The e-learning challenge we need to talk about


If you have this magazine in your hands, I’m sure I don’t need to go over the importance of embracing e-learning as an educational method, and why it’s worth all the challenges we face in implementing it.

In over a year of reporting on digital education, I’ve heard countless discussions and debates about many of these challenges: making all the hardware co-operate, choosing the right software platforms and programmes, teacher training and change management that yields sustainable results, and designing syllabi that are relevant and engaging to generations of digital natives.

In short, educators across SA are putting their heads together to get digital education, as a massive new system, to work.

Yet in all this deliberation, there is one big obstacle that seems always overlooked, and it stands in the path of even the most brilliantlydesigned system of hardware, software, content, and teachers. This stumbling block is learners’ concentration.

Different worlds

Boredom and procrastination are by no means new phenomena, but for even the most interested and motivated digital natives, e-learning means trying to study in a space flooded with media and social networking companies making every effort to interrupt what they are doing to vie for their (very monetiseable) gaze.

For previous generations, the walls between work and play were more distinct and took some effort to scale. Leaving one’s homework to watch TV or read a book, for instance, required a conscious decision to get up from one’s desk and pick up a different object.

Even in the early days of social networks, getting off Facebook to focus on Sparknotes was as simple as closing a tab or logging out.

Yet today’s learners are inundated with pop-up social networking notifications on multiple devices at once, and checking just one of these can turn too easily into an hour of wasted time.

Increasing amounts of multimedia content, clickbait, and more personally-tailored feeds are not the only reasons for this.

Scientific studies have likened the brain’s responses to using social media to an addiction – and one with a very short reward cycle: an enjoyable piece of content rarely provokes feelings of satisfaction that are lasting enough for the user to close the tab instead of staying and looking for more.

While several apps exist to help users stay off certain programs and Web sites while they need to work, these are a feeble solution for learners who need to use social media and social networks as part of their research.

I would suggest that when considering the needs of learners growing into an ever-digitising world, lessons in how to concentrate on work despite all odds should be a priority.

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