Letter to the Editor
It is widely acceptable that innovation in education means using new types of computers and faster Internet access, or learning the latest upgrade of spreadsheet software. But the one who starts to speak about changes in educational process itself and in organization of schooling, speak sometimes about big changes, s/he is not called an innovator any more, but a child requiring great care. This seems to be the reality and we have to be happy with that. Educational system is (and must be) a conservative one - measure nine times before you cut. A force of gravity does not let you jump high. You will fall back to earth people say it's all right, because if there's no gravitational force we'll blast off into the space. ... But the very positive point here is that some rockets still fly- those, which are designed well enough for that. Those ideas fly, which prove that innovation means better stability in society changed by information overload and technology.
Online education today means something alternative; a promising alternative though. During the next few decades there will be a mainstream approach in lifelong learning process. Big and qualitative changes will take place in education in these days. Big ideas are waiting to be handled; therefore it is the right time to begin coordinating activities for developing online learning.
Just some ideas what seems to be important for this Online initiative.
---1. 'Online learning' rather then 'distance learning'. If today 'Online learning' seems to be one sub category of 'distance learning', then soon things will change. Online learning may happen also locally. And after rethinking roles of a learner- teacher in learning process we will rename perhaps 'distance learning' into collaborative learning'. Physical distances are not that important anymore for specially pointing them out.
---2. Lifelong learning. Learning starts much earlier and ends the moment we die. Also official schooling, if we want to be competitive, will finish not long before our retirement. So it is not perhaps good to separate various stages of learning (kindergarten, K/12, university etc.). So stepping from one schooling level to another will not be a jump but a fluent and natural process for a learner.
---3. International aspect. An Online educator in Israel knows what's happening in Online learning in Israel and in US. Australian educators know about learning in Australia and in US. The same applies to me in Estonia- I know what's happening here and also in America. But it would be nice to hear more about Israel, Australian and Japanese expertise. And maybe this is interesting to American educators, too. Bringing together and combining diverse educators is far not an easy task, but if we succeed, we could get a pretty good synthesis. There's nothing new in the world and for successful online learning not only technology is needed, but also a solid educational and organizational basis from where to.
---4. Merging tendencies. So called classical sciences 'research' and 'operational' level are different and there may be quite a lot of time before the research results will 'go public' (e.g. you can't just release new kind of medicine without controlling carefully all consequences.) Information technology and fields tightly connected with it are different. These levels have merged. What is being in research in the morning is in operation in the evening. And if you are not quick enough with putting your research into practice, your work may be based on operational level of yesterday. Like to repeat the motto of the Media Lab at MIT: "Demo or die!" This concerns also organizational and educational aspects of online learning
---5. 'Start small' and equity issues. We can create a big organization helping people to access Online resources and take care all those resources and services are made freely available by grant money. But there's also a freedom to emphasize developmental work and design and use new learning models. Pretend it being an organization (or whatever organizational cover) where people around the world develop their ideas and work collaboratively. All are equal and get what they really do. This last aspect is very important from an International perspective, with countries where living standards are lower. It's OK if you haven't money- you can offer your ideas or work which have concrete results. Equity issues are important, but if the goal is developmental work and getting most of innovative ideas and research, then we have to ask one question.. and answer it not in the most popular way. The question sounds: what is the main message for the target groups in the third world from those who speak primarily about equity problems? Answer: there is some free money available. This kind of an opportunity is of course noticed pretty widely, also by those organizations whose names carry hi-tech words like 'technology' and who spend majority of their useful energy for getting various grants. They have enough time to meet "equity missionaries" in the airport and make contacts. Another question is: how smart are they in doing the job, which is set to be a goal?
In case of the developmental line, useful work at first and then, later also resources, there will not be much glamour and rapid growth in membership numbers. But this approach creates conditions which allow us to hear a silent voice of those doers who work with innovative ideas and have not time and also interest in competing with 'big nonprofit sharks' on nonprofit funding market. And Online learning can get quit a lot of developing power. We may say whatever about current economical situation in Eastern Europe, Baltic States and other former USSR republics, but never forget that its technology level competed for a long time with USA and other developed countries. And after outliving a wave of independence and successful democratization processes, several parts have started rapid development. Just because of education, the basics, have not gone anywhere. Potential is still there.
So finally.... If you have discussion going supporting more or less the same vision, please count me in. Will do my best to add Estonian (Eastern European) accent into efforts push learning towards the needs of Information Age.