Inspiring e-learning in sunny Barcelona

Parc GuelMOOCs are in danger of being just an extension of the same old disengaged learning that happens in many lecture theatres. Online learning needs to trigger higher order skills like analysis, critical thinking and problem solving to truly engage students. That’s the key message I took from the Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies I attended in Barcelona.

I’ve been preaching about action-based learning for a long time. This event gave me a chance to talk to like-minded people from across the globe (Hawaii, Minnesota and Malaysia to name a few) to test my views and hear new perspectives.

I spoke about higher level action-based e-learning. I’m a strong believer in creating e-learning that immerses students in real life scenarios and challenges them to analyse the problems, to think for themselves and offer solutions. The importance of these higher order skills was a theme that was apparent across the conference.

Beyond MOOCs

There was an interesting keynote from Philipp Schmidt, an open education activist and researcher at MIT Media Lab, on MOOCs – the acronym on everyone’s lips at the moment.

He suggested that MOOCs are a passing phenomenon and not the kind of “game-changer” some believe (or fear). He believes there is a game-changer around the corner, but that MOOCs are just a stage post along the way.

According to Schmidt, studies at MIT reveal that the most disengaged time for students is during class. They’re simply not given enough interesting things to chew on, but instead feel simply talked at.

This is something online learning has a great potential to change but as it stands at the moment, many MOOCs are just an extension of a model of learning likely to lead to learners disengaging.

Challenging learners 

For the past year, I’ve been working with a team from South Tyneside College to put these ideas about active learning into practice. Together we’ve managed to transform their e-learning approach and leave behind the kind of disengaging content that used to get chucked into the virtual learning environment and forgotten about.

The project, which is now drawing to a close, is summed up nicely in this short video my colleagues put together:

Professional set-up

The other thing I took from this event was the conference set-up. It has to be the most professional conference I’ve ever been to.

The crowd of nearly 800 international attendees from more than 80 countries were taken care of brilliantly. Timings were prompt, the food was tremendous (lots of paella) and the location wasn’t bad either – across the road from Nou Camp.

I even had a chance for a quick stadium tour. Impressive, but not quite a match for our St James’ Park. 🙂

Pictures from the event are available on the organisers’ Facebook page.

Photo: Parc Guel by Steve Garry CC BY