New Manifesto Offers Direction for the Future of eLearning

eLearning manifestoThe Serious eLearning Manifesto was introduced last month as a sort of petition for better practices in the design of eLearning opportunities. The community at large, which includes instructional designers, developers, vendors, educators, technologists, and trainers is answering the call – more than 350 individuals have already signed on to show their support.

As the Manifesto gains a broader audience, what is it, and what might it mean for online education at the college level?

What is Serious eLearning?

The Manifesto acknowledges that “most eLearning fails to live up to its promise.” We’ve come a long way since the early days of computer assisted instruction, and there’s more to be done. Without focused attention and effort, however, “current trends evoke a future of only negligible improvement.”

The Manifesto’s primary authors, leading professionals in the industry who describe themselves as instigators, “believe that we need to go beyond typical eLearning” to explore the values and characteristics that will make it truly effective. The starting point for achieving the momentum needed to make real improvements is a set of standards. The Manifesto presents the following, along with a list of 22 supporting principles:

elearning manifesto

None of the items identified in the list above are particularly new or groundbreaking. You probably read through them like I did, nodding your head in affirmation that yes, these make sense! Many learning professionals have responded to say they agree as well, and to provide additional food for thought about next steps.

How Do We Get There?

Who will respond to this Manifesto? How will action be taken to move the ideas forward as concrete steps and tasks? The argument can be made that institutions are already aware of the need to focus on improvement. It’s the application of specific strategies that is harder to initiate.

The Upside Learning Blog’s Amit Garg suggests that the Manifesto needs to be taken on by all of us as individuals, each committed to “implement[ing] it whole-heartedly in our work.” A grassroots effort would not only communicate the field’s dedication to improving eLearning, but also generate positive examples of how improvement can be achieved in a variety of contexts.

So, how can we implement serious eLearning in higher education’s online and blended learning environments? Think about using the values and characteristics of serious eLearning as a springboard to start conversations with your colleagues, test new strategies with your students, and propose course revisions.

My initial ideas are focused on course-level assignments and activities that draw on multiple concepts presented by the Manifesto’s authors. They also draw heavily on my background as a college career advisor.

  • Incorporate case studies, scenarios, collaborative projects, and field experience. These types of assignments and program requirements offer students the opportunity to focus on real world issues in their field, and perhaps more importantly, to experience decision-making in the context of a future workplace. Simulations can take place within a learning game framework that rewards high levels of performance and engagement.
  • Communicate objectives, relevance, and value. Directly address how each course is designed to work as part of the larger academic program. How are the objectives related to previous courses in the sequence, and/or to those that will follow? What is the goal of each assignment? How will class activities and interactions help prepare students for career entry, advancement, or transition?
  • Provide opportunities to draft, review, and revise. Project assignments can be broken down into components or checkpoints that allow for iterative work. You, and student peers, can provide feedback at each stage to inform revised submissions. A team or small group approach adds challenges students should expect to face in employment situations, such as forming a consensus, communicating effectively, and meeting deadlines.
  • Allow student choice in assignments. Whether students have the chance to select from a list of possible activities or tools, or to tweak an assignment topic, this kind of flexibility can promote individualized experiences that are designed in part by each student. Being able to incorporate a concept or topic related to a current work setting also adds authentic context to the experience.

There are other factors that may make the principles of serious eLearning more accessible. Smaller online class sizes, for example, can lead to more personalized feedback and enhanced participation.

Connecting eLearning Professionals

As I browse the list of signatures recently added to the Manifesto, many include comments about why the signatory chose to add his or her endorsement. These learning professionals represent a range of eLearning interests – most are in private industry, government, and consulting, but some are from higher education. This cross-industry support is encouraging.

I sometimes perceive a division of interests and practices within the eLearning industry – often by audience (i.e., K-12, higher education, military and corporate training), or location – as well as lines drawn between those who train and those who educate, those who design and those who deliver. But there are lessons to be learned from all who are involved in designing, delivering, and experiencing learning opportunities, and this new call to action may help to bridge existing gaps.

During an emerging technologies conference taking place this week, educator George Siemens tweeted, “Learning is hard work. It is not effortless. It can be a struggle, confusion. Results take effort and focus and dedication.” I think the same can be said for teaching, as well as designing instruction. There are rarely shortcuts to success, and the Serious eLearning Manifesto helps to focus our efforts on creating the best possible experience for our learners, no matter their location, motivation, level of expertise, or subject of study.

Take some time to explore the Manifesto’s standards, supporting principles, and founding authors in more depth. You can meet the authors through a recorded Google+ Hangout session, and follow #elearningManifesto and #seriouselearning via Twitter for more information.

It won’t all happen at once, but there are opportunities for each of us to make small but effective changes at the course level. Could the Serious eLearning Manifesto be your call to action to improve online higher education? Where do you see opportunities to apply the Manifesto’s values to your online courses? How are you already implementing these principles? Consider sharing your ideas here.

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Image credits:, CC:BY

Source: Inside Online Learning Blog