The fragmentation of the learning landscape

25-09-2023 | Joris

In 1999, I began working at the predecessor of Kennisnet to roll out the Internet in education. All elementary, secondary and vocational schools received an Internet connection, the start of the learning landscape. Of course, that gave digital learning a huge boost. Many schools started creating digital learning materials, and to organize it all, the need for an Electronic Learning Environment (ELE) soon became great. These environments have had many different name designations over the years, such as DWLO, LMS, DLO, LCMS, etc. The core of most systems was organizing content and users. Tests and submission assignments could be taken there and grades posted, but the essence was organization of people and learning materials.

At the same time, in addition to ELEs, specific systems were used for taking tests, forums were set up, and content was consumed outside, as often as inside, the ELE.

Organizing ran into a bit of a snag in an ELO. It turned out to be complicated to get all teaching colleagues on board with a standard setup, there were still many digibits and the rollout of the ELE stalled in many schools. Yes, there was student content in the ELE, students were in groups so they could collaborate but students soon found other channels for that. The ELO was used sub-optimally.

That’s actually what’s still going on. Students run ahead of teacher music and use the latest, hippest (old-fashioned word…) and by other students, most used, tools. And that changes rather quickly. First Hyves, Facebook, now Instagram and Snapchat. What comes tomorrow can only be guessed at.

How do we deal with that in education? Well, the early adopters are trying to keep up, they’re also on Pinterest and Snapchat, diving right into Meerkat’s capabilities and being the ambassadors of innovation. However, many others wait out the hypes and get in after a system has proven itself.

Right there is the crux, how do these systems prove themselves? And then aren’t we often (too) late?

In my opinion, schools should build living labs within which to use platforms that have yet to prove themselves, alongside existing systems that have already proven themselves. This keeps students engaged and the threshold is low for teachers. And if you start small with these innovations, less also depends on them. Then, as a school, you stay up-to-date but do not burden the school with lengthy elective courses that ultimately bring no innovation. In doing so, you avoid being too conservative but also do not hang your school on the great success that such a system must bring. In short, try it out, keep what is good and replace where it can be better.

And be supported by the early adaptors, the experts and the enthusiasts!