Keep your heart with all vigilance,

for from it flow the springs of life.

e-Learning: Education & Humanity; Utopias & Dystopias

If you've stumbled on this blog, this particular post is unique as it is my submission for a course: E-learning and Digital Cultures. If you're here as an evaluator, I maintain this blog as a way to be a reflective practitioner in education. Therefore, this post is an amalgamation of both and there might be parts that seem odd depending on who the reader is.

Initially, I was somewhat frustrated that this course wasn't teaching. I've since become more appreciative of the relatively open structure and how it is meant to stimulate thinking about e-Learning and Digital Cultures. he framework has provided a balanced framework to understand e-Learning deeply.

The first is a reflection on utopias and dystopias by examining past, present and future uses of technology. When I started using and promoting ICT in education, I became quickly acquainted with the resistance from teachers, management and most surprising, students. Due to developments in technology, that resistance has given way to another extreme. ICT was being evangelised and the conversation follows the same themes: that education is in shambles, that the future is unpredictable, that technology is unstoppable and the solution, if not, the only hope for generations to come.

Interestingly, this latest post in The Washington Post expressed what I've seen over the years and provided an identity I could associate with in the e-Learning. Combining the course and post, we have the utopian advocates and dystopian critics marking the two extreme ends of the spectrum while the moderates are characterised by the agnostics and the skeptics. Both see the gains and losses but the former is hopeful while the latter doubtful. I'm an agnostic.

It is tempting to think that the issues in e-Learning as a modern problem. On the contrary, I would argue that this is a perennial issue that stretches as far back as the ancient Greeks. This perennial issue is marked by two questions: What is education? What is humanity? Steve Fuller has already presented succinctly the questions we've had to grapple with and will continue to do so. I take inspiration and guidance from 'Ancient Artifice' as Steve Fuller calls it, more precisely the ancient Greeks.

In brief, the Greeks distinguished the types of learning that was involved. There was the type of learning for vocations and the type of learning to educate the mind. An education of the mind had to involve knowing to some degree the knowledge available across all types of subjects, coupled with application and experience. Being a specialist in a particular craft wasn't the mark of an educated person. Neither was someone who was well versed with the books but lacked the practical knowledge to apply it - sophomores. To some extent, the information technologies today are fundamentally similar to information technologies in ancient times. Digital technologies, like the paper and pen, are tools to store and transmit information and knowledge. What is e-Learning when the human is absent? Can it educate, or will it only succeed at training ever more complex mental tasks that is mistaken for understanding and wisdom?

It is easy to get carried away with the glitz, glamour and hype that surrounds technology today. But it is important to remember that the significant issues in education are social, cultural and moral. Science and technology are tools that are neither good nor bad but simply open up possibilities with equal potential to benefit and harm. Nuclear science promises abundant energy, yet it can also be used for destruction at an unprecedented scale.

In the end, Parker Palmer rightly sums up the essence of education: Who is it that teaches? That identity transcends whatever pedagogical understanding or technique we can muster. Why is it that our parents have the biggest influence on us, for better or worse, despite not every parent being trained in teaching institutes? Technology will multiply and hasten our influence and impact, but it will not determine if the next generation is raised as barbaric specialists with machine hearts and machine minds, or as educated persons with thoughtful and independent minds - paideia.

The Flip (or Dark) Side To Open Learning

Life is a Project