Talking to colleagues and friends I found out that online learning is still far from becoming part of the everyday educational landscape in many countries.

To understand this we need to take a step back and look at the general modalities of learning.

In order to learn you need to trust

coaches2This is true for both offline and online learning, no matter what you are studying. It could be anything from playing the piano to ancient languages to professional sports.

If you don’t trust your teacher, coach or instructor you’re wasting your time.

Trust does not mean “pouring your heart” and telling your football coach about all your lost loves before the kickoff. No! Trust, here, is a firm belief that your teacher or coach is capable of leading you forward.

This happens on a gut-level, below rationalization or verbalization. You just know. If at first you don’t, you will after a while.

In other words: Expert knowledge and experience of the teacher is important. Being able to trust – even more! For this is the bridge through which the teacher’s knowledge and experience can become yours.

The unlikely pair of Trust & Technology

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Do you trust your iPhone to keep your contacts safely stowed away within its memory banks? Do you trust your Email thing to remember your friends and family? Do you trust your laptop when it tells you there are 10 wireless networks in the area?

Let’s say we expect those things to happen. We take them for granted (until something goes wrong). But speaking of trust in relation to technology feels somewhat odd, doesn’t it?

In Japanese culture of today it’s not at all considered odd to relate to pieces of metal and plastic as if they were alive and breathing. Paint on a pair of happy eyebrows, let it make annoying sound-effects and ready is your new friend for life.

According to studies, online learning is far more acceptable in Japan, it has been done there for almost a decade both on a corporate and private level with high success rates, e.g. from 124 credits in traditional education, 60 can be gained through e-learning. (For more facts about online learning in Japan check out this study. )

So, what does that mean?

Does Online Learning only work in Japan? Do we all have to become like the Japanese?

Technophobia: Throw out the Toys, bring in the People!

If we move our focus westwards to Europe, online learning is still in its infancy.

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People were always very sceptical towards emerging technological novelties.

Remember the Luddites? Marry Shelley’s Frankenstein? The movie Metropolis? Or when the locomotive was invented, people claimed it was unnatural and dangerous to travel at those speeds, causing diseases and psychological breakdowns, for others it simply was “The Devil’s!”

The reasons for these rejections are many, and as always with phobias, they’re highly irrational!

Let’s take the side of the technophobes for a second and look at Online Learning: A lot of what we see nowadays being praised as novelties, revolutionizing and “bigger, better & brighter” are nothing more than toys, satisfying the click-frenzied for a few idle minutes but without any long-lasting effect.

Nothing against programmers spending sleepless nights pleasing committees to get that little quiz application just right to please the investors breathing down their neck in time.

But it has created a climate of atomization. On many online learning sites you won’t be able to talk to a person before having filled out a dozen forms, profile fields, uploaded your photo, pedantically filled in your available hours, modified your privacy settings and linked your account to your credit card.

On yet others, there are no real people. Only “interactive” applications. Pieces of software that give you a happy smiley when you succeed above the crowd-sourced average, sad smiley when you’re below.

Another side-comment: Big online learning sites (so called “portals”) are not driven by teachers that have field-experience. Those are the creations of entrepreneurial business-models fueled with investor capital. There are many teachers on those sites trying to get things to change. But most of the time, their ideas don’t make it past the “Suggestion Board!”

Conclusions

So, here’s my “call to action”:

If you’re a teacher and you feel that teaching online works great and that you’d like more people to become aware of it:

Throw out the toys! Bring in the People.

Facilitate conversations that create trust.

Forget about the rest. If you just focus on this, you will never again have to worry about receiving new students.

Here at Learn Out Live we have been doing this now for more than one year. We are rewarded daily by our student’s happiness and gratitude. As you might know, there are no profiles here, no registrations required, no “interactive exercises” substituting human interaction. The only thing you’ll find here is people.

So we use technology like Skype to create a connection between remote places. But it’s not about the technology.

If you’re a teacher looking to increase awareness of online teaching, don’t talk tech. Create trust!

If you’re a good teacher, this is what you do best.

Trust, Toys and Technophobia in Online Learning

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