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“There is no challenge more challenging than the challenge to improve oneself.”
A few years after I started my virtual assistance business, I became actively involved with a non-profit organization for virtual professionals as one of the volunteers responsible for maintaining their website. We just upgraded the site into a system called Geeklog and because of my technical background, I was asked to teach the other volunteers on how to use the administrative side of the system. I took on the task in spite of my lack of formal teaching experience. I did not expect any problems since my colleagues were all computer savvy professionals and comfortable in an online environment. I also had taken several online classes and was relying on using my own experience as an online student to teach. A couple of months later, I realized how naïve that notion was when I started spending most of my volunteer time troubleshooting website complaints. Clearly, my first attempt at online teaching was not so successful.
Author and creative thinker Roger van Oech once said that failure has two sides: on one side, you get to find out what does not work and the other is the opportunity to try a new approach. Since I already committed to helping the organization for 3 years, I decided to learn more about online teaching by enrolling in a program at UC San Diego. I wanted another chance to prove myself. But more than anything, I wanted to prove something to myself. Two semesters later, I earned my Special Certificate in Teaching Online. One of my classmates at UCSD suggested that I look into the Educational Technology program at SDSU if I was interested in taking it to the next level. I was not sure what “taking it to the next level” meant for me at that time, but I checked the program courses and decided to enroll in EDTEC 541 in the fall of 2005. That was the beginning of my journey into educational technology.
“To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.”
Reflecting on illuminating ideas from my EDTEC experience felt daunting in the beginning. Educational technology is still a fairly new area of study for me and my experience so far was limited to projects I developed for my EDTEC classes. But this new knowledge and skills is opening up new opportunities for me professionally. I started receiving client requests for projects related to instructional design, creating training assets and developing online learning solutions. The theories, principles, concepts and models I learned from EDTEC were developing into a solid foundation for a new career as an educational technologist. Even though some of these concepts were most likely to be filed away for future reference, others had a much more immediate impact and influence. Most notable of these were the areas of distance education, adult learning strategies and technology. The concepts and ideas from these fields inspired and, in some level, defined my new career path.
Distance Education -- Systems Approach
The principles and concepts of distance education provided the foundation for most of my design projects as I continue to develop online learning solutions for clients. Before entering the EDTEC program, I understood distance education to simply mean “when students and teachers learn and teach while in different places using some kind of technology to interact with each other”. In my EDTEC 550 class, Dr. Farhad Saba lectured that distance education is not just a technology nor is it just a method of delivery but rather a complex and hierarchical system of interrelated subsystems. I am familiar with the concept of learning from a distance as a student. Ever since my first correspondence course in the 1980s when I realized that education is not limited to the classroom anymore, I took advantage of the convenience of learning anytime, anywhere through various online classes. However, I gained a broader understanding of distance education in EDTEC 550 when I experienced it from an instructional designer’s perspective. Dr. Saba expanded on his definition by citing Moore (2005):
As I endeavor to understand the complex nature of a distance education system, I learned more about Moore and Kearsley’s (2005) concept of systems approach to the study and practice of the field. Moore and Kearsley (2005) defined it as consisting of different components or subsystems which interact on and interact with each other. These components, commonly found in any level or type of distance education such as an institution, a program, a unit or a course, include (Moore & Kearsley, 2005, p. 10):
Dr. Saba further summarized these subsystems as a hierarchy of hardware, software, telecommunications, instructional, educational, social and global subsystems (Moore and Anderson, 2003, p. 8). The fundamental message I learned from this strategy was that in order for a distance education course to be successful, it should be developed as a total system giving equal attention to each subsystem as they relate to each other and not as individual components standing on their own. I found this approach advantageous especially when working with subject matter experts and stakeholders. In class, I was also able to apply this approach in my EDTEC795A project for the County of San Diego where I helped develop an online training program for managers of the County’s stormwater project. In developing the training program, I had to consider the different components in play and how design decisions made in one subsystem affected the others. For instance, in recommending and choosing Adobe Captivate as the authoring tool (technology), I had to consider its compatibility with the proprietary learning management system (content delivery) the County uses. The topics (content) that we included in the training course were derived from a required list of subjects provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (policy and management). Even the assessment questions were carefully drafted to comply with County union policies. It was only after carefully considering this interdependency among the different systems that we were able to produce an online training course that everybody was happy about.
“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
Learning Theories, Instructional Strategies and the Adult Learner
Another aspect that had an impact for me is learning theories and models, specifically those relating to adults. Adult learners make up a majority of my audience. As I learned from earlier EDTEC classes and through my limited experience designing for my clients, adults don’t learn like children. Malcolm Knowles (1973), a pioneer in the field of adult learning, has been a strong proponent of this position. He introduced the theory of andragogy, a term he coined to refer to the art or science of teaching adults. This theory is based on his four assumptions about adult learners as differentiated from pedagogy (Knowles, 1973, p. 45):
Other adult education theorists have since expanded these to include (Knowles, Holton and Swanson, 1998):
Training specialists I met through various conferences I attended as an EDTEC student agreed that understanding these characteristics of adult learners is important in creating effective training programs. In my case, I recognized that the challenge was in adapting or utilizing instructional strategies that address these characteristics when designing an online course. Knowles (1996), in an article for the ASTD Training and Development Handbook offered some suggestions, which I tried to incorporate (as many of them as I could) in my EDTEC projects for adult learners:
Learners come from diverse backgrounds and experiences and absorb knowledge differently. It might not be possible to accommodate every learning style or adapt every possible teaching strategy when designing courses but awareness and understanding encourages a designer to offer methods, techniques and stimulating learning tools to facilitate learning and promote engagement in classes or training programs.
“You can’t expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday’s tools and expect to be in business tomorrow.”
Tools of the Trade: Technology
I have had a love affair with technology even before I entered the EDTEC program. Technology has always fascinated me, often amazed at the various tools and gadgets available which seem to be changing at a fast pace. I was enthralled when I discovered after my first EDTEC course how these tools can be used in learning. As a virtual professional, I use technology in interacting and delivering services to my clients. EDTEC allowed me to explore creative ways to use it in delivering instruction to learners. In EDTEC 572 (use guest as username and password), I used Moodle to create a learning environment for my colleagues at the non-profit organization. I discovered UDUTU in EDTEC 550 and used it to develop an online training program for real estate professionals and a web-based course in financial recordkeeping for the members of my local chamber of commerce. From simple word processing and presentation software, I progressed to and became skilled at using various graphics software, audio and video editing programs, course authoring tools and web conferencing facilities. Every course I took and all the projects I did for the EDTEC program further developed my technological skills and fueled new interests. I excitedly welcomed Web 2.0 by learning how to foster professional relationships in social networking communities such as Facebook, Linked-in and the virtual world of Second Life. I walked into the next generation of the World Wide Web sharing with wikis, communicating and collaborating in real time with bloggers and twitters. In EDTEC 690, I worked with Professor MinjuanWang on her research on mobile learning and wrote a concept paper about designing mLearning courses. I was so excited about the possibilities of learning applications using mobile devices that for my informal learning project in EDTEC 671, I proposed a “Be Bear Aware” interactive scavenger hunt using Smartphone, PDA or cell phone.
Technology is a facilitator of learning. Rapid advancements in the field may become overwhelming at times but when integrated with sound learning theories and the appropriate learning environment, technology increases the effectiveness and efficiency of the learning process.
“Practice can make perfect, but it’s passion that persuades.”
My “love” of these three elements -- distance education, adult learning and technology – and their links and connections to one another propelled me towards discovering other interests I could be passionate about in my future as an educational technologist. Changes brought about by the accelerating pace of technology advances and information explosion present interesting possibilities in elearning design and development, rapid eLearning, Web 2.0 and mobile learning to name a few.
“Become a student of change. It is the only thing that will remain constant. ”
Changes and a Look into the Future
So what’s next for educational technology? Nobody can predict with accuracy what the future holds. To those of us who are exploring technology applications, the gradually increasing use of wireless, mobile, portable and handheld devices points to the changing dynamics between society, technology and education. Mobile learning, although still relatively immature in terms of technology and pedagogy, is developing rapidly. Soon, eLearning’s technologies will be accessible to mobile devices as market forces drive improvements in interface design, processor speed, battery life, and connectivity bandwidth (Traxler, 2005). Connectivism, a learning theory for the digital age developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes is receiving increased attention as a more appropriate learning theory for online learning than older theories such as behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism (Ally, 2008). Given the power and potential of these changes, I believe that our ability to accept the shifts in learning and teaching innovations will direct the future of educational technology.
Moore, M. G. & Kearsley, G. (2005). Distance education: a systems view (2nd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson, Wadsworth.
Moore, M.G. & Anderson, W.G. (2003). Handbook of distance education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Knowles, M. S. (1973). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Available: http://eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/31/57/4e.pdf, accessed March 16, 2010.
Knowles, M. (1996). Adult Learning. In Robert L. Craig (Ed.), the ASTD Training and Development Handbook (pp. 253-264). NY: McGraw-Hill.
Traxler, J. (2005). Current State of Mobile Learning. Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training Retrieved March 24, 2010, from http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120155.
Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning Retrieved March 24, 2010 from http://www.aupress.ca/books/120146/ebook/01_Anderson_2008_Ally-Online_Learning.pdf.
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