Published on 2012/05/04

E-Learning is taking higher education online and worldwide, expanding access to adult students and others who cannot attend mid-day classes and allowing expert professors and instructors to teach from anywhere. Photo illustration by Jeffrey Smith.

When someone mentions Auburn University, most of us think of Cam Newton’s fantastic senior year leading Auburn to the NCCA Football Championship.  Few, if any, would think of distance learning and the value of Microsoft Office 365 (better known as SharePoint on steroids) to deliver the goods. But first, how did I come by this information?

Last week I was invited to attend a local meeting on technology for learning, which was a sub group of the very active Technology Association of Georgia or TAG. Ironically, it was held at Knowledge Development Center (KDC) in Atlanta. KDC is a former franchise at which I was once President and COO for six years ending in 2002, but that’s a story for another time.

The meeting format was for members to present a “myth” in distance learning or e-learning delivery. What amazed me about the discussion was the many differing views of what was taking place in the market from a viewpoint as if the world were standing still.  Yet, in the meeting several persons were texting, checking email, using tablets and Smartphones—multi-tasking. While learning and delivery are critical to our future in developing high value workers and leaders, we seem to be stuck in how to accomplish that with old structure and what worked for us then ways of thinking.

For example, I remember listing rules on our white boards in our then KDC technology training classrooms in 1999 about cell phones and personal computers being turned off during classes, etc. That’s the way I was taught in class, but we didn’t have laptops and cell phones. The message was the same; pay attention and learn something. Thinking back on it now, it was unnecessary and, for some… like getting a stick in the eye.

The same is true today. Learners learn much differently and we must recognize it and adapt to it. Most will start their first job out of college by interviewing their employer as to what learning and career offerings can they expect. They will drive what content and type(s) of delivery they will learn from best and hold the employer accountable for delivering on whatever is promised.

As the Myths meeting discussion progressed, it became increasingly clear that some folks were stuck in the “weeds” of HR learning and technology-speak. Others had moved on to the challenges ahead in finding ways to fill the skills gap and were seeking new solutions to develop leaders and talent as educators. It was the second meeting I had attended in a week where the presenter or agenda started with “How to refill the leadership pipeline shortage?”

Just prior to that meeting, a discussion with a long time friend and Auburn Professor illustrated my point. My friend had moved to Atlanta, but told me he was still teaching at Auburn University.  I thought—wait a minute, that’s a 2 hour drive each way on a good traffic day!

He informed me he was teaching his classes three days a week remotely using web tools. He then excitedly pulled out his tablet and showed me a recording of a manufacturing interview in heavy logistics he had recorded and used for instruction to his class members. I later learned he was using Microsoft Office 365 and Lync to invite his class members and present materials and lessons, polls, collaboration, white board talks, assignments and quizzes. These are the same tools we use in our business as a global portal for project meeting, on-line learning, workflow, collaboration and coaching.

I asked him if this teaching method was widespread at Auburn, to which he responded a resounding NO. I queried him on why, but am obliged as a confidant not to make those views public. However, his answers were not unlike many others I had heard about our university system seeming to be stuck in time driving up cost without embedding a means to improve results.

There are, however, more incidences like that of my Auburn Professor friend cropping up. If you know of one, please send me your example and comment. I am curious as what percent of college students in the normal non-profit university system are being provided similar teaching approaches, and if the outcomes (metrics) of those methods are improving our educations system.

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Readers Comments

Chuck Schwartz 2012/05/04 at 4:00 pm

It’s interesting that this has been published on the same day as a Q&A about MOOC delivery.

Experts are everywhere, but until now they haven’t had the ability to reach out and teach people outside their direct zone of contact. Sure, there were correspondence options, but none provide the same, real-time interaction you can have in an online course.

eLearning is the next big thing, Mike – and this kind of education is going to make some big changes in the workplace and in the academy!

Curt Bonk 2012/05/04 at 9:11 pm

Yep, I am the one interviewed for that MOOC article Chuck. Been researching e-learning for a couple of decades now. Teachers do now appear anywhere. As my World is Open book pts out, Anyone can now learn anything from any one else at any time.

Mike Hammer - Author 2012/05/12 at 4:07 pm

Chuck & Curt,

Thanks for your comments. I haven’t been studying distance learning for a decade, I’ve actually been delivering it for a decade. As rapid content development and delivery tools have improved, learners or students actually tell you what they want to learn. Now with great on-line collaboration tools and multi-streams of media simitaneiously, we are able to change and adjust content on the fly–which is exactly what my Auburn professor friend had learned on his own. Our clients and team members learn, project manage, get coaching at our client portal 7/24/365 in various forms.

eLearning has already jumped to wharp speed. Look around and you’ll notice everyone is connected by smartphone, tablet or PC anywhere, all the time. Gen X and Y will drive “push pull” learning and tell their employers what they need and expect or they will go to the employer who will. Skills shortage will increase as 10,000 baby boomers per day leave the workforce, so these tech savvy generationals will set the standard because of talent supply and demand.

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