Making e-learning a force for social inclusion at a global level

“E-learning is different. It’s about creating tools that simultaneously engage the learner and challenge their ways of thinking”

Jeremy C Bradley is the Director of Academic and Student Affairs at InterActive, a global e-learning service provider. He has experience working in an educational hedge fund that provides scholarship and resource capacity to historically black colleges and universities; at an independent day school; and as Creative and Development Director for a multi-state educational and social services organisation.

‘We need to bring learning to people instead of people to learning.’ – Elliot Masie

Learning has never been so easily accessible and flexible as it is now. Thanks to online learning, today’s students, professionals and corporations enjoy a completely different relationship with education than the previous generation did less than two decades ago. But, certainly, there is a lot more to it.

My ambition here is to ask why we should consider the benefits of e-learning as a tool for social inclusion. What, in other words, led Elliot Masie to make this claim and what value is there in tracing that evolution further, particularly with regards to how e-learning affects the most diverse range of people – working adults, school-leavers, executives looking to sharpen their skills, stay-at-home mums?

Granted, these questions could simply be avoided if education’s interpretative communities remain more-or-less homogenous and not subject to input or effect from sections of society likely to be deeply, or even subliminally, disillusioned with education’s fundamental doctrine or practices. If this condition were to be satisfied, normative educational theory could avoid engaging with questions about ‘the social.’ But that’s not the reality.

Given that the communities on which education has an impact are anything but homogenous, we are left with the task of exploring how e-learning can bridge that gap, how it can be used as tool for social inclusion, bringing together people from different walks of life and creating accessibility to education.

I would propose that we centre interpretative communities at the heart of e-learning. On this notion, community is personified as ‘education-makers’, which I would define as those leading the charge to develop learning materials that are malleable enough to meet the needs of diverse learners and at the same time sturdy enough to meet any test of quality assurance.

“Such a durable e-learning method can only be developed when an organisation understands how its community of learners functions”

Such a malleable/durable e-learning method can only be developed when an organisation understands how its community of learners functions. That this central question depends on a strong conception of community suggests that e-learning’s nature is rooted in the interpretative community.

But how integrated or fragmented is this community? Who is included in the community and who is excluded from it? Does the composition of the community shape the way it interprets the learning process?

One issue is that traditional modes of education are often not interested in directly answering these questions. While some schools – particularly charter schools and those designed for exceptionally-gifted students – understand education as an interpretative practice, questions as to who engages in that practice do not, on the whole, seem to affect the practical way in which those institutions deliver instruction. E-learning is different. It’s about creating tools that simultaneously engage the learner and challenge their ways of thinking.

E-learning serves a vast array of people within a given heterogeneous society. There is, of course, a difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ e-learning.

The approach to content that focuses on the creation of short and intensive learning segments is often what works best. The philosophy behind this is to provide the most efficient dissemination of information to the learner using digital media. The aim is to create a robust and easily scalable solution to link a range of learning segments together for the purpose of creating a coherent syllabus structure for a variety of subjects.

The structural advantage is that each piece of content can serve as a stand-alone learning segment, but more importantly, can be combined with other pieces of content in order to form a wider delivery structure composing sessions, units, modules, or even entire academic programmes.

This in turn allows for a scalable increase or binding of content, as a wide range of educational topics can be covered utilising a consistent delivery mechanism. That creates structure in the mind of the learner and ticks a number of boxes for different kinds of learners.

Good e-learning is inclusive: you can make use of it whether you’re running a corporation or looking after children, whether you have advanced education or just want access to something more mobile.