Tuesday 1 September 2009

What is your eLearning history?

The new academic year is starting and so I am reminiscing…
Do you remember your first eLearning experience? And the way it looked and felt? I was looking back yesterday and I suddenly realized how eLearning moved from a more techy demanding field into a more mainstream learning approach and ... I never thought about the change as it happened or as I lived it.

My first steps in eLearning and in retrospect content production, were done on the ever well-known Commodore 64. An amazing machine that got a generation hooked on adventure games, Basic programming… or at least that was how it felt for me.
While using Mosaic (Netscape) I had my first browser experiences, learning that I could learn while using a computer. I would just surf and anything that I could find that was even remotely related to a topic of my interest gave my brain an enormous boost. My father send me on the right content track by mentioning... (forgot name here: those sites where you could learn a lot of things on during the 90-ies... it will come back, but please help me if you know what I mean).

After a natural evolution across the next generations of computers, I ended up getting closer and closer to the eLearning principal. While I was working at an organization for Equal Opportunities, I started building online modules to help people get started with using e-mails, finding the right content, starting online actions… at that time I did not call it eLearning modules. It was just training material delivered digitally. This changed as I enrolled in an online course myself. From that moment onward I realized building electronic training or supporting such training could actually be a job.

The first formal online course I was involved in, was on the topic of Feminist Theory and Gender in the Media. Those were two postgraduate courses that you could follow at the University of Antwerp. The year was 1999 and the web-based learning was still starting up in Belgium. The web-based courses were built on the spot at the university and it was rigid compared to our current standards. The learning platform demanded several computer plugin’s and adjustments before you could access it and multimedia was not yet added. Content was delivered in manuals with added discussion forums. Yes, at that stage I experienced the move from the sage on the stage to a more learner centered approach; as professors were willing to pick-up the input of learners and add it to the content of the next academic year. Cyberfeminism was all the rage back then, so there was a euphoric sense of entering the digital learning world. It would free us all!
Although everything was still rather clunky, and the sages build most of the content, all participants were happy to able to learn. For me, eLearning was the only way I could get access to those courses, any courses as I was working almost around the clock at that time. And I really wanted to learn because I did not have much of a formal training up to then and knowledge seemed like the way to go. So I was definitely motivated.

Looking at the contemporary computer structure, a lot has changed since then. eLearning has evolved and now developing eLearning is no longer a very techy demanding process. I admit there is a long way to go before it really becomes completely intuitive, but right now anyone with some computer skills can start up an educational site. eLearning has become mainstream. K12 classes are increasingly using computer-driven modules and children are becoming producers of content.

So, as the history of electronic learning was changing, my profession changed also. In fact, I only realized it was my profession until a title was given and my function became more formal. And I must say, I love it, eLearning feeds my curious brain and I feel more than happy to indulge in it.

What is your eLearning history?