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Andrew Jackson

Pacific Blue Solutions


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Will Convergence Kill Off E-Learning?


I've recently been watching the much-praised series House of Cards produced by and starring Kevin Spacey. I was a big fan of the original BBC series and I think he's done a great job of adapting the story for the American political landscape.

Spacey has also been in the news recently with his keynote address to the Edinburgh TV Festival. His main focus was encouraging new talent and innovation in the media world, but in talking about this, he made some observations that are as pertinent to the world of learning as they are to the world of the media luvvies.

If you are regular TrainingZone reader, you may have seen a piece I wrote a couple of months ago about mobile learning. My main point: despite all the hype from the vested interests (desperate to flog you their products and make their big investment gamble pay off), very few people are actually doing anything with mobile learning.

Related to this, I also noted that it's become rather difficult these days to even define mobile learning given the blurring that's going on between different types of device. 

I've also written previously about how, in general, learning and development folk tend to obsess about delivery mediums and devices and not enough about instructional design the effectiveness of learning. How we get distracted by the technology. How we tend to see learning in silos.

So my ears pricked up and my attention was immediately grabbed, when I saw this clip from Spacey's speech featured on TV (the bold text is mine, the block capitals are Spacey's):

"One way that our industry might fail to adapt to the continually shifting sands is to keep a dogmatic differentiation in their minds between various media - separating FILM and TV and MINI-SERIES and WEBISODES and however else you might want to label narrative formats. 

It's like when I'm working in front of a camera…that camera doesn't know if it's a film camera or a TV camera or a streaming camera. It's just a camera. I predict that in the next decade or two, any differentiation between these formats - these platforms - will fall away".

In the early 1990s, I remember reading Nicholas Negroponte's The Media Lab. At the time, it was revolutionary stuff. Most of what he was predicting back then felt like science fiction - most of it has now come true, of course. But his big idea was convergence. This was the idea that separate technologies like TV, radio and computers would all eventually blur together into a massive multi-media whole. 

Negreponte saw it all happening within a 10 year timespan. That was a bit optimistic. It's still a work in progress and as Spacey suggests, will probably take another decade of two. But coming it is. 

So what would convergence mean for e-learning in particular and learning and development in general. Well, the death of silo thinking, I suspect. As the distinctions between the technology and devices we use to create and access learning become more and more blurred, I think the labels we currently use will become less and less significant or meaningful. 

This will be a painful shift. Plenty of people who have made plenty of money from the old ways of thinking will almost certainly resist convergence for as long as they can. People who use the old-style technologies will be equally reluctant to take on board a whole new way of doing things.

And it won't be straightforward, either. As far as I can see, convergence in the media world will be a lot easier to achieve than in learning and development. Thinking about the learner experience in a world of convergence will be complex .

But in the end, I suspect, it will be the learners themselves who will demand this change. As convergence becomes more and more normal in many other aspects of their lives, they simply won't put up with learning that is still packaged into silos.

Towards the end of his speech, Spacey makes the following observation (the bold text is mine, the block capitals are Spacey's):

"Is 13 hours watched as one cinematic whole really different than a FILM? Do we define film by being something two hours or less? Surely it goes deeper than that. If you are watching a film on your television, is it no longer a film because you're not watching it in the theatre? If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant. The labels are useless - except perhaps to agents and managers and lawyers who use these labels to conduct business deals. For kids growing up now there's no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game of Thrones on their computer. It's all CONTENT".

I couldn't agree more. For all of us in learning and development, in the end, it's all LEARNING.

2 Responses

  1. Progress

    Hello Andrew,

     As a teacher and e-learning developer I think we still have a long way to go because of many preconceptions about classroom teaching which are only just being tested.   There seems little doubt to me that there is a paradigms shift happening in education with such  new methodologies  such aas the 'flipped classroom'  moving us towards a methodology which demands access to learning materials 24/7.

     If you look at the figures one of the drivers is the education departments in fast progressing economies, such as the BRIC  countries.  Here they see e-learning as an  economic driver particularly to facilitate the learning of English.

     Another interesting secondary driver  is that in many of these countries the networks to deliver Internet access at the access to computers to view the learning is less well developed than the mobile cellphone networks.  Because of this you can clearly see that the learning will, and clearly is already, moving onto mobile platforms.

     The other interesting development coming up in the near future is a the 3-D Internet and it may well be that the archaic University learning management systems which are mainly like empty shopping malls will be bypassed by a move to simulation-based learning.

     That of course will not be available on cellphones because of the battery and network resources required.  So initially my prediction is that we will see a move towards e-learning for the above clearly stated economic  and logistic reasons.  Then just as we seem to be catching up with the curve there will be another move towards much more resource intensive simulation-based learning models.

     Of course there is a place for all of the technologies and methods of delivery but of one thing there is little doubt.

     That those who are firmly avoiding the 'elephant in the room' will be firmly bitten in the appropriate place by it!

     The current trend for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)  by American universities such as Harvard, Stanford  and MIT  is no accident. Tthat they are using their content, provided free of charge online, to procure themselves a brand and market position in the fast evolving e-learning global market is also very transparent.

     Another interesting question this poses is whether the university model will still be the same in the future, given the fact that a recent report by McBain and Co  states very clearly that there are large percentage of US universities are not viable businesses.

     With e-learning driving the price of learning downwards how these old-fashioned business models be sustainable?


    Chris Heron (People Communicate)




  2. The debate over whether
    The debate over whether convergence will kill off e-learning remains contentious. This shift prompts educators to adapt, ensuring that convergence complements, rather than undermines, the essence of effective e-learning, akin to the dynamic balancing act in so energy customer service. While technological integration has transformed education, concerns persist about potential drawbacks. Some argue that convergence could lead to a decline in personalized learning experiences. However, proponents believe it enhances accessibility and efficiency. As the landscape evolves, balancing innovation and individualized instruction becomes crucial.

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