After reflecting on E-Learn 2009, I decided to post a few final thoughts about overall trends and happenings at the conference this year.
The conference is titled “World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare & Higher Education,” but once again, there was very little focus on anything outside of education. I expect this to some extent considering the sponsoring organization, but I hoped that there would be a little wider focus than there was. Aside from my own, I saw perhaps two (2) presentations that even mentioned application outside higher education. That’s really unfortunate, since education technology and HR technology applied to training are essentially the same field. I was especially looking forward to connecting with Tony Karrer, an HR technologist who was scheduled to give an invited address, but he had a sudden family situation and could not attend.
A couple of major issues jump out at me. First, little of what was presented at E-Learn was data-driven. There was a lot of qualitative research and a lot of non-research – just people sharing their personal experiences and anecdotes. It’s hard to tell if that’s specific to this conference, or if that’s a symptom of a much larger culture in education against quantifying learning. Unfortunately, the only way to demonstrate the success of a costly program to either education administrators or to corporate sponsors, and many of these programs are quite costly, is to show it has greater utility (or ROI) than alternatives. This information does not really seem to be presented by most of these folks, so it is difficult to judge the real value of many of their presentations.
Second, Second Life appeared as a much more dominant force than last year. Virtual world presentations in general were well attended, and the uses they presented were quite interesting. Stephanie Henderson-Begg presented a quantitative piece on an actual implementation of SL in several college classrooms, and I’d say it was by far the most interesting presentation I attended (see Day 3 for more detail).
Third, social networking, although a common topic of discussion, was never implemented into a course and tested for value and impact. There seemed to be, among most attendees, an assumption that “more social is better,” but there was not much evidence that this was actually true. I am examining social networking in my own research, so I was hoping to see some other evidence that I wasn’t striking out entirely into unfamiliar waters. Apparently, I am. The only rigorous research on social networking that I have ever seen has been ethnographic or investigative in nature – examination and exploration of pre-existing social networks. Building one to support corporate training appears to be an unexplored frontier.
And finally, there seems to be increasing support for blended learning – instruction that combined traditional and online techniques – without a whole lot of explanation as to what that actually means. Apparently, blended learning is great! But that’s really as much detail as I gathered.
So that’s another year of E-Learn. Overall, it was an interesting experience, and I was at least exposed to a lot of creative ideas for how to use technology, even if there was little effort on the part of presenters to evaluate them. I encourage you to read back to my summaries of previous days and form your own interpretations.