The Future of Courses?

I had an interesting discussion yesterday with a faculty member who teach automotive mechanics here at the College. Needless to say it’s a hands-on course that doesn’t have a lot of sitting and learning, but a lot of doing. He was struggling to find meaning for the LMS in the context of his course and he found it in the quizzing, which he could use as a pre-test. That got me to thinking about how effective e-learning is for skills-based acquisition where you have to do something to show mastery. The argument he put forth was that you don’t want to have a guy building your house without the proper skills shown, right? Well, the cynic who’s been on a construction site and watched a few Mike Holmes shows, knows that not everyone who’s building your house is accredited with some institution. That’s why we have housing inspectors (who can be bought off). There are though, some things that cannot be replaced by an online interaction. I would however, be OK with someone becoming an electrician and passing the accreditation without being in a class, as there’s an apprenticeship process that requires showing your hands-on ability.

I’ve enrolled in a CSS course, because even though I use those skills fairly often, I feel like I should know more about it. The course cost $10, is organized by a publisher, and has a relatively small enrollment. I’ll write more about it after I’ve gone through it and know more about it. It’s short in duration, only ten sessions, fairly minimalist in instructional design and looks full of little bits and pieces that will help me. I think these sorts of courses will pop up – maybe even in conjunction with higher education institutions. Certainly this is the future of continuing education – where people who need skills upgrading get a package to go through with some minimal instruction. Writing clear, concise, directive instructions will be a key skill for the designers of these courses. There will be others that suggest these small, modular courses don’t provide context for the work – or even more don’t allow for reflective practices. That may be the case, or maybe those things need to be built.

Aesthetics and Self Defined Identity

I wonder if there’s a benefit to allowing the end user, the learner  in educators cases, control of how online spaces function and look. How we design places, how we as educators/teachers/instructors design places is a egotistical idea, imposing a will of how things will be viewed and the order of viewing, that’s unlike anywhere else on the web. I can choose to go to Google in the middle of writing this article, no one says I have to finish writing this blog post before I can move on to looking at LOLcats. In the same sense why are we ordering students to complete tasks in an order that may not work for them? Maybe someone wants to engage in discussion before attempting the readings…

Similarly, who’s to say that my idea of what pleasant aesthetics are? Certainly they might appeal to a European or North American aesthetic set, but maybe my use of white, black and greys are not appealing to an African or Asian aesthetic? Wouldn’t it be nice to have educators select a default stylesheet, for those students who don’t have a preference, and allow the end user to choose how their localized content looks. I mean that was the hope with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and XML, where CSS would describe to the browser how it would look and XML would describe the data being transmitted. Instead of creating courses with content, generate a mass of XML that would be styled by the learner. Then you of course avoid all those nasty problems with mobile platforms, e-readers, etc.

Learner. A word that exemplifies the role, but seems so clumsy… I’ll have to look for a better one – don’t know if one exists though. Neither here nor there…

In this situation where the end user/learner styles the content, what happens to the identity of the instructor? Part of the deal with aesthetic judgments one makes about e-learning spaces is that it informs the student about the instructor. What happens to this implicit “understanding” (or misunderstanding)? The way we organize a page informs the reader of the page about the designer. Traditionalist? Times New Roman font, twelve point, one inch margins… Amateur? Comic Sans, larger, clip art that isn’t really relevant… Modern? Helvetica, ten point, maybe two columns, with images? Is it important to have this information as a learner at a distance? Is anyone thinking about this stuff?