Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Loneliness of the Elearner

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
ASPIRE Reading Room - elearning at UWEKallan on the computer - elearning at UWE - ASPIRE Reading Room

Learner motivation differs in each learner according to circumstance. Yet a common factor shared by many elearners, of all ages, is their isolation.

My continued study of distance learners and elearners makes me aware that isolation is experienced by a significant cohort within that group. (By distance learners, I mean those who are not necessarily following a course with an e-component).

Adult and younger learners have so many different circumstances. The disposition of the adolescent, for instance, creates a cohort of its own.

A few recent visits to Second Life (SL) has confirmed for me how important the support met within an elearning environment is to the elearner.

I am new to SL. There is so much there to learn. During the explorations I made intermittently over a period of only a few days,
I visited many different and interesting places.

Because of the significant time difference between New Zealand and the rest of the world, I often found that I navigated my avatar across islands on my own, for I was the only visitor on these islands.

For me this can be a lonely experience, especially when one of my goals is to improve my skills in communicating and sharing with other SL visitors. However, in New Zealand there is a growing interest
in SL. Luckily I did meet people. It's significant that most of the friends I've made in SL are actually from New Zealand (in real life).

My friends are all extremely helpful, and nearly all are fun and interesting to be with. They provide the necessary components of friendship and sharing elearners so often need.

Whale-riding at KoruKallan with Arwenna Stardust whale-riding at Koru

For as much as the asynchronous environments of a blog, wiki or Internet forum can provide much enrichment, and they do, the almost instantaneous feedback and feeling of companionship that’s experienced in a synchronous environment is astonishing.

A few of my SL friends are also learning about SL as, like me, they too are new to the environment. We share our experiences and fun, as well as our gliches and difficulties. All this is so necessary for facile learning. It is for me in SL.

And here may lie a difference, I think, between using a blog or wiki, and using a synchronous environment in learning. I’ve found that the new visitors, newly rezzed in SL like myself, are a lot of fun to be with. The sharing that happens is also something that impresses me.

Not that this doesn’t happen in blogging. It most certainly does. But the immediacy of the interaction and the almost tangible nuances of the personal contact in a synchronous environment like SL is breath-taking. At least, it is for me. It's magic!

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Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes


Claire Thompson said...


Thanks for brining up the topic of isoloation for e-learners and distance learners. In everyone's rush to embrace on-line learning, this is a crucial piece of the pie to address.

I've never experienced Second Life. Do you see this as a place where you would one day have your own students interacting?


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe e Claire!

I think you're right about it being a crucial piece of the elearning pie! Elearners need support in many different ways, none the least of which is support in the learning environment. Support needed by the learner is a complex thing in itself.

It is early days yet for me to look into using it for my students. There are a lot of technical problems that would have to be overcome, such as the firewall we have at TCS, versions of platform learners use, etc.

In the meantime, I am looking about in SL. There are a lot of new things for me there, and most of what I'm interested in is related to this topic of support given through synchronous communication and learner sharing as well as mentoring. Communities are fascinating things!

Kia ora!

Paul C said...

Wow, to get the intense engagement of learning through an interactive synchronous website sounds exciting. The technology may find its way there over time?

V Yonkers said...

Garrison and Andersen (2003) include social presence as an important part of the elearning instructional design. This is especially important for teacher-student interaction. It is hard to FACILITATE learning (not necessarily to lecture) but ensure that the instructor has an online presence so the student does not feel they are left out by themselves. It is definitely a tricky balance, especially when students want to be told what to do (no tolerance for ambiguity).

Interestingly enough, I thought your title read, "the loneliness of the ELEVATOR" (I guess I should get my glasses fixed). Ironically, being alone in a space like second life is probably by being alone in an elevator. Where do you look? Is someone watching you that you can't see? What if you get stuck? You only have the disembodied voice to tell you, "Help is on the way." And if you are on the elevator with someone, you feel too awkward to speak to them unless something goes wrong. What are the unspoken rules of engagement on an elevator?

Sarah Hanawald said...

So glad you are exploring second life. I always enjoy learning from you and I will follow your descriptions of your experiences with interest. While I've been to second life quite a few times, I'm still in the "I don't quite get it" phase.

Isolation is the Achilles heel of e-learning in so many ways. Not just for students, but for teachers too. Eye contact, touch, and tone are such an important part of my middle school teaching.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora tātou!

Tēnā koe Paul!

The technology needs to find its way there, for it is already in existence where it is. You are so right!

Kia ora Virginia!

My recent (and past) experience is that telling students what to do stymies creativity, which is as important as knowing how to learn. I think this is what you're saying.

The online presence is great, but has other uses than telling students what to do. One important one is answering questions immediately and 'appropriately' when needed. It can also provide mentoring, as you suggest, and be used for setting a good example.

Haere mai Sarah!

The "don't quite get it" phase. Hmmm. That's a difficult place to be in the 21st century - I've been there so many times.

By watching my own children grow, I'm aware that there are some factors in (school) life that squeeze out creativity little drop by little drop, and other factors that encourage it. For some, creativity is lost quicker than for others.

I think it comes down to curiosity, creativity and imagination. The realist can often find even a good novel difficult to get into because of a lack of imagination. This happens to me. Often. I tend to be too much of a realist.

You have to switch on your imagination to ride the wave, for you can't catch it. But when the wave catches you just let it carry you. Your lost if you don't. Wipe out!

Catchya later