Tom Parmelee, creator of eLearning RivereLearning River is my effort to sort the wheat from the chaff in the technologies, theories, techniques, and practices used to create and deliver elearning. Underlying my effort is the desire to stay focused on supporting student success in achieving the competencies necessary to master a discipline.

We are living in a time of rapid innovation in the development of digital tools and networking technologies. Digital applications are being created rapidly. Theorists, programmers, practitioners seeking to explain the importance of these apps to business, to government, to education abound. eLearning and online distance learning programs are experiencing phenomenal growth. There is always a new killer app waiting around the corner. Digital devices become lighter, smaller, more powerful, more mobile seemingly by the day. There have never been more choices in how or where you learn–or not?

The down sides of elearning

Even given the brilliant skills of so many programmers, developers, learning theorists, and college faculty, there remains a down side to elearning. Failed, passive teaching-learning strategies are being filtered through new technologies with no change in the learner’s success. Technologies that seemed destined to revolutionize the learning process (remember Second Life?) fade from view. The large, impersonal lecture hall so criticized from the 1960’s until today is reborn in the form of even larger more impersonal online “lecture” courses where “interaction” consists of taking a multiple choice quiz at the end of a video presentation.

There are easy fish to spear, and there are some tricky ones–but the point is this: We must talk frankly about the obvious cases of bad judgement or systematic abuse while keeping our eyes open for the subtle issues hidden in the folds of distance learning programs (have you ever designed an engaging, challenging course only to have it taught as if it were a lecture course?). We must be our own best critics; we must not rely on a new technology (especially not a new technology) or a Quality Matters initiative to save our virtual souls.

Where have I been?

For the past 15 years, I have been working in educational technology environments in Texas: seven+ years designing online courses at a research university; and seven+ years managing a computer lab and tutoring center at a community college. My experience is only remarkable for giving me a front-row seat to observe the opportunities frittered away by (some) educational leaders and, yes, even (some) college faculty, who lacked the resolve to adapt technology to the needs of learners on the one hand, and to leverage advances in networked computing and social media on the other.

eLearning River will explore, share, and discuss any idea, digital technology, learning theory, scholarly research, or leadership issue that may bear on the practice of elearning or distance education. Talk to me, and I’ll talk back.

One caveat: I insist on defining elearning broadly and will not be hemmed in by narrow visions of instructional technology. The digital core of information technology makes its very nature instructional. I am more likely to focus on core issues than reviews of the latest panacea. Yet, I rule nothing out. Openness is the key.

Writing without animus

I write without animus in the spirit of a higher education professional eager to help strengthen the efficiency and quality of elearning programs. Strengthening the learner’s ability to master learning outcomes and competencies is – or should be – the core competency of all who build, develop, and support online courses and programs. I like the people I currently work for; but in education it’s imperative to innovate and to lead.

NOTICE: I currently work at the University of Texas at Arlington as an instructional designer. However, I am writing this blog in the tradition of the independent intellectual and critic: free speech and critical analysis are not only the bedrocks of a healthy democracy, they are the forces that keep ideas and innovation alive in our schools, colleges, and universities. I speak for myself and no one else.

Tom Parmelee
Euless, Texas
July 3, 2013

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