1. Learning electronically provides immediate context for what I’m learning about – even if it is a real tenuous reach. For instance, I went from learning about how to make pizza dough, to a recipe for making my own mozzarella, to a history of Napoli. Now, I’m not going to say you can’t do that in a classroom – but my life has been enriched exponentially by the ability to find out exactly what I need, in the context I need the information. In the classroom, there’s always a teacher, and more often than not, that teacher provides the context. Learning online forces me to take responsibility for the learning. Of course, that’s it’s downfall as well – people don’t always check information and ask the hard questions.
2. It is convenient to learn when I want to learn. Convenience is one less barrier to learning. Of course, e-learning pundits have been saying that since the mid-80’s (and distance education folks have been saying it since the days of correspondence learning). So really, convenience while it eliminates a barrier, it also creates a new one – inertia. A mind at rest, will tend to stay at rest, whereas a mind in motion will tend to stay in motion. I apologize for bastardizing Newton’s law of motion. We see evidence of this theory in the aged, who when engaged daily with intellectually stimulating conversation, they retain their faculties more than ones who do not have the same interaction. We see evidence of this idea in the way we form habits, and eventually try to break those habits (breaking those habits would be equal to stopping, and then beginning motion again).
3. It suits me. Of course, maybe that’s because I seek out things that work for me and reject fairly quickly things that do not work for me. Maybe that makes me reactionary, knee-jerk, or an out and out asshole. Perhaps I’m just inflexible. Either way, when something works for my learning, it works. I like to read something, take some time to reflect on it, then bring my best answer to the discussion. Not all on-line classes work this way, but many allow for that sort of approach. Many face to face classes work this way as well – but I rarely have references to check on hand the way I can back up an argument on-line. I suppose mobile computing will solve that problem, although even I have limits to the amount I wish to be connected.
4. Tied into point one, is the non-linear way I approach e-learning. When I took a Communications Theory course through fully distance education, I could take side-steps, go off on tangents, think about theories… none of this is typical for a classroom setting. Typically that sort of exchange can get squashed in a conversation, or through peer pressure (even for a self-sure guy like me).
5. It allows me to connect with people I want to connect with. The entirety of my on-line life is about who I want to connect with, typically those who I think like – although that’s not entirely true. Stephen Downes and I see things differently, as do many of the other people working on the cutting edge of edtech. I keep touch with what they’re thinking to keep myself in check – what would George Siemens think about this? What problems would he envision? What about other folks? Where are the holes in my theory? That sort of in-depth thinking and reflection doesn’t happen in a classroom. It doesn’t happen on-line necessarily either. It happens off-line in those quiet moments. But e-learning helps facilitate my understanding of Downes, Siemens, Rheingold, O’Reilly and any number of other academics. Not only in their words, but other’s words as well. A whole history of commentary exists for my perusal. That doesn’t exist in a classroom – I don’t know what was discussed last semester in this course, or last year.