“’It’s not going to work. This is a case that is not going to work, because the owner doesn’t want to allow what you normally do with your kids . . . . The hardest part for me is that the father or mother chooses the dog instead of the son. That’s hard for me. I love dogs. I’m the dog whisperer. You follow what I’m saying? But I would never choose a dog over my son’“ (Cesar Millan quoted by Gladwell p. 148 ).

Anyone who has watched the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, in action may have the misunderstanding that it’s all about the dog, his perspective, and his needs. Yet, Millan would tell you it’s not dog over human or human over dog; it’s about the interaction and relationship between the two.

When I read the above passage in Malcolm Gladwell’s recent compilation of his New Yorker articles in What the Dog Saw, it reminded me of the reaction some educators have to learner-centered learning. They think it means giving all the preference to the learners, without boundaries.

Those of us training experienced instructors who are new to, and nervous about, online delivery would do well to remember that learner-centered isn’t a shift of power but a shift of perspective.



My final project video for The World is Open course is based on the quote:

“With the enormous and intellectually enticing Web of Learning, anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime.” – Dr. Curtis Bonk


The Dunes and Deltak

March 24, 2010

Last week was Spring Break. Other than visiting the Lake Michigan dunes for an exhilarating climb out onto the ice flows, the highlight was visiting Deltak in Chicago. I met a representative from there at the job fair at the IST Conference who had invited me to come visit sometime, so I did.

Deltak’s stated mission is: “Deltak is focused on extending the mission, programs and reach of our academic partners to a broader geographic and diverse population of learners. Leveraging our experience, knowledge, and capabilities we connect learners seeking online degree programs with prominent institutions that possess a reputation for academic integrity and rigor.”

When I first started researching online learning in 2000 and saw how poorly some programs were being done I thought, “I’d really enjoy partnering with institutions to help them develop quality online degree programs.” Sounds very much like that’s what Deltak does. Interesting . . .


I’ve been reading a lot of material on elearning and blended (combination of face-to-face and online components) learning. It seems to me that perhaps it’s not so much about the use of the media itself for learning, but that the media avenues (such as the Internet) offer opportunities for learner-centered pedagogy outside of the traditional, entrenched, and (primarily) immovable systems.

What the Studies Say:

The report Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U. S. Department of Education (2009) found that online courses were more effective than face-to-face ones but stated that “An important issue to keep in mind in reviewing these findings is that many studies did not attempt to equate (a) all the curriculum materials, (b) aspects of pedagogy and (c) learning time in the treatment and control conditions. Indeed, some authors asserted that it would be impossible to have done so. Hence, the observed advantage for online learning in general, and blended learning conditions in particular, is not necessarily rooted in the media used per se and may reflect differences in content, pedagogy and learning time” (p. xv).

The same report later states, “Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection. Studies indicate that manipulations that trigger learner activity or learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding are effective when students pursue online learning as individuals” (p. xvi) and “In many of the studies showing an advantage for online learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages” (p. xvii).

Who will Provide Learner-Driven Opportunities?

Businesses are starting to fill-in the gaps for learner-driven, online courses that traditional schools seem mostly unwilling to provide. In a report by Project Tomorrow and Blackboard (2009), they reference Clayton Christensen who “makes a bold prediction in Disrupting Class, a national bestseller on the future of education, that 50% of all high school classes will be delivered online by 2019. Christensen argues that online learning will provide students the educational opportunities they seek, and by meeting that demand, will disrupt the current educational system.”

The same report noted that “Speak Up teachers who had taught an online class were much more likely to respond that they had encouraged students to be more self-directed (67%), facilitated collaboration between students (48%), and facilitated student-centered learning (47%)” (p. 5).

So it seems that students’ desires are for education that is “self-directed, collaborative, and student-centered,” and if they can’t find it through the traditional systems, they will go elsewhere to find it.


Barbara Means, Yukie Toyama, Robert Murphy, Marianne Bakia, & Karla Jones (2009). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U. S. Department of Education. http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf

Project Tomorrow and Blackboard Inc (2009, June 30). Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update. http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/learning21Report_2009_Update.html

Usborne Book Revelation

This week we’ve studied ebooks in class which took me back to the first time I saw an Usborne book. These children’s educational books with an emphasis on reference material were a true innovation for the time. Theme based rather than organized in a linear fashion as most reference books are, they come to life with intense graphics, side bars, games, and activity ideas. A reader can turn to any page and read any block of text on that page and learn something without having to have first read an introduction or followed a linear path of knowledge chunks.

I’m sure some found them to be too chaotic for children and thought them distracting, but looking back at them today, it strikes me how much they are designed like a webpage. Little blocks of information that the reader chooses which ones to attend to and in what order.

Ebooks, Etexts, and iPad Launch

We had a lot of class discussion about the validity and usability of ebooks and ereaders such as the Kindle and just launched this week Apple iPad (which is much more than an ereader – think of it as a really big iPhone) as well as using etextbooks for students. All that made me wonder why we try to reproduce the old format with the new.

  • Why should an ebook be linear and have pages that “turn”?
  • Why can’t we take some of the advantages of technology and rethink what a textbook (or any book for that matter) is?
  • Why can’t there be little blocks of information?
  • Why can’t they be more like a wikipage with internal links to things of interest like a character study of major characters?
  • Why can’t there be sound files imbedded to help high school students learn new terms in their biology text or Shakespeare play?
  • Why not short video clips for reinforcement of material or to present an experiment or historic study?
  • Why can’t they be learner-focused instead of publisher convenient?

Elearning Effectiveness

All this reminded me of how when we homeschooled some families would set up a room with a teacher’s desk and student desks for their 2 or 3 kids; I was always baffled by why someone would want to physically replicate the very institution which they had essentially rejected. One mom of a single child once bought educational overheads and a projector! You don’t need a projector when you can sit next to the child and share a page of information. It was very much about having an understanding of what a “real” school was and did and thinking it needed simulated.

Likewise, many online learning classes in the early days (and sadly still today) only attain to imitate what can be done in a physical setting: lectures, orderly discussions, multiple-choice tests, and written research paper assignments. So much more is possible though! The online courses that take advantage of technology for resource sharing, collaboration, and learner choice are far more effective. In fact, a recent U.S. Department of Education systematic meta-analysis study of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. Considering this includes all those really badly done online courses is quite remarkable. Imagine if the courses that sought only to replicate the face-to-face environment were excluded out what the results might be!

Whether we’re talking about etextbooks, ebooks, or elearning, we need to think beyond replicating the past and create something better for the future.