The real problem of e-learning

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 | education, technology | Comments Off

Many look at e-learning as an education solution.  Some teachers achieve magnificent results when they capitalize on the power of technology.  But why are these successes the exception, rather than the rule?

Is "e" perhaps the problem?

Is “e” perhaps the problem?

The problem with e-learning is that there is far too much emphasis on the “e” and far too little emphasis on “learning”.  The focus in any classroom must be learning.

A good teacher who wants to make sure that learning happens will use any available tool to improve the classroom experience.  Technology is one such a tool, but learning suffers when learning is overshadowed by the tool: when the latest device innovations are glorified; or the praises of the learning management system are sung; or the bells and whistles of the e-book are emphasized.

Often, more time is spent choosing between available tools than thinking about how the tools will be used.  When technology is procured without thinking about the way in which it will support teaching and learning, and then dumped on a teacher who has not been given adequate opportunity to come to grips with it, it becomes a useless gadget.

There is nothing wrong with “e”, in fact, there is so much that is right about it – if we can only find a way of helping the education fraternity to harness it properly!

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Technology patches for education

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 | education, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Ample evidence exists that technology can make a huge difference in education. Many teachers in South Africa use technology right now to improve their own teaching and to help learners to learn better.

Some teachers use interactive classroom devices to keep learners interested and involved in learning material. Others have flipped their classrooms: learners access content at home on mobile devices and teachers then use class time for stimulating discussions and making practical application of the material. Older computer labs are still used with great benefit by teachers for reinforcement, drill-and-practice and research. In all these cases teachers report significant improvements in learning outcomes.

However, we have not seen that technology has improved the quality of education in general. Pockets of excellence exist, which proves the potential value of technology in education, but in the vast majority of schools in South Africa technology has had no impact on education outcomes (even in some schools flush with technology).

Technology is a wonderful patch to improve teaching and learning.

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

But why can’t the patches stick? It has been said that one can’t put a new patch on an old garment. Why? Because the fabric of the old garment may be too weak to hold the patch and so the patch is simply torn off.

Is this the problem in education? Is the education system so threadbare that it cannot hold onto, incorporate, and integrate technology into the system? If so, what can we do about the situation?

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The conference scam

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 | education, training | Comments Off

Have you noticed how many e-learning conferences are held these days?  And each one is touted by the organizers as a can’t afford to be missed event.  Some of them are even called summits … adding a touch of grandiosity to the occasion.

How valuable are these conferences?

Having attended a good number of them over the last few years – and presented papers at many – I’ve developed some resistance to attending them; not all, but most of them.

Some e-learning conferences are simply a rehash of the same stuff: same themes, same topics, same speakers. Of course, some themes and topics remain relevant for a while.  And some speakers (like Maggie Verster) are evergreens who stay on top of their subjects and always have something new to share (and even if you hear the same presentation more than once, you are inspired and enthused every time).  But in general, why should we want to listen to repeats of known information?

Then there is the exorbitant price you have to pay to attend, often in Pounds, Dollars or Euros.  It may sound less than when the price is quoted in Rands, but it’s a con – with the current exchange rate you’ll be paying a fortune.

The ultimate rip-off is when companies buy speaking slots to plug their products. This is done in different ways.  Sign up as a platinum or gold sponsor, and you’re assured of keynote speaking slots … and you’re guaranteed a captive audience that will not leave their seats because they paid through their necks for them.

Earlier this year I had an experience with organizers of an e-learning conference that really jolted me.  I submitted a proposal to deliver a paper at this conference.  A few weeks later I received an email request for a company sponsorship.  I passed it on to the marketing division of the company for which I am working.  After consideration it was decided not to sponsor the event, and the organizers were informed.  A few days later I received a call from the organizers and the conversation when something like this:

“We were wondering if you could talk to your company about a sponsorship,” the man said after we exchanged customary pleasantries.

“I’ve passed your request on to our marketing division, and I believe that they have communicated their decision to you,” I replied.

“Yes, the marketing folks decided that they will not give us a sponsorship.  Is it possible that you can help us to change their minds about this?”

“I would not want to do that,” I said.  “Our marketing guys know best what the company can afford and how the marketing budget should be spent.”

“It’s a pity,” the man said, and paused a few moments.  “I notice that you have sent a proposal to deliver a paper.”

“Yes, I did, but I have not received any confirmation yet.”

“You see, that’s just the point.  We’re currently going through the proposals and your chances to be accepted are increased considerably if your company gives us a sponsorship.”

I was speechless.

If my proposal was turned down because my topic was not appropriate to the theme of the conference, or the abstract was weak, or the organizers thought that I am not a good enough speaker, I would have accepted it without any argument; not all proposals fit and not all are accepted.

What is the implication?  Those presentations that you and I pay to see are often selected, not on the basis of the merit of the material to be presented, but because the slot has been bought.

Does this mean all conferences are suspect?  Not at all!  Conferences remain a valuable way to gain and share knowledge and experience.  But before you sign up for the next conference, check who the sponsors are, who the speakers are, what their topics are, how much you have to pay to attend … also who the event organizer is … and then decide whether attending this event will be a good investment.

Beware of the conference scam!

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The real e-learning barriers

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 | technology, Uncategorized | Comments Off


You can overcome any barrier to e-learning

You can overcome any barrier to e-learning

Teachers, do you feel that e-learning is not for you?

Do you believe that there are insurmountable barriers preventing you from using technology in your classrooms?

Most of the barriers you perceive are not real – they only exist in your mind.  And with a bit of effort you can overcome them.

Think about the following:

Barrier #1: My school does not have computer facilities for the learners and therefore e-learning is not possible.

So what?  Start building your own digital skills so that when technology devices become available for the learners, you will know how to use them to improve the classroom experience for them.  e-Learning starts with you, not with technology devices.

Barrier #2: The children in my class know more about technology than I do.

Use this situation to your advantage.  Children love to show off their skills.  Remember, a conductor of an orchestra is not a master of all musical instruments, but draws on the skill of each expert musician to produce beautiful music.  Even with a basic understanding of technology (but with your experience of teaching) you can transform your classroom into an interactive symphony.

Barrier #3: I am technically challenged.

Get over it!  Years ago many of us said that we will never be able to use a cell phone … and look at us today!  If you put your mind to it, also this barrier will dissolve.

The real barriers to e-learning are not a lack of money, or a lack of physical resources, or a lack of a background in technology, but rather an unwillingness to get out of a cosy, comfortable corner and taking the effort to learn to use new tools.

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A revision tool for matric learners

Monday, October 29th, 2012 | software | Comments Off

Learners at school spend 12 years building up to that big moment – Matric! And then the exams are upon them and they are overwhelmed. They have so much revision to do, where do they start?  EasyPass is a handy tool for teachers and learners to ease the pain.


The EasyPass Online Assessment Centre provides question banks for 16 of the most important matric subjects. The questions are categorized by topic within a subject.  Tests are generated on the fly, with a random set of questions submitted for each learner to complete. Since the Centre is internet-based, learners can access them anywhere, anytime, and from any internet-enabled device.

The EasyPass mission is simple: to help Matriculants find out what they do and don’t know. And while they are finding out, they are learning because they will get feedback on each question.  Once they know where they are weak, they can go back to their textbooks or ask their teacher for help. The learner can also go back to the assessments to measure their knowledge gain after revisiting the material, because they are allowed to complete each test up to five times.

The target market is both individual learners as well as schools. The questions are developed by subject-matter experts, usually teachers who have retired or are pursuing other interests.

EasyPass is keen to work with underperforming schools to help them improve their matric marks, and in turn improve the learner’s chance of future success.

For more information, go to the EasyPass website, or email Moira de Roche at moirad@easypass.co.za.

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New e-learning book for teachers

Thursday, July 5th, 2012 | e-Learning pioneers, education | 2 Comments

Kathy McCabe and I edited a book about e-learning, aimed at teachers and those studying to become teachers and it was launched at the Education Week  conference earlier this week.


The book is entitled “Teaching and e-Learning in the South African Classroom” and is published by MacMillan.  It was launced as an e-book and can be ordered on-line.  Hard copies will be available soon.

Leading South African academics and practitioners in the field of e-learning contributed chapters – in this way we drew on the experience and knowledge of local experts.  The book is therefore ideally suited for teachers teaching in schools in Africa.  The book is aimed at both primary and secondary school teachers.



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What are the show-stoppers of technology in schools?

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 | e-Learning pioneers, technology | 4 Comments

A show-stopper in a theatre is an act so striking or impressive that the show must be delayed until the audience quiets down.  It is something positive, a WOW moment.  But some shows are also stopped by BOO moments, when something so terrible happens that the show simply can’t go on.

What can stop teachers from using technology in the classroom?  What are the BOOs that can bring down the curtain on teaching and learning through technology?

Don't let the curtain come down on the bright light of technology


Here are three potential show stoppers:

The technology does not work and nobody is around to fix it.

The teacher does not know how to use the technology.

Appropriate material for use in the classroom is not available.

What can YOU do to make sure that the e-learning show goes on?

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A national agency for e-learning?

Saturday, April 16th, 2011 | education, ICT in Africa | 1 Comment

It has been reported that provincial education departments are to be stripped of their responsibility to procure textbooks for their schools.  The Basic Education Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga,  said:

“We will appoint a national agency to manage the central procurement of teaching-support materials, to deliver on our promise of one textbook per child per subject”.  

 Mothshekga indicated that this agency will be established during the current financial year.

The national minister of Basic Education takes control of textbooks

Should the Minister not likewise establish an agency to establish e-learning in all schools in our country?

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Why should I concern myself with e-learning?

Friday, December 24th, 2010 | technology | Comments Off

Ask a dozen people for their understanding of e-learning and you are bound to receive a dozen different answers.  All agree that it has something to do with learning by means of technology – the e represents the electronic aspect – but there is no consensus about what is included or excluded. 

Some insist that e-learning can only happen when learners have access to the internet. A more common understanding is that e-learning is a catch-all term, covering a wide range of electronic instructional material that can be installed on a single computer or a local area network, or delivered on a CD or DVD, or accessed via the internet. This may include computer based training where learning material is presented solely on the computer, but other occasions where teachers use technology for teaching also qualify as e-learning.  This means that e-learning can take place in the presence or absence of a teacher.

Why should you concern yourself with e-learning?

Before you think about e-learning for your learners, you must think about it as something for yourself.  Many learning opportunities are open to you if you accept e-learning – for example, if you were to enroll for a post graduate distance learning course today you can be sure that it will contain an e-learning component.  For the sake of your own life-long learning you must come to grips with the use of electronic tools.

E-learning is also a valuable mode of instruction for your learners.  Consider the following:

Learners need to be equipped with computer skills.  E-learning acts as a double-edged sword: while learners learn the subject matter – such a science, mathematics and languages – they pick up computer skills.

Learning styles of learners are changing.  They use technology for communication and entertainment – it is not unrealistic to believe that they will use it for learning as well.

You may not have the capacity to teach them.  Owing to big class sizes, curriculum changes and an occasional demand that you teach a subject with which you are not familiar, your may feel a need to provide your learners with additional learning opportunities – e-learning can fill this gap.

Around the globe e-learning is becoming such an important learning method, that we will soon be dropping the e.  After all, the emphasis is on learning – the medium is of less importance.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Technology in schools during the teacher strike …

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | technology | 3 Comments

Good reports are coming in of learning taking place in schools in the Western Cape in spite of teachers being on strike.  Computer facilities are made available to learners and through the use of e-learning material meaningful learning is happening.

Well done to those e-pioneers who are harnessing technology to ensure that the dispute between teachers and the government has a minimal impact on learners.

        (Created by Kobus van Wyk, using www.MakeBeliefsComix.com)

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