E-learning is simply an extension of our progress

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How many of you remember the outcry of heresy and damnation which accompanied the advent of electronic vehicles for education which emerged in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s?

It was really quite a show – an event which rivaled any other of the great shifts in how we approach teaching/learning in American education.

There were articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the acknowledged beacon of education theory, which declared that technology would destroy what education and learning essentially were to accomplish.

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In reality, it was a knee-jerk reaction by, you guessed it, “the old guard” who were frightened to the quick that their methods would be discarded in favor of some distant and impersonal entity, which would forever dismiss their time-tested approaches to the tasks of true pedagogy.

The analogy of the medieval monks laboring to copy the great works of human discovery being replaced by the moveable type holds here. While we now know that it was the early Chinese civilization which pre-dated Gutenberg’s moveable type, the fact remains that a new vehicle for more expediently transferring knowledge through our symbols brought ideas and concepts to us in a fashion that would forever alter how we shared that which we learned.

The second most significant and most powerful vehicle for the transfer of knowledge came with the computer chip.

Now, when we look at it in a practical perspective we see that this is another extension of our thinking capabilities – another development in our cognitive progress.

I remember a discussion in graduate school which concluded with the observation that it is because our thinking processes work in such a fashion they seek to alleviate tedium in our work efforts.

And I remember thinking, “How obvious!”

Don’t we all seek to minimize our work loads without sacrificing quality of production?

The obvious answer has resulted in several “revolutions” and “ages” in the human condition – the “bronze age”, the “iron age”, the “industrial revolution”, and now the “technological revolution.”

Such eras in the development of the human condition have always pointed to our desire to acquire more knowledge in a more efficient and in a more expedient process without sacrificing the essential perfection of the process and its production.

Even those cultures which developed symbol systems to express ideas and notions were moving in that direction.

What must early stenographers have thought when IBM came out with the typewriter which had a “ball” with all the symbols on it which rotated, rather than the stems which held each symbol and were attached to keys to reproduce them?

My guess is that there was a certain amount of excitement and anxiety associated with its advent.

But this was progress and it certainly did create a more efficient and expedient process for preparing reports and company analyses for the corporation.

Technology in the form of computers has done the same for us today.

Think about it for a moment.

Do we have to go to the library to find everything we need for some given project?

Do we need to have an entire home library to research some issue?

Because of the computers, our technological applications of the amazing chips which can hold literally volumes of information we can rely on the internet.

Now, just what are the implications for education?

I am glad to announce that they are all positive!

This is because these technological devices should be seen in the same light as we see the typewriters with the ball.

They are tools for us – instruments which allow us access to more knowledge more quickly.

And because learning is essentially an internal cognitive process – that is, it accesses the curiosities of the mind inside of us – a personal acquisition through a one-on-one activity, such as reading on the internet and its machinery, allows more personal learning.

The good news is that our teachers today realize this and are doing a masterful job at teaching our youngsters the nuances, processes, and advantages of computer and internet usage.

Teachers at the elementary level can give assignments on computers which engage and excite their students.

And college professors can put their course syllabi and class notes on such internet engines as WebCT to get information to their students.

It is the age of e-learning.

But, what is more, it is the age of e-teaching.

It is not a new-fangled thing which we need to fear and dread, but, rather, it is the next step in the process of the human condition which will bring us more information, more quickly, so we can make better decisions about how we function in a world which is still largely a mystery to us.

And the truly great thing is that is has all come from the step-by-step process of human inquiry – the driving force behind advancement in the human condition.

So regardless of how we gain our knowledge – be it e-learning or just plain reading in our libraries – we can be certain that even at this moment someone somewhere is finding yet another means by which we can more quickly access the secrets of our universe and our search for our place in it.

– Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern’s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy.

He can be reached at aogden@ascc.edu.