Today over on Facebook a former TAFE colleague, Kate Wise, wrote:
"Thinking of our virtual learning Michael. Did it ever take off? Missed those wonderful sessions with the rest of the world.
Did virtual learning ever take off?"
It certainly did. Virtual learning can mean different things but Kate is referring to those international events hosted by the Australian vocational education and training (VET) sector where scores of people, and sometimes hundreds, joined live virtual classroom (webinar) sessions from across the world to discuss educational issues. They were enormously popular and most everyone who joined those sessions would testify to their effectiveness. The model worked brilliantly for professional development.
I always found it frustrating that the same model never really worked for classroom delivery in the VET sector. It got some traction in higher education, but even there the predominant model turned out to be the one way non-collaborative lecture style webinar offered by tools like Echo 360.
It seems that there were too many hurdles and ideological leaps for the average teacher to teach their classes this way. What’s interesting is that the corporate word adopted this model with gusto and today virtual meetings for companies with a distributed workforce is commonplace.
Virtual learning is also used as a synonym for online learning. Online learning is everywhere these days, but the model that has been widely adopted is essentially the set and forget model that offers little real interaction and almost no real time virtual sessions. Many people who were employed as e- or online learning specialists in professional development (ie people like me) have been discarded and deemed unnecessary. The prevailing model is still static content plus quizzes. It was decided that nothing more was necessary.
So people like myself who were encouraging a richer form of elearning that emphasised collaborative approaches with a synchronous real time component are left bemused that we spent so much of our professional lives promoting a model we knew was powerful and effective but in the end was deemed superfluous. It still sits uneasily with me. It feels sometimes as if I wasted my time; that my belief in this richer model was misguided and naïve. But I’m left with the memory, like Kate, that some remarkable and deep learning occurred in those virtual sessions sponsored by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. But we failed to in our quest to have that model become part of standard delivery.