15 September 02003

Apprenticeship, and what is e-learning really good for?

Charles Handy, in his article in the August 2003 RSA Journal, argues for more emphasis on learning-in-the-world and less on learning-in-an-institution. The latter is often given more weight for the simple reason that it is easier to measure. Though often, as Handy says, the measurement relates to how well the learner is prepared to progress into more institutionalised learning, rather than progression in the world.

The article never mentions e-learning explicitly yet it is easy to read much of it as an argument against the tide of recent fads in just-in-time learning and knowledge management:

I have never had much faith in "warehoused knowledge" — the idea that we can learn something, store it away and pull it out when we need it.

Handy's gist is also in keeping with Hubert Dreyfus' critique of online distance learning. This critique is expressed at length in Dreyfus' book On the Internet (see a review of this book).

Shortly after reading this book in 2001, I tried out some of Dreyfus' arguments when I was guest contributor to the CIPD Certificate in Online Learning (COL) e-learning course.

Unfortunately the points are hard to communicate concisely. For example, I put to the COL learners Dreyfus' conclusion that the lack of presence online means that learners cannot put themselves 'at risk' in the same way, and this lack of ego-commitment means that the deeper level of learning that constitutes 'mastery' rarely takes place. Dreyfus, like Handy, argues that apprenticeship is the best — perhaps the only — method to achieve mastery of complex skills. Says Dreyfus:

On the Web... the sense of taking a risk and accepting approval or criticism in front of others is much reduced, and therefore, so is the involvement. Such [an approach is], therefore, not likely to produce more than competence. (my emphasis)

In the online discussions I had on the COL course, learners argued back that, with the support of tutors and peers on their course, they actually felt quite comfortable taking risks. My retort that, if they felt comfortable, then more or less by definition they couldn't be taking much of a risk, was received — in an online conference, where it's easy to be at cross purposes — as obtuse.

In my view a better, though narrowly circumscribed, defence of e-learning might have taken the case of the COL course itself as at least one counter-example to the dismissiveness of Dreyfus and (by implication) Handy towards learning online. If learners aspire to mastery of online skills, then what better means to acquire it than through serving an apprenticeship online, with mentoring from a tutor, but with examples of work also available for review by peers?

Thus e-learning has perhaps the maximum potential to help people become genuine masters of skills such as information retrieval, web authoring, communicating effectively online, and — as in the case of COL — being an online tutor. Though of course that still depends on the courses being designed to encourage real practical online activities (not interactive simulations) and risking approval or criticism in front of others in the process.

For a philosophically heavy-duty sample of Dreyfus' arguments about the limitations of life online, this article on Anonymity vs Commitment on the Internet is the best freely-available source to start with.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) E-learning, Teaching on 15 September 02003 | TrackBack

I cant find a place to enrol 4 a dj apprenticeship in south london, do have any advice about any places to go 2.

Posted by: Anthony on 16 September 02005 at 6:00 PM
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