Ten years ago, e-learning was a relatively new and exciting term in education circles. While the excitement may not have dwindled, today, e-learning is certainly old hat, even for the most old-school of school teachers. In fact, given the prevalence of technology in modern classrooms, it has been suggested by many that the ‘e’ in e-learning, the ‘vowel of confusion’ as David Kinane describes it, is fast becoming redundant; rather, the ‘e’ is already there: learning.

My little boy, aged “nearly five”, is on the cusp of starting primary school. He is so excited at the prospect of starting school that one of his favourite weekend activities is to visit the school and play on the playground and gaze longingly through the window into the new entrants’ classroom. The sight of large computer screens excites him, and certainly doesn’t intimidate him – if anything he expects to see them there; technology is already such a normal part of his daily life that any future learning would be strange without it.

Indeed, within a matter of years iPads, or their equivalent, will be in every classroom. Students will save their work via cloud computing. Parents will be able to see in real time what their children are learning. This is already the norm for many schools.

It makes me wonder about those at the coal face, the teachers keeping a-pace with technology’s role in a child’s learning journey. It is one thing to know how to use technology, but quite another to know how to use it effectively for the purposes of learning.

It isn’t as simple as just using computers and other gadgetry to teach the same old things. As Dr David Parsons, Associate Professor of Massey University says, “We’re trying to raise a generation that is cleverer than we are”. Parsons says that instead of trying to teach factual recall, we’re trying to teach higher level skills, critical thinking, synthesis, analysis.

“That’s why radical new thoughts about the way we teach with technology and in many other ways are so important because we can’t just carry on with 20th century education in a completely different world.”

This could help to explain the rise in the number of e-learning qualifications.

The University of Canterbury offers a Postgraduate Diploma in Education endorsed in e-Learning and Digital Technologies in Education. The course, available by flexible learning options, is designed to give educators, support staff and trainers the opportunity to improve their professional practice with ICT and critically examine significant issues within this area.

Massey University’s Postgraduate Diploma in Education (e-Learning) is a mixture of theory and practice, and gives students the chance to experience what it’s like to teach online as well as opportunities to develop their own online programmes and resources for pupils to use.

Programme coordinator Dr Maggie Hartnett, says the course takes into consideration the multitude and ever-changing nature of technology.

“One of the misunderstandings that people have of this diploma is that we teach people how to use the technology. While students are certainly exposed to different digital technologies throughout the programme, our main focus is how to use it to effectively teach others. Through research we have a good idea what approaches work and what don’t. Tools are changing all the time and there are literally thousands of devices, so we offer a paper in future trends, which means our students are aware of what’s coming [in technology] and how it could be used.”

There is also the opportunity to specialise in e-Learning in Massey’s Master of Education.

Of course such qualifications come in all shapes and sizes, with the emphasis in different places. NorthTec’s new Certificate in e-Learning Design and Development (CeLDD) qualification is aimed at people interested in how new media and digital technologies are changing the way people communicate and learn. It is particularly targeted for people designing teaching or training programmes, but is also suitable for people who want to look at integrating new media into their marketing strategy NorthTec tutor Debra Montgomery says new media is transforming the way we design for learning.

“Piping content into students just won’t do it anymore. There is a transformational tool for everyone. This course helps you find it,” she says.

Open Polytechnic has a similar course offering, a Certificate in Designing and Facilitating e-Learning, which focuses on adult learning, and in particular, distance and self-paced learning.

And this is scratching the surface. e-Learning qualifications are emerging all the time to support this changing way of learning, driven, in part, by the rise of technology. Such courses are seemingly aimed to align teachers with how students learning is evolving.

According to Bolstad, we need to be taking a more future-focused approach to education, one that looks to personalise learning and make it accessible at any time and any place. Bolstad believes we need to rethink learners and teachers roles and how we can use technologies to create a “knowledge-building” learning environment where learners and teachers work together.

With new technologies emerging all the time, the challenge for education providers of e-learning courses is to equip teachers to use a range of different technologies ─ indeed even those that haven’t been invented yet ─ to help achieve a future-focused education for learners.

Lee Turner, a student on Massey’s postgrad diploma agrees that this is the way education is going.

“If you don’t keep up, you’re going to be left behind,” she says.

Turner took the course as she has always had an interest in educational technologies. She also has had experience teaching in a digital classroom. She says the course isn’t confined to learning about specific technologies, but takes a broad approach.

“For example, one of the papers I’m doing as part of the diploma is ‘Big Questions in Education’ which I’m finding really interesting. It makes you consider the wider debates in education and how learning technologies fit into that.”

It will be teachers like Turner, who will teach my school-ready, tech-hungry son, who will no doubt adapt easily enough to whatever is thrown up by Apple, Microsoft, Google and company along the many years of education in front of him. His teachers will need to be like Turner, similarly prepared to keep abreast of these changes, while also not losing sight of what the learning process and outcomes will look like.

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