Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Is your global eLearning2.0 content censored? You better take a look

With the recent Iran election, censorship is again high on the political agenda. But censorship does not only affect citizenship on a political level, it can also effect learning potential.

eLearning is relying increasingly on a mix of social media and delivered content. And in this ever growing world, the learners are dispersed and global. This combination of factors can result in courses that are not always accessible to all.

If you deliver online content and you enable your learners to stay in contact with one another through various social media, you can suddenly discover that the links or portals you provide become subject to censorship depending on the region in which your learner is situated or your content is delivered.

Let me take a Belgian example. At the Institute of Tropical Medicine we research HIV/AIDS amongst other 'tropical' diseases. This results in the need to survey different target groups that are relevant to the HIV/AIDS disease. One of the key issues in HIV/AIDS is sexuality and as such the content of the delivered courses might be perceived as sexually explicit. One of the many target groups is also the gay male community, which will have homosexuality as one of the key words in its description, another target group are drug users, making it difficult to build a survey that does not explicitly put names of (illegal) drugs into the survey.
Depending on the country some content related to drugs, homosexuality and sexually explicit content can be censored and as such result in limited content access for learners from a specific region. That is: if a search on keywords is conducted by gatekeepers in those regions.
If you deliver content with these keywords but in a medical platform, it is much easier to keep in touch with the relevance of those keywords to the content. But if you add social media to your courses as an added bonus or place for discussion, it might be much more difficult to keep the link between relevant content and those keywords clear for all.
As a result some of your content might be censored, although the content and its related discussions are relevant to the medical objective. And because you, as an eLearning provider are living in a different part of the world, it can sometimes be difficult to account for possible drawbacks in that type of content delivery.

There is a website that tries to track different types of censorship in the world: the Open Net Intitiative. The initiative is taken by American Universities and is as such biased (every region has its own 'normal' censorship options). For example the website mentions 'illegal' drugs, but depending on the region some drugs are illegal and others are not, so that is not an objective term to use. Nevertheless the site is interesting because it gives an idea of where in the world certain types of censorship occur.

The site also offers you a way to add to the censorship data statistic by participating through the crowdsourcing principle and using HerdictWeb.

The global world does bring along different aspects and mindframes for eLearning content delivery. It keeps on surprising me.