demands on people's systems that they are forced into another cycle of consumption on their hardware - we just piggyback on a tool that is there already.
  • Training online can help cut down the consumption of additional material (have you ever seen how classroom training EATS pens, paper and flipchart stands?).
  • Heck, we might even expose people to interesting new ideas that make their jobs better and/or their lives more worthwhile (perish the thought)
Get ready for the goldrush?
I've heard a variety of outrageous claims for elearning's future - one I half recall is that elearning would "make the internet(?) look like a rounding error" in terms of value. I'm sure there have been many more over the generations of forms of technology assisted learning.

Well, people are using technology to learn in huge numbers now, just not in the way that was ever expected (think how many people start learning about something, anything, everyday just by firing up Wikipedia - but of course that's free). But as far as I can tell the claims have always been made on the strength of the idea itself, or a new technology.

I stumbled across a link just now to Monash University (does Australia even have any other universities?) which claimed the elearning market, including the higher education sector, was in 2008 worth US$100m - sorry I closed the link before I realised I'd want it for this rant). If recent developments in the price of fuel are anything to go by, this will be a figure that will rise sharply, and soon. As the price of fuel escalates it becomes ever harder to ignore the associated costs of running classroom events. With cool technology making the online classroom ever more appealing, people's remaining objections will only diminish. As learners become ever more accustomed to using the internet everyday,

While the current economic blip may delay the push to a more sustainable model of business from gathering the momentum it looked like it was building up last year, it will only be a matter of time before it will return with a vengence - just as soon as the "no environment, no economy" relationship finally sinks in.

For all the reasons above, but most importantly for economic reasons that will influence the decision of people with real influence - the accounting department, elearning could be about to come in to its own.

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