Look beneath the perpetual choppiness of the e-learning seascape and discern deeper currents.
Large-scale e-learning in institutions can be conceptualised as the industrialisation of learning. I think that this is useful and provocative, and in particular will help institutions engage positively with the changing technical, social and economic environment.
We are near a point where the 'first generation of industrial learning' has delivered all it can and we see signs of an emergent 'second generation'.
The first generation was characterised by inflexible ‘Fordism’, the production line; it was driven by institutions, and it managed change from the top. The institutions acted as custodians and gatekeepers to learning and technology, especially for the disadvantaged, and they targeted mass markets, by ‘massification’ and ‘commodification’. Digital divides were simple and soluble.
The first generation was characterised by an emphasis on (the lack of) evidence for policy and for the deployment of technology in learning; increasingly now, technology has become the ubiquitous norm, digital divides are complex and counter-intuitive and the role of evidence is changed (or removed)!
We argue that we are now at the start of a second generation and need to adopt post-Fordist ideas, look at ‘flexible manufacturing' and use ‘mass customisation’ to reach the ‘long-tail’ of learners’ preferences and needs. This generation will be user-driven and institutions must respond to unmanaged pressure from outside. Increasingly, technology happens outside institutions, inside which students now claim to they are forced to 'power down’.
Technology was ‘other’, was a dumb conduit and a dumb container for learning; it merely ‘enhanced’ or ‘supported’ learning. Now technology is socially transformative; technology ‘is us’.
The first generation was Web1.0, the web as centralised broadcaster and students as readers; the second generation must be Web2.0, everyone writers and readers. In terms of ideology, social constructivism was the dominant espoused pedagogy, behaviourism probably the dominant enacted pedagogy. Education, psychology and computing were the foundations of e-learning. The second generation must develop new ideologies, perhaps ‘connectionism’ or ‘navigationism’ for the 'epistemological revolution'; e-learning must engage with sociology.