Collaborative eLearning

What a difference 21 years makes, much less 51.

Doug Engelbart earned an incredible reputation as one of our true computing pioneers and strategic thinkers.DEI_SanFran1968

Use a computer mouse — thank Doug.

Have multiple windows open on your desktop — thank Doug.

Shared screens and video conferencing — thank Doug.

All of these were demonstrated in 1968 in what’s been called the “Mother of All Demos.” Check the video clip out. It’s worth your time to see what really helped start the personal computer revolution.

Today, the world is a very different place then it was in the 1980’s, 90’s and 00’s.

We are highly mobile with smart phones and tablets that use LTE cellular and wifi connections to make real time connections. Connections are made and lost in the blink of an eye. Tweets rapidly scroll across the screen in 140 character blocks only to be replaced by others within minutes. Facebook news feeds roll by even quicker with most lost to oblivion unless you stay glued to the Facebook window. There is little to no context in social media scrollbyes. Everything happens in the moment.

We have learned that technology and and how we use it evolves in cycles. Many of the lessons learned in the 80’s and 90’s are repeated with increasing frequency today.

Questions to reflect on with collaborative eLearning….

  • How do we learn in the context of our work?
  • How can we take advantage or mentors, coaches, and colleagues?
  • How can companies, small and large, take advantage of the knowledge in their organization?

Doug Engelbart and others pointed out the answers…

Engelbart described a conceptual framework for augmenting the human intellect through the use of technology in October, 1962. In his research, augmentation means “increasing the capability…to approach a complex problem situation, to gain a comprehension to suit…particular needs, and to derive solutions to the problem.” Critical to his vision is a framework that integrates the worker, the learner, and the work situation with conditions that facilitate “increasing capability.”

A longtime colleague and friend, Rao Machiraju and his co-authors described applying Engelbart’s Augmentation Framework to organizational memory as a support for learning in 1991.

Texas Hospital Association, the organization I was with in 1992, faced four principle barriers in delivering learning to health care professionals. The barriers were time, location and distance, the structure of the learning experience, and cost. Texas is a huge state making travel from rural Texas or across the state problematic.

We did not have the World Wide Web in 1992. The Web started its development with the introduction Netscape in 1994. The Internet was not fully commercialized until 1995. Yes, there was a time we could not have commercial activity on the Internet. There was even a time when all we had were private data networks which did not connect to each other. We learned the same collaborative eLearning lessons back then that we are relearning today — except back then we called it computer-mediated communication, distance learning, and computer conferencing.

Beginning in 1989 and extending to 1996, my colleagues and I applied Engelbart’s framework to an evolving health education model at the Texas Hospital Association.

First, the use of context-rich cases. Learners often explain their actions in a new situation by referring to processes and outcomes of an earlier analogous situation. They try and help colleagues by replaying cases or stories from their own experiences. The second source of support is access to collaborators. Three key roles of a collaborator are to serve as an agent for finding information, to explore alternative perspectives, and to help a person practice or rehearse a solution. The third source of support is archived references. These resources include items such as technical reference libraries or printed [now digital] materials. The fourth source for self-directed problem solving is through practice (trial and error modeling). These approaches are often combined with the learner watching or hearing of someone doing a procedure and trying to replicate the procedure.” The abstract can be found at the US National Library of Medicine and the article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences can be found here.

Each of the four elements was addressed in four development projects.

  • The first project, funded by Apple’s Community Affairs Program and the Texas Hospital Association, supported the efforts of five rural directors of nursing. We explored the practicality of rural nurses sharing context-rich cases and having access to collaborators.
  • The second project, funded by the Texas Cancer Council, created the Cancer Learning Center for 20 tumor registrars, each from a different hospital. The tumor registrars accessed structured computer conferences that mirrored the Fundamental Tumor Registry Operations educational modules developed by the American College of Surgeons. The project explored the effectiveness of tumor registrars sharing context-rich cases and having access to collaborators and archived references.
  • The third applied the concepts to the Texas portion of a national Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant. The project was designed to provide upward career mobility for health care employees going to school full-time, working part-time, and paid full-time. We wanted to see if the students could receive part of their education without leaving the workplace. We also wanted to use our computer conferencing system to manage the Texas project which included Schools of Nursing and hospitals. This project allowed us to add one of the first non-profit Internet nodes in Austin, Texas.
  • The fourth project, funded by the American Society of Association Executives, was designed to use groupware tools to improve management to meet member needs. A group of association volunteer leaders and staff explored using group communications tools to develop cost-effective, timely, and collaborative management solutions.

The principal lessons learned from each of the projects are now being relearned in collaborative eLearning discussion boards and LMS’s using social media. Not an optimal or cost-effective strategy in today’s budget-tight eLearning world.

You need a process designed to encourage and reward collaborative eLearning.
Technology deployment alone won’t make it happen.

Ask yourself, how many times have you taken an eLearning course with a discussion board — and the discussion board is a ghost town with with scattered tombstone posts from three or four years ago?

We learned the answers back in the 80’s and 90’s. Want to learn more, email O2 Digital Media to see how we can help you take advantage of collaborative eLearning strategies that work.