‘Another brick in the wall’

‘Another brick in the wall’

‘Another brick in the wall’

I just watched an extraordinary video by a 17-year-old student in Beirut.

I’m going to share the link with you below so that you can see it too.

If you ever thought that there was nothing wrong with education right now listen to him and tell me you still believe it after you have watched the video?

As I was thinking about what to say about it suddenly made me think of the lyrics to the Pink Floyd album ‘Another brick in the wall’.

‘We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.’
All I could remember of the lyrics was ‘Teachers leave them kids alone’, so I looked them up and found them to be very descriptive of what Jihad Kawas was talking about.

We have had Generation X now have their own children who are called Generation Z. Jihad Kawas is one of them. He talks very calmly and amusingly about school not saying that he hates it just saying there is a better way. He asks parents to demand the type of school he describes.

He says that for him there are three things wrong with school. Time, assessment and subjects.

He says we seem to spend all day at school waiting. Waiting for the bus to go to school, waiting for lessons, waiting for lunch, to be inspired and waiting for it to end. He asks the question what could a kid do in 8 hours if he was not at school?’

He tells an amusing story about assessment where he had a physics exam but forgot to write the formulas on his hand, which he confesses he usually did.

Because of the failed the exam and was really ‘pissed off’ with himself.

So he went home and spent a long time learning how to produce a video game about how he felt about the experience. Ironically he did lots of learning and produce a game where the teacher got killed by his head. He demonstrated all of the theories and principles he needed to pass the exam and showed them to his physics teacher.

Although he had demonstrated enough to pass the exam, the assessment did not allow him to be examined on the content that he had created, and so he failed.

So finally the last point that he hates is learning things that he doesn’t think he wants to learn or is not interested in.

He imagines a school where you learn the things you’re interested in, and you learn by doing things rather than sitting listening to teachers talking about theory.

A school where you’re assessed on the things you produce what and how well you memorise facts she may never use.

A school where you can learn with students of any age and be inspired by the differences in your experiences.

A school where you can learn by failing and not be punished for failing.

At the beginning of his very engaging talk says ‘we find school irrelevant or even destructive to what we do’.

This is not an unintelligent guy was going to be unsuccessful in life. He has already formed a company and was invited to Apple’s conference selected from millions who applied.

This is a guy who wants to be successful and learn the things he thinks he needs to know and is interested in and then you’ll be inspired to do more.

Wouldn’t this be an easier way to educate people?

You may think it’s impossible, but I would say to you that with even current technology, let alone what will happen shortly, we could do this now.

It is easy to imagine how core subjects could be related to personal learning styles and subjects, and more importantly, goals.

Assessments could be in many different formats from models to tools, video presentations written pieces or even the effect that the piece of work has on other people.

If we can put a man on the moon surely, it’s not difficult to do this?

I’m going to write to him and send him the lyrics of the song and see if he thinks that it sums up the situation; I do.

‘All in all you’re just another brick in the wall’.


To see the video click here

Lessons from Finland kill 99% of GERMS

Lessons from Finland kill 99% of GERMS

‘Lessons from Finland kill 99% of GERMS’, what a brilliant headline to this piece by Pasi Sahlberg a Finnish education innovator and commentator.

What he is referring to in GERMS is the acronym for The Global Education Reform Movement.

In a brutal but fair summary of the changes and policies, other countries have adopted he surmises they would have all been better off using the Finnish system and avoiding GERMS. But here I think we need to differentiate between government and centralised change and the external ideas and concepts.

He is quite correct in his summary of what has been called a ‘reform movement’ and what it’s policies have been.

  1. Standardisation
  2. Focus on core subjects
  3. Quicker and cheaper way of achieving learning goals
  4. Corporate management models
  5. Test-based accountability

I have written about Ed 3.0 and the education revolution, or reform before, but Pasi’s piece has made me think that we should also consider what damage has been done by the poor recent centralised changes.

Standardisation in the 80’s and 90’s across western European and the USA concentrated on the outcomes of education as the indicator for improved education by testing students and teachers.

In fact, what has happened is stress and breakdown in the processes as I wrote last week in my piece about Stress and Tragedy in the UK Education System.

It also has managed to achieve the lowest common denominator and made individuality and creativity in the teaching process impossible.

Of course, the drive was financially based and a good example of how to apply management philosophy to learning without understanding what damage it will do.

The other change to accompany standardisation was the focus on core subjects which while logical has again been detrimental to the teaching process.

The subjects not included in the ‘core’, were humanities, arts, music and physical education and we have caused numerous social problems, like obesity as a result of this act. We also realise now that we lack creative thinking in our student output mainly as a consequence of these two initiatives.

The outcome of the first two concepts is to make schools and teachers take a pragmatic and effect based views of their profession and process.

The emphasis on results and measurement by testing has restricted teachers time and input to focus on ways of achieving the results which in turn causes teachers to teach for exams.

The outcome is we now have students who know how to pass exams but not to think. Not surprising really?

The use of the business model and cultures on education has driven the pursuit of business, economic and fiscal goals above goals based on moral, cultural and human improvement and values.

Lastly, test accountability and the above models have created a fear of being punishment amongst teachers and schools and diverted attention from teaching to avoiding penalties, a real corporate malaise that destroys freedom and creativity.

Pasi goes on to say that none of these ideas have been adopted in Finland where they would rather promote the creativity of teachers, students and the overall happiness and achievements of students.

Needless, to say they score highly on academic scales such as PISA.

Here, however, I start to disagree, I think that he is oversimplifying the issues.

There is no doubt that by not taking these measures the Finnish education system offers good ‘control’ of what might have happened if we had not gone in this direction.

But I would propose three things;

  1. First they are doing well because they have an advanced culture in and so the education system and its achievements are part of a wider social success
  2. Second that they are also facing problems in common with other education systems
  3. Third that the motivation of students comes from independence, relevant factual teaching context and understanding how learning helps them to achieve their individual goals

While it is interesting to analyse why we are where we are, the problems caused by the policies above are only part of the picture.

The main issues are and will remain as follows

  1. Central control of education policy and curricula
  2. The fear of change and innovation in teachers and schools
  3. Not understanding what the overall goals of education are
  4. Not understanding how to engage with online learning and commerce
  5. Not teaching teachers new skills because of the lack of strategic vision
  6. Not putting teachers and students at the centre of the process

So it’s interesting to look back and assess where we’ve come from only if it helps us to look forward.

As Einstien said, ‘ We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’

Albert Einstein

Funny, I keep finding myself coming back to this quote again and again.

So let’s look forward and think creatively about this problem and come up with new solutions!





Education Reform Feedback

Education Reform Feedback

Here are some of the comments I have received on the subject of Education Reform a subject I am passionate about.

It also seems that many others are as well.

Please keep the comments and encouragement coming!

Michael B. D

‘Great article Chris Heron, hope all is well?’

Phil P

‘Fascinating and profound ideas and conclusions here Chris. Very thought provoking. It’s significant that recently on Twitter numerous teachers have argued against Prensky’s research, rather proving your point! Many thanks!’

Yet another excellent article Chris, you’re right that ‘flipped classrooms’ are our best way to engage digital learners and prepare them for future employment. Thanks Chris

Another interesting article Chris. Whilst I agree that teachers need to change, they won’t do until politicians stop interfering in education to make it accountable because this factor is what stops us from achieving the goals you outline here. Our politicians need to understand the common sense you outline here.

 Rocsana R

‘Very realistic outlook on education.’

Michelle H

‘Inspiring end to the article, Chris: “The adoption of learning as a personal goal for each person replacing material goals could see a new renaissance in which civilisation could move forward to a new golden age.’

Chris Heron

Thanks, Michelle, I am flattered by your comment. I believe this will be the case and I think I know how to do it! I just waiting for one final piece of the jigsaw before I start. Follow my progess. You can be involved too!

Garry T

‘Good stuff Chris.’


‘It is an excellent article on education.’


‘Teachers need to change, but so do management. I am afraid that a large number of them have been promoted above their level of competence and are swilling around at the top, moving from one college to another, leaving a trail of destruction and me sett behind them and being accountable to no one. This has to change for the sake of teaching, teachers and the learners. Let’s shake things up and really make an improvement! Let’s have ‘brilliant’ and ‘outstanding’ managers who support teachers and provide them with the tools to give the learners an outstanding ‘learner journey’ delivered by keen and motivated teachers with the maintained tools to do their jobs!!’


Chris – a great read – looking forward to more. We do need to change for the better.

Thanks, everyone.



How will the new requirements for online learning be addressed?

How will the new requirements for online learning be addressed?

In my last two papers ‘Education needs to change’ and ‘Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?’ I dealt with the state of education now; it’s failure to change, and the incapability of e learning to be able to adequately address these changes.

Now I am going to look forward, but apparently not very far, and see how e learning 3.0 will change education forever.


2015 is the year it will all change and that’s now! The e learning industry is currently worth $56.2 billion and is set to double this year.

“Universities won’t survive. The future is outside the traditional campus, outside the traditional classroom. Distance learning is coming on fast.”

The trends

Here are some interesting predictions about e learning from www.elearningindustry.com

1. In 2011, it was estimated that about $35.6 billion was spent on self-paced e learning across the globe. Today, e learning is a $56.2 billion industry, and it’s going to double by 2015.

2. Corporations now report that e learning is the second most valuable training method that they use. This is no surprise, given that e learning saves businesses at least 50% when they replace traditional instructor-based training with e learning. Not to mention that e learning cuts down instruction time by up to 60%.

3. Today, it’s estimated that about 46% college students are taking at least one course online. However, by 2019, roughly half of all college classes will be e learning based. This free report takes an in depth look at the important role that technology now plays in the educational sector.

4. E learning is also eco-friendly. Recent studies conducted by Britain’s Open University have found that e learning consumes 90% less energy than traditional courses. The amount of CO2 emissions (per student) is also reduced by up to 85%.

5. Over 41.7% percent of global Fortune 500 companies now use some form of educational technology to instruct employees during formal learning hours, and that figure is only going to steadily increase in future years. For a more in depth analysis of e learning in the enterprise you may find valuable the Kineo e learning in the Enterprise Survey Results 2013 and Info graphic http://elearninginfographics.com/e learning-in-the-enterprise-info graphic/

6. The world’s most rapidly growing e learning markets are Malaysia and Vietnam. In fact, the estimated 5 year annual growth rate for the Asian e learning market is 17.3%. That is the highest compound annual growth rate of any global region.

7. Self-paced ‘s growth rate in the Middle East is 8.2%, and its revenues are expected to reach $560.7 million by 2016.

8. The self-paced e learning market growth rate in Western Europe is 5.8%, and it’s estimated that their revenues will be at $8.1 billion by 2015.

9. Africa’s compound annual growth rate for self-paced e learning is 15.4%, and their revenues are expected to reach $512.8 million by the year 2016.

10. According to a report released by IBM, companies who utilize e learning tools and strategies have the potential to boost productivity by up to 50%. For every $1 that company spends, it’s estimated that they can receive $30 worth of productivity.

11. According to a recent study conducted by The Research Institute of America, e learning has the power to increase information retention rates by up to 60%. That means that, not only is e learning more cost efficient, but also it’s more effective (in terms of how much knowledge is truly acquired during the learning process). This article discusses how e learning helps to boost retention rates by reducing cognitive overload.

12. It’s been estimated that nearly 25% of all employees leave their job because there simply aren’t enough training or learning opportunities. On the other hand, companies who do offer e learning and on-the-job training generate about 26% more revenue per employee.

13. 72% of companies who were included in a recent survey stated that e learning helps them to keep up-to-date with changes in their industry, which helps them to remain competitive within their niche. It was also found; in a study conducted by Bersin & Associates those companies and organizations that did have a strong learning culture did better in their market than those who do not. For example, these organizations are 46% more like to be the leader in their industry, note a 34% increase in their ability to respond to the needs of the customer, and are 17% more likely to become the market share leader.

So why is this happening?

Well, the world has changed and many people haven’t notice! It’s now online and so are we.

Fig 1 - Global Digital Snapshot

Figure 1 Nextweb.com, 2015 worldwide Internet, mobile and social media trends


‘Staying up-to-date on emails, social media and other means of online communication is a bigger time requirement than people may realize: New research has found that the average user (USA), spends 23 hours a week emailing, texting and using social media and other forms of online communication.

That number represents nearly 14 per cent of the total time in a week.’

‘Britons are spending more time than ever on the internet with the average user now online for more than 15 hours each week.’

An in creasing amount of access is on handheld devices making learning truly mobile and accessible, almost anytime and everywhere. ‘ E Marketer expects 4.55 billion people worldwide to use a mobile phone in 2014 ’.

Users of social media looks like this, the highlight being 71% of the adult global internet user population using Facebook. So nearly three quarters of the world is online in social media. All images are taken from The Pew Research Centre[6]

Fig 2 - Facebook users

Fig 3 Linkedin users

Fig 4 Instagram users

Fig 5 Twitter Users

So what does this mean for our learning styles and predilections? It appears that not only have our learning styles changed, but we need a different approach from the Victorian need for equipping people with facts. Then, in the industrial revolution, there were scientific laws and engineering formulae that could be applied safely for a lifetime and that needed to be retained to be used daily. Now with the ability to access the internet and store information digitally to carry with you anywhere, even in the pocket of a pair of jeans that is less important.

We have as many facts as we need in our pocket and if we don’t, we simply go online and find out what we need to know, on a ‘just in time’ basis, then store it on our cell phones.

Telephone engineers and roadside car assistance engineers have computers in the vans which hook up to a central database of information, they don’t need to learn it, they just need to know what to do with the information.

So what we need now is skills to use the facts, not just the facts themselves.

Additionally, the world of commerce, culture and social trends is changing so fast that facts themselves are changing fast too and no longer last a working lifetime. Therefore we need to access them frequently to check and update our information.

Yuri Quintana says in his paper ‘Evaluating the Value and Effectiveness of Internet-Based Learning’

‘One of the most prominent trends in distance education is the emergence of Open Learning, which has been defined as “a student centered approach to education which removes all barriers to access while providing a high degree of learner autonomy”. The Internet supports the open learning concept by providing students with the ability to connect to educational resources when it is convenient for them, and allowing students to explore the educational resources in an order that suits their needs. In an open learning environment the teacher no longer serves as the keeper of knowledge. Instead the teacher acts as a tutor, facilitator, and resource to assist in the student’s learning process.

Each student has individual preferred patterns or methods for learning which need to be recognized and supported with the appropriate learning technologies. Some example of learning styles or instruction include:

1. Visual or Spatial Learning – The ability or preference to learning information using graphical images and 3D models of objects. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include the World Wide Web and all its images, and 3D modelling languages such as VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language).

2. Musical and Sound Learning – The ability or preference to use of music and sound to understand educational material. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include downloadable sound files on WWW and real time on-demand audio.

3. Intra-Personal Learning – The ability or preference to learn by encouraging or requiring students to understand their own feelings, interests, goals, etc. Internet technologies that support this type of learning are interactive questionnaires on WWW or downloadable multimedia applications (also known as applets).

4. Inter-Personal Learning – The ability or preference to learn by discussing with others. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include text, audio and video conferencing, e-mail, discussion mailing lists, and news groups.

5. Linguistic-Based Learning – The ability or preference to learn by understanding words and language and reading. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include gopher, lynx (a text-based WWW browser).

6. Mathematics-Based Learning – The ability or preference to learn by understanding mathematics. Internet technologies that support this type of learning include new formatting methods that can be used to display mathematical equations on the WWW.’

The change in behavior

So, clearly and unequivocally, more most people are connected and using the internet and social media.

There appears to have been changes in behavior as a result, with learning styles changing and many teachers reporting this as an inability to focus or concentrate!

‘There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday.’

‘In fact the symptom of boredom is because the lesson is not student centric and in the wrong medium. Teachers are trying very hard to adapt and many say they have to become entertainers to hold the attention of students! This is a losing battle and admirable though their efforts are, a waste of effort.

Instead what should be happening is that education should be embracing the technology and adopting the ‘flipped classroom’ approach.

‘It’s called “the flipped classroom.” While there is no one model, the core idea is to flip the common instructional approach: With teacher-created videos and interactive lessons, instruction that used to occur in class is now accessed at home, in advance of class. Class becomes the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning. Most importantly, all aspects of instruction can be rethought to best maximize the scarcest learning resource—time.

Flipped classroom teachers almost universally agree that it’s not the instructional videos on their own, but how they are integrated into an overall approach, that makes the difference.’

I accept that this seemingly small change is difficult to achieve. We find that having to learn new skills, to encapsulate a lesson into 5 minutes, learn how to produce and edit videos and produce e learning challenges teachers.

But there is significant evidence that more and more teachers are looking in this direction and moving towards this type of model.  I have an example that proves that the process and the age of a teacher, as is often argued, is not a barrier.

My example is Jim Baker, a retired teacher. He retired from full-time teaching in August 2008 after 38 years at Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School, Lincoln (formerly Lincoln School). He was Head of Chemistry and Deputy Head of Science in charge of behaviour management within Science when he retired. He practised the ‘Flipped Classroom’ before the expression existed! He created his website http://www.jimbakersonlinelearning.co.uk to promote independent learning and to make his materials available to students when they wanted them. This led to a revolutionary piece of teaching.

‘The site is now available for creating forums on which students can ask/answer questions and share problems/solutions with each other and with the teacher are in place. In schools where these are used, feedback from the students is very positive. Students should be told (or if not told, they should ask) what their next lesson is about. The students can then read about the topic before the lesson and have questions ready to ask.

They will learn far more from that lesson than ‘going in cold’. (One understands a film far more having read the book first or having seen the film once before). In addition, they will ask their questions in the lesson on that topic. When students have a lesson they have not prepared for (because the topic of the lesson was not known), they do not learn as much during the lesson. In addition, they cannot consolidate and come up with questions until after the lesson. They then ask their questions next lesson (if they remember). The next lesson may be days ahead and on a different topic.

Most students I asked did not know what they would be doing in their next lesson. I told them always to ask so they could prepare for it beforehand. They started to do this and all said they ‘got far more out of the lesson’ having read about it first. My views on homework are simple: students should choose their own homework whenever possible. Setting the same homework to a class is not very productive. Students who achieve full marks are wasting their time spending it on work they can do. After a lesson the students’ needs will differ. Student A may have understood the first part of the lesson but not the second part. Student B may have understood the second part but not the first part.

So, student A needs to spend his/her homework time ‘getting to grips’ with the second part of the lesson whilst student B needs to spend his/her time ‘getting to grips’ with the first part of the lesson. By doing this each student is maximising his/her time. In addition, a student is more likely to do homework they choose and see the need for.

I am a great believer in independent learning and I put the above ‘homework theory’ into practice in 1998 with my 14 ‘A’ level Chemistry students. The ‘A’ level grades obtained by these 14 Chemistry students in 2000 were: 8 Grade A’s 3 Grade B’s 3 grade C’s I think the results prove the theory works (the same students’ results in ‘less demanding’ subjects were not so good). Parents need educating on homework. They must not assume ‘more homework means more learning’.

This is indeed a glimpse of the future delivered by a 61 year old man who plays Baker Street on his website!

What this illustrates is that students are motivated and more successful by becoming independent learners.

‘The Flipped Classroom’ is a way of using technology to maximise the valuable face-to-face contact time by exploring, supporting and giving further explanations.

In the ‘flipped classroom’ model feedback is almost instant, the student gains motivation from this and progresses faster.

The other important factors in the model are learner motivation is stimulated by social contact and the independence and control fostered.

Juxtapose this style of learning against the traditional rigid system, which only allows everyone to progress at one time and where you have to wait a week for feedback. The student becomes demotivated because there is no time for explanation, except by his friends. Most importantly there is little time for exploration, support for learning and revisiting concepts that have not been understood the first time.

What will these new systems and learning practices look like?

In my opinion the changes will be far reaching.

More content will be available online in new and different learning environments which are more learner centric and which measure progress inside and outside a formal course.

More employers are becoming interested in informal learning and this will become recorded for use in recruitment. This is already being recorded and ‘badged’ by MOOCs and other online course providers but this trend will go further and become more common and useful.

Teachers are likely to be divested of the mundane clerical roles thrust on them now to leave time for them to create exciting new materials to motivate and excite learners.

School timetables will be changed and many lessons could be online and even include streamed video lessons from teachers outside the school, or even the country.

Schools contributions will change to become daytime guardians providing secure places to study whilst parents are at work. They will focus on providing social, cultural and emotional guidance and support and the curriculum will be much wider, freer and less time constrained.

Theoretically a student could choose to study any subject from Astrology to Icelandic Language because the external teaching resource could always be found though e learning.

Special learning needs support will improve as a result of being available online and costs will be reduced as each school will benefit from economies of scale as they will not have to maintain an uneconomical resources for a few students. Instead the cost will be spread efficiently across a larger number of students. Time will be better used and specialists for less common conditions will be available regardless of distance and time.

Ultimately teachers would be doing what they should do best which is creating knowledge and a curiosity for learning, not babysitting and filling in forms.

We are now in the age, not of life-long learning and continual learning, but constant learning. By this I mean that we will, of course learn throughout our lives but we will also learn all the time as and when we need to know something.   

Technology, culture and commerce are moving at an ever-faster rate and we must keep up to remain relevant, valuable and employable.

This is the real social and learning style change that education has to accept, understand and facilitate.

So the world has changed, as has our behavior. This year I predict that we will see many of those changes, which have already begun, accelerate and become widely accepted.

We will look back at those historic discussions about whether e learning would ever be accepted or replace classroom learning and wonder why we ever had any doubts!

As teachers and trainers we need to embrace these exciting new opportunities and learn the new way because our students already have!

List of references 

1. Peter Drucker 1997

2. http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2015/01/21/2015-worldwide-internet-mobile-social-media-trends-get-376-pages-data/

3. E Marketeer Report July 2013, http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4718-weekly-online-social-media-time.html

4. The Daily Telegraph February 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/9175130/Britons-spend-15-hours-a-week-on-average-on-the-internet-research-finds.html

5. http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536

6. The Pew Research Centre http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/09/demographics-of-key-social-networking-platforms-2/

7. The New York Times website, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/education/technology-is-changing-how-students-learn-teachers-say.html?pagewanted=all

8. The Flipped Classroom, Bill Tucker 2012, http://wardwcom.webstarts.com/uploads/the_flipped_classroom_article.pdf


Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?

Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?

‘Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?’

This paper will deal with the current state of e learning and learning systems and the next paper will deal with the future look and feel of the world of education the technology it will use and what the effects will be.


The fascinating and ironic thing about this question is, that the thing which is holding back the progress, even demand for e learning, is education itself, and the e learning systems that were designed for it.

‘The application with perhaps the greatest influence on education and society is e learning’[1]

Many argue that e learning is not new at all and that it is distance learning in new clothes. It is true that distance learning, or correspondence courses, have been around for more than one hundred and fifty years, but I would disagree!

In the 1840’s Isaac Pitman taught his students shorthand by a ‘correspondence course’ [2]and my mother was able to qualify as a music teacher aged 16, via the same method through Trinity College of Music in London in the 1930’s.

In 1924 Pitman’s students could test themselves and later in 1954 a teaching machine was invented at Harvard University.

However, it was only in the 1960s, that the first computer based course, PLATO, was designed at the University of Illinois, Chicago, USA. Today that university is still a world leader in e learning.[3]

In the seventies we saw see the Open University in the UK exploiting e learning very effectively to deliver learning over a distance to thousands. In the early eighties with the dramatic reduction in the cost of computers, led by companies like Apple, home computing took off. The widespread use of the Internet and dramatic rise in broadband speeds enabled video streaming and video conferencing which now enables people to learn anywhere at any time face to face.

In education the term lifelong learning has been much talked about for many years. Nowadays, however, with most people doing some kind of research, online training, or learning every week, positioning us firmly in the true age of.

It is the widespread adoption of e learning at all age levels, in schools and commerce as well as by individuals which is what is making online learning news now. Everyone seems to be talking about it, or doing it and that isn’t a misleading impression.

‘The five-year compound annual growth rate, (E learning,) is estimated at around 7.6% so revenues should reach some $51.5 billion by 2016.’

‘According to IDC, the number of PCs will fall from 28.7% of the device market in 2013 to 13% in 2017. Tablets will increase from 11.8% in 2013 to 16.5% by 2017, and smartphones will increase from 59.5% to 70.5%.’[4]

The Pros and Cons

When you take part in e learning you are taking part in a virtual experience. You are working on your computer, or increasingly, another device, connected by the Internet to a website where you meet your fellow students, tutors, where you access materials for your course and where you are tested.

Until very recently students studying online have been mainly in the late teenage, or adult age group, but that’s all changing. As governments all over the world push their education programmes online, for all ages, e learning is reaching a much younger audience.

Here are some examples

  • In September 2011, the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan announced they would buy 500,000 new computers every year with the goal to have a one to one student to device ratio by 2020. Additionally, their goal is to have 90% of schools equipped with broadband connectivity by 2020.
  • In early 2012 the Japanese government passed the Distance Education Universities Law that authorized the online programs of 54 universities and 11 distance education junior colleges
  • In May 2012, the Vietnamese government announced sweeping reforms to the education system that will be instituted in the next four years. The government has been aggressively equipping schools with technology and broadband access to the Internet.
  • The military run telecom operator Viettel will provide free Internet to all
  • 29,500 schools reaching over 25 million students and teachers in the country.
  • In June 2012, the Italian government announced that they were on track to equip 34,600 middle school classrooms and 62,600 high school classrooms with computers and digital content by the start of the school year in the fall of 2012.
  • In June 2011, the South Korean Education Ministry mandated that all instructional content in all primary and secondary schools must be 100% digital by 2015.
  • In China, the central government develops and controls the academic curriculum. As of 2010, the entire primary and secondary curriculum was online in China. Although the content is online, relatively few students have access to it yet. The Chinese government’s goal is to have their entire K12 population of over 200 million students online by 2020.[5]


We can already see that many of these new e learning programmes are story, character and game based, providing a glimpse of the future of e learning.

However, in conventional e learning, you can learn by a hybrid model where you meet up for physical classes sometimes, or not at all. You can learn asynchronously, or synchronously. In other words you learn live online using audio, video and whiteboards, or by yourself, sharing information after the event with nobody else present. In most cases, good e learning will be a combination of all of these functions.

In most cases you will be using a learning environment, or LMS that has this usual type of functionality.

  • Secure user name and password access
  • Document storage
  • Internal communication by message, mail or video
  • Tracking of progress through courses
  • Assessment and grading
  • Management of students records and progress
  • Accreditation

Many of these platforms are available to access on handheld devices making learning truly mobile and accessible, almost anytime and everywhere. eMarketer expects 4.55 billion people worldwide to use a mobile phone in 2014 ’.[6]

7 - Figure1

Figure 1 Number of Internet Users February 2015



E learning is now widely adopted because it is a convenient, scalable efficient delivery method, which reduces costs. If the materials are constructed in the right way it can be entertaining and can now even be delivered in a virtual world.

However, if you define the original e learning as 1.0 and the new as 2.0, we can examine and identify the differences and see what’s holding back progress.

In e learning 1.0 there was a feeling of solitude and loneliness. You would probably log on to a sterile looking website, devoid of graphics, looking like a poor website. You would read a document and be asked to fill in a radio button quiz, with no feedback, or comments. The experience was devoid of warmth and generally not something that promoted high completion rates, or any cognitive awakening!

There might be a phone discussion with a coach, or tutor, but no contact with other students.

Compare that to version 2.0. The interface is well designed and the landing page can be personalized for each user. There is a social networking application that connects you with other people studying your course, who you can link up with you to share ideas. You will be encouraged to blog and have live video sessions with tutors and other students.

Assessments give instant feedback but you can book tutorials to discuss your work and seek further clarification, or support. You will be encouraged to share your ideas and work with other students.

Initially there were concerns about whether e learning actually worked and teachers saw it as some Orwellian conspiracy to replace them with machines! As usual with these kinds of views they are based upon lack of knowledge and insecurity.

Despite the widespread use of e learning there is much that is poorly conceived and constructed which has given it a bad reputation, and rightly so.

For e learning to work a number of things have to be in place, most importantly a motivated student!

The software has to work, the materials must be valid and engaging, so teachers have to know how to construct e learning materials themselves and have the skills to teach online.

The learning environment has to support social learning interaction and the content should be SCORM (Searchable Content Object Reference Model), compliant and operate within the learning environment and not simply be uploaded PDFs, or Word documents.

Perhaps most importantly the environment has to support the student’s independence and not promote an old-fashioned ‘school’ culture.

As you will see from the above references to governments driving their education programmes onine the enigma is that very few people understand how to create good e learning, or have the skills to be able to do it.

There is a very good argument to say that the question being asked of education as a result of the e learning revolution is, ‘Is current teaching pedagogy valid anymore?’; this in itself is the reason that so much e learning is not fit for purpose.

‘Although e learning has attracted much attention it’s adoption has outstripped our understanding of the technology from the educational point of view. The value of e learning is in it’s capacity to facilitate communication and thinking and thereby construct meaning and knowledge. Upon reflection, it should be no surprise that most research into using technology for educational purposes has shown no significant differences in learning outcomes between traditional and technically advanced media. Why would we expect to find significant differences if we do essentially the same thing we always have done (both teaching and learning activities) except that the medium of communication has changed or a deficient approach has been enhanced with some visually appealing or entertaining technology.’[8]

The detailed issues

Lets explore some of the barriers.

Valid and engaging materials

For materials to be ‘seen’ and tracked in an LMS they have to be SCORM compliant. SCORM is technical standard that enables code to be written so that materials are complaint and can use the features of any SCORM compliant LMS. It’s a de facto standard for producers of e learning but there is a more recent variation called Tin Can API, which also works outside the learning environment and enables information to be traced in external environments for learning purposes.

SCORM enables materials to be seen and tracked within any learning environment, enabling tracking of student’s progress, assessment and grading.

Until very recently the SCORM engines have been very expensive and outside the reach of normal people which has meant that producing e learning was very difficult for teachers and the province only of e learning technologists. This has recently changed and the common tools to produce basic e learning are now available as is any other piece of software. This is of vast significance. There result will be a clearing of the log-jam for the nearly 6m teachers with materials to publish who cannot publish them easily currently. (UNESCO Statistics 5,883,894 teachers 2012).[9]

Trained teachers

Despite the very strong push of governments all over the world for teachers to adopt and use e learning there is little or no training available and no easy tool for them to convert materials into e learning. It’s not going to work is it?

The result is more poor e learning on poor systems.

Student independence

In addition to these factors I have already discussed the issues that the education establishment have in facing the new and different type of pedagogy required to engender successful learning. ‘The third age of education (Technology), has already started, and technology and the Internet have created it. However, education is in direct conflict with the way people have now become used to learning.

Education is not generally accepting that it should change its methods. For this reason it is not in tune with the Technology era, rather than adapting and using the changes to produce better education, they are resisting the inevitable, and this is causing frustration for teachers and learners.’ [10]

Social learning

The other aspect that is mitigating against good e learning is the social aspect of e learning. For good e learning, and you could argue, any learning to happen there has to be a social element.

‘At the core or of the e learning context is a collaborative transaction’ [11]

Education institutions are struggling to understand that the new technology is not just a means of delivery, or a way to make materials more entertaining, but actually affects the learning.

With in excess of 74% of online adults using social networking we can say that the worlds has changed.

social media

As of September 2014:

  • 71% of online adults use Facebook
  • 23% of online adults use Twitter
  • 26% use Instagram
  • 28% use Pinterest
  • 28% use LinkedIn[12]

Despite these clear and unequivocal figures the idea of sharing and collaborating during the so-called, learning process, is forbidden in schools! It’s called cheating! Yet, absurdly when you reach the workplace this asset of cooperating with colleagues is a highly prized asset.

What are the current systems and do they suit the current teaching methods?

The fascinating and ironic thing about this question is, that the thing which is holding back the progress, even demand, for e learning, is education itself, and the e learning systems that were designed for it.

Let me explain.

E learning systems are provided for, and sold to, the education establishment and commercial organisations for teaching and training; and are designed around the needs of teachers and trainers, not learners, or trainees.

The way that organisations want to educate is still based on the pedagogy of classroom training that was designed for a different generation, media and social conditions.

Therefore, even if teachers were trained, could accept the changes in pedagogy, could construct the materials and would allow students to behave as they want, e learning would still not work as it should!

Let’s look at this in detail.

‘We can be so familiar with the medium that we can be ‘anaesthetized ’to the mediation it involves: ‘we don’t know what we are missing’. Insofar as we are numbed to the processes involved we cannot be said to be exercising ‘choices’ in its use.’ [13]

Many of those using e learning are unaware of what it is and how it needs to be used effectively. They assume it is a delivery mechanism into which you put your content, in the same as you use in a conventional course, or lecture, but allowing your students to access it online. The main benefits being saving photocopying, distribution and making them accessible to students online to download to their own hard drive.

I remember one department meeting when the primary reason for the faculty head wanting us to put our lecture notes and module details into the learning managements system was so that we could reduce our expenditure on photocopying! Not surprisingly he is an economist!

It is also true that students don’t understand why they should be using these systems. I had one mature information systems class on a CIPD course that virtually rioted when I said there were no ‘handouts’. I told them the information had been loaded on to the learning management system. Eventually with some management pressure I gave in and photocopied all the notes times twenty-six students resulting in mountains of paper and a huge photo copying bill. In the end they decided there was too much to carry home and the notes were wasted!

So in essence teachers consider e learning as a new convenient delivery and storage system. Unfortunately, that is not the way current generations of students see it, (excepting my CIPD students)!

There is now a younger generation of teachers, thankfully, who would like to embrace new media and e learning, because they have grown up with it and use it every day, in the way it should be used, for ‘micro, or bite sized’ learning.

The systems being used however are based on the old pedagogy which is not designed for this medium, and therefore the technology is just being used as a delivery method or a way of enriching the content, using exactly the same methods of teaching as would be used in a face to face situation. A radical change in design of the software would not be effective because the teaching and training establishments would not want to use a system which proposed a teaching process that they had not been trained in and which gives students more control.

There is the enigma.

For the education establishment to understand that the mores have to change with in it’s own culture, will take time, but it will happen, and that will be an exciting change.

Therefore, because the technology is not understood and it’s designed for face to face pedagogy, technology in education is doomed to limited success.

The informal learning habits that people have become used to will impose themselves on education in the same ways as they have on other sectors, business, government, medicine, finance and social structures.

I believe we are on the edge of a revolution in education that will have widespread effects.

First education is, and will become for everyone, a part of everyday life, all ones life. It is already possible to find facts any time, any place anywhere, and this trend is being extended into education and training. Furthermore because the social, cultural, economic and business scene is changing so fast, people have to constantly to train and learn.

Education is changing and the main benefit will be that there will be more of it and it will be more accessible. There are exciting times ahead.

That trend is clearly demonstrable, Moodys said

‘The recent rush by leading universities in North America and Europe to create collaborative networks offering free online courses through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) marks a pivotal development for the higher education sector. MOOCs signal a fundamental shift in strategy by the industry’s leaders to use their powerful brand reputations to get ahead of rapid technological changes that could destabilize their residential business models over the long run. We expect positive credit effects to develop for the higher education sector overall as elite universities offer more classes for an unlimited number of students across the globe through-low cost open courseware platforms. However, there will eventually be negative effects on for-profit education companies and some smaller not-for-profit colleges that may be left out of emerging high reputation online networks.’[14]

The effects of these changes will also be fascinating to observe and we hope that it may lead to solutions for some of the world’s problems, terrorism, prejudice, poverty and lack of basic education itself. Many of us hope for this and there are thousands working towards this, a very optimistic situation indeed, I am sure you will agree!



[1] Garrison and Anderson (2003)

[2] http://www.leerbeleving.nl/wbts/1/history_of_elearning.html

[3] http://www.leerbeleving.nl/wbts/1/history_of_elearning.html

[4] A Report by Docebo, https://www.docebo.com/landing/contactform/elearning-market-trends-and-forecast-2014-2016-docebo-report.pdf

[5] Ambient InSight http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight-2011-2016-Worldwide-Self-paced-eLearning-Market-Premium-Overview.pdf

[6] http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536


[7] http://www.leerbeleving.nl/wbts/1/history_of_elearning.html


[8] Garrison and Anderson (2003)

[9] UNESCO Statistics 2012

[10] Chris Heron Education needs to change www.ac

[11] Garrison and Anderson (2003)

[12] The Pew Research Centre http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/

[13] Chandler (1995 : 10)

[14]Special Comment : Shifting Ground : New technology begins to alter centuries old business model for Universitieshttps://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-Massive-open-online-courses-carry-mixed-credit-implications-for–PR_255083



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