My View of Virtual Learning
After watching the past two years and the efforts to use “virtual learning” in place of classroom-based learning, I have to say that I am disappointed but not surprised.
I want to be clear that I do not fault the teachers. Even those most enthusiastic about virtual learning have been constrained by regulations and policies that have required them to look at virtual learning as just another way to meet the same required outcomes and behavioral practices.
That, in my view, was the mistake.
I saw the same thing happen with the implementation of the online, virtual environment of Second Life (SL). I say that knowing that even mentioning SL will cause many eyes to roll, and may lead to a list of tales about how that platform failed to be the creative resource for learning it was first said to be.
Again, that was because of the same mistake.
Let me also say that there have been instances of some truly amazing learning experiences created over the past two years, just as there have been in Second Life. But those have been the exception, and have usually been overlooked by those who have declared virtual learning to be “less than” traditional learning. I tip my hat to those educators who have made it work and hope you will continue to explore the possibilities that exist.
As I see it, the problem has been a simple one. In both of the situations I have mentioned, the official approach has been to determine how to use new tools to accomplish the same goals and objectives that have been established in traditional, face-to-face learning, rather than ask how the new tools might enable us to create learning in some new and more meaningful ways. In the immersive, 3D environment of Second Life, educational institutions built classrooms with chairs in rows facing a teacher standing in front of a whiteboard. We created tools to give formal tests. We created tools to allow student-avatars to raise their hands. We even created virtual PowerPoint! It was an attempt to “do what we have always done”.
During our Covid virtual learning period, we have “Zoomed” our learners into our traditional activities. Instead of rows of chairs, learners were in rows of little pictures on a screen. Some developers have created activities that have the appearance of being something new and different, with avatars, virtual schools or villages, and occasional games. Unfortunately, most of those “now let’s stop and play a game” activities simply replace the old “tests” but call for the same behaviors from the learners. We have given badges. We have created scoreboards. But in reality, the overall experience for our learners has been to “do what we have always done” with a few extras tacked on to make it look different.
I believe there is more.
I believe, in both of these situations, we have the opportunity to create learning activities that will go beyond the traditional approach of attempting to test and measure a learner’s mastery of learning objectives, and will allow learners to clearly demonstrate, to us and to themselves, their level of mastery of the things needing to be learned. And rather than creating some type of ‘new hat’ to put on top of the old style of designing learning activities, I believe we can create a more engaging, more meaningful, and more successful approach to learning design that will make effective use of the tools we now have available.
I believe that because I have done it, and helped many others do it as well by showing them how to apply the concepts of what I have called TranceFormational Learning(TL). Over the past 15 years, I have used TL in learning situations from pre-school through grad school, as well as in corporate training activities, and I can tell you that it works. In fact, I have used TL in both virtual and classroom-based learning with the same meaningful results.
During those 15 years, I have attempted to share the concepts of TL with those organizations and institutions who have the established resources to implement such a change in learning. However, the common response has been, “Thanks, but that’s not how we do things here.” And so we continue to do the same thing and fault the technology for the result.
TranceFormational Learning is not difficult to understand at all. The only real challenge is to convince ourselves that the new resources now available are offering us a new and more way of thinking about how we design and create meaningful learning.
In my view, if there has been disappointment in our experiences with virtual learning, it is not the result of being virtual. It is the result of how we think about learning.
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