Filed Under (e-learning) by Mark A.-W. on 05-01-2010

Humor. Style. Attitude. Personality. Expressiveness. Cleverness. Charisma.

Are these characteristics in “e-teaching” friend or foe to e-learning?

A theme in both educational theory and communication theory calls for educators and communicators to know their learners/audiences and target their learning styles.

This post is a reminder that teaching style is just as important as learning styles. And e-teaching style is just as important as e-learning styles.chalkboard

The e-learning world can learn a lesson from popular media—when given a choice of similar topic material, people will establish preference and loyalty to certain voices and personalities in large part because of their personal style, charisma, cleverness, creativity, … personality.

Interestingly, the personal style of the educator is often devalued as the culture of learner focus has grown. As teachers are expected change shape to fit the learners’ needs, the nexus of education tends to shift away from the teacher’s personal experience and personality to the learners’ needs and experiences.

Though a recent study has challenged the strongly advocated learner-style focus in education, attention to learning styles is not likely—nor should it—go away anytime soon.

However, the personal style of the educator is an asset that should be encouraged and leveraged—in the classroom and in e-learning.

This does not need to be an either/or world. Just because an educator asserts his or her style does not mean that the learners’ styles are disrespected. And just because the educator’s materials carry the educator’s personal style does not mean that the objectivity of the content itself is compromised.

The theory of social learning that we often discuss in this blog supports not just the preferences of the learners but also the instructors as they interact in a learning environment.

It is interesting to see how teacher personality has been viewed over the decades:

More and more teachers and administrators are realizing the importance of the teacher’s personality in the learning-teaching situation.”

That was how the editor of the Journal of Educational Research introduced “A Study in Teacher Personality” by M.A. Tschechtelin in 1951.

By 1977, the importance of teacher personality had been extended to instructional materials themselves:

“Personality aids teaching, for communication takes place between the teacher and the learner—even in the absence of the spoken word (nonverbal communication)” (W.J.F. Lew, “Teaching and the Teacher’s Personality,” Education Journal).

Today, some sources of e-learning materials (for example, this from Penn State) embrace the importance of teacher personality in online course material design.

Yet, overall, educator personality seems to be even less supported in e-learning contexts than in face-to-face classrooms. The personal style of the educator is often minimized or avoided when educational materials are developed for e-delivery.

There are many reasons for this. For example, it is often thought that it is too difficult or dangerous to try to employ humor in instructional media.

But blogger Geetha Krishnan defends the engagement value of humor in e-learning.

And Cathy Moore offers some interesting tips on using humor in e-learning.

But because humor is a contextual art, not a definitive science, clear do’s and don’ts can’t be universally defined. That’s where instructor judgment and … personality come into play.

Filed Under (New Media, Social Networking) by Jeff Hino on 12-10-2009

There’s a lot of traffic on the blogosphere about best practices for social media. But we need to be cautious not to confuse best practices with “rules.” Many of our colleagues in higher education in general, and Extension in particular, are seeking some hard and fast policies about social media. Here are four misconceptions that could encourage the development of “rules” about social media, and why I think we should totally ignore them.

1. “Social media needs to be carefully monitored for accuracy.” There is a fear in industry of compromising proprietary information, that loose social lips will sink corporate ships. Educators have their own version: removing the center of information sharing from the subject matter expert will compromise the credibility and accuracy of information. Instead of seeing value in social interaction with knowledge, they fear it. They are no longer the sage on the stage. In the Information Age, we have been taught since grade school to check our sources, to ferret out accurate, unbiased information. In the Google Age, it’s a flat out survival skill. We need to trust people’s judgments, and get over it.

social rules quote52. “Social media needs to be controlled.” In some policy conversations it’s not uncommon to see the word “manage” used in the same sentence as social media. From my perspective, managed social media is an oxymoron. It is by its very nature unmanageable; it is creative chaos. But recognizing patterns in chaos is just what the human brain is designed to do. We’re good at it.

3. “Social media can waste valuable work time.” Is time spent interacting with social media yet another way for workers to shirk their duties to engage in personal communications? Some think so. But given that social media has surpassed email as the preferred means of communication, this makes no sense. That’s where your clients are, and your colleagues/employees need to be there, too. For many newbies, getting comfortable with social media will require playing with it. Industry understands this. “Make social media part of the job, just like email,” says ENGAGEMENTdb in their report evaluating how well the top 100 global brands are engaging their consumers using social media.

4. “Best practices are the same for all.” Because so much of what is published about best practices—and policies—comes from private industry, it’s only natural that many will look to them for ideas. But the drivers for industry—revenue and profit—will influence their approach to social media, and not always apply across the board to educational settings where social media will necessarily be practiced differently. Educators need to study what industry is saying about social media, and then apply it with their own twist.

That’s just four “rules.” There are more, I’m sure, and I look forward to your additions of what else to ignore.

Filed Under (e-learning, New Media) by Mark A.-W. on 26-06-2009

Crowdsourcing has become a popular mechanism to generate innovations and harness the contributions of mass volunteers for a specific purpose. Crowdsourcing often takes the form of a company or agency placing an open call for help to solve a problem. Individuals respond with potential solutions and in some cases receive cash rewards if their solution is selected. The concept is that the company placing the call receives a greater variety of solutions at a lower cost than would have been possible by retaining dedicated problem-solving specialists on staff.

Innovation Exchange is just one of many Web sites that have sprung up to facilitate crowdsourcing of business solutions.

MIT’s homepage design refreshes everyday, thanks to crowdsourcing.

But there is another type of crowdsourcing—one that seeks public participation not so much because of the distributed expertise but because of the sheer power of the masses.


The Galaxy Zoo project, for example, crowdsources volunteers to help classify galaxies according to their shapes. Over 200,000 people have contributed to date.

The recent tweet, blog, photo, and video feeds from Iran’s disputed presidential election could be considered a perfect storm of crowdsourcing, citizen participation feeding into the traditional news outlets.

The application of crowdsourcing to education has been discussed before—for example, by Rob Jacobs on the Education Innovation blog. Jacobs makes the case for teachers to leverage, through crowdsourcing, professional learning communities in what he calls the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative approach.

Tony Karrer’s eLearning Technology blog has also discussed crowdsourcing and e-learning technology. Exemplifying the very concept of crowdsourcing, Karrer initiated brainstorming on a new term to replace “crowdsourcing;” suggestions included “peersourcing” and “experttapping.” The type of collective input Karrer refers to appears to be focused on getting help from peers or others who have expertise in a certain area.

Another type of crowdsourcing that could also be leveraged in instructional media development is the wisdom of the masses, the potential learners who may not have any expertise in instructional design or educational curriculum development. For it is only the learners who possess the secret to how they learn.

The key to crowdsourcing is matching the need (what you are seeking) with those who can address the need (provide solutions). That is, seeking help from appropriate sources. In publishing, for example, content experts are appropriate sources of accuracy review and end-user representatives are appropriate sources of usability review.

While there may be value in an educator seeking help from other educators and professionals, as Jacob’s model suggests, there may be equal or greater value in seeking input from the learner him or herself—for it is ultimately the learner whom educators are seeking to change (that is, we want the learner to learn).

Enter crowdsourcing.

Here is the idea: Basic educational materials (publications, podcasts, learning objects, etc.) are placed in an online environment. The public is invited to enter the environment and experience the existing educational materials. They are then challenged to create and post a summary of or response to what they just learned, using whatever medium they prefer. Some users might create a short video, some might choose to write, some might create a Pachyderm.

The learner-created media would supplement the teacher-generated materials, and could enhance other learners’ experiences through social learning.

Have you tried something like this? Would you be willing to?


When I worked as director of publications at the Soil and Water Conservation Society, I set up the SWCS network. Within minutes of invitations being sent out, people started joining, posting information, and forming groups on a variety of topics of interest to them—conservation photography, water quality monitoring, cover crops, etc.swcsnetwork

The networking technology was a necessary component, but one of the most interesting aspects of the network was the social experience. Members of the network began voluntarily taking on the responsibility of welcoming other new members. Old friends who hadn’t seen each other in years, separated by geography, “bumped into each other” in forums in which they shared an interest.

The content generated in the network was user-centered. The old model of experts delivering information to audiences was, in this context, replaced by a network of individuals sharing information according to the needs of the network members.

So, I started thinking, social networks are social and technological, but are they educational? To answer that question, I had to start to understand the concept of social learning.

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