For the PhD I’m essentially proposing that the current industrial model of e-learning adopted (almost without exception) by universities is a complete and utter mismatch with the nature of the problem. As a consequence of this mismatch e-learning will continue to have little impact, be of limited quality and continue to be characterised by 5 yearly projects to replace a software system rather than a focus on an on-going process of improving learning and teaching by using the appropriate and available tools.

Dave Snowden has recently described a recent keynote he gave and from that description/keynote I get the following two quotes which illustrate important components of my thesis and its design theory. I share them here.

Tools and fit

The technology in e-learning is a tool. A tool to achieve a certain goal. The trouble is that the Learning Management System/LMS (be it open source or not) model, as implemented within universities, typically sacrifices flexibility. It’s too hard to adapt the tool, so the people have to adapt. The following is a favourite quote of mine from Sturgess and Nouwens (2004). It’s from a member of the technical group evaluating learning management systems

“we should change people’s behaviour because information technology systems are difficult to change”

While I recognise that this actually may be the case with existing LMSes and the constraints that exist within universities about how they can be supported. I do not agree with this. I believe the tools should adapt with the needs of the people. That a lot more effort needs to be expended doing this, and if it does significant benefits flow.

Consequently, it’s no surprise that Dave’s quote about tools, resonates with me

Technology is a tool and like all tools it should fit your hand when you pick it up, you shouldn’t have to bio-re-engineer your hand to fit the tool.

Seneca the Younger and ateleological design

Dave closes his talk with the following quote from Seneca

The greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends upon chance, and so relinquish a certainty for an uncertainty.

For me this connects back to the fact that (almost) all implementation of e-learning within universities focus on using a plan-driven approach, a teleological design process. It assumes that they can know what is needed into the future, which given the context of universities and the rhetoric about “change being the only thing that is constant” is just a bit silly.

Teleological design causes problems, ateleological design is a better fit.