Vol. 15 : No. 4
Editors Note: Dr. Masie has raised a profound issue - the ability of computers to record and store data that may penalize students for errors made in the process of learning. This means that trial and error learning can be hazardous to your future career. Commonsense says the outcome or end result is what is important and that exploration, experimentation and the opportunity to learn from our mistakes should not be part of the record. We are indebted to TechLearn Trends for permission to reprint this material here.
Should e-Learning Be Private?
The Case for Digital Evaporation!
Is all e-Learning "on the record"? Does every question posed by a learner become part of the corporate record and available to the manager of student and lawyers in case of litigation? Do the practice components of an e-Learning course, including intermediate failures in a simulation, become part of a student's "permanent record card"?
I would like to make the case for selective "Digital Evaporation!" This is a zone of safety where learners can ask questions, have dialogues and practice without a digital record being created. This is a zone of privacy that acknowledges that learning is a process that occurs best when risks can be taken, where trainers can speak "off the record" and where the words and messages evaporate.
We are raising this issue due to the default activity of creating and archiving digital records of digital experiences, including e-Learning processes. As Learning Management Systems become more prevalent, let us raise a curious voice to ask if all learning information should be stored and "managed" and what elements should just "evaporate."
There are public policy, corporate policy and ethical issues at stake as well as human behavior patterns. Perhaps two short stories will illustrate our concern.
1) Last year, I had the privilege of taking a tour of U.S. military installations and look at training and learning processes. While on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, I spent an hour with a Navy pilot who had recently flown a dozen missions in Bosnia. I asked him how he had learned to become an excellent pilot. Without a pause, he said: "My most powerful learning's happened when I crashed my plane in the simulator. When I can fail and then look at my failure, in that safe environment, I am in the full learning zone!" I asked him if his simulation crashes were part of his Navy record. He said, "No! The Navy lets us use the simulator to understand the limits of equipment and our skills. As long as we eventually pass the qualification tests, the intermediate test results "evaporate".
2) Recently I visited two major pharmaceutical companies and dialogued about the impact of privacy in a regulated environment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews and approves all training materials used to prepare their sales reps to visit doctors and hospitals. This review keeps the training in alignment with the approved uses of their products. Both companies raised the issue of what happens as e-Learning is added to the instructional process. Do they keep and submit questions from learners to the government for approval? What happens when a student asks a question ... does the on-line answer of the trainer become part of the company's archives? Do they submit the tapes of all virtual classroom discussions to opposing legal teams in case of litigation?
I would argue that in both situations there is a role of Digital Evaporation. Pilots should have the opportunity to use a simulator to improve their skills, without losing a future promotion because they had one more intermediate failure during a session in a simulator. Likewise, why should we pressure a regulated company to keep and submit eLearning student/instructor dialogues when we don't have that expectation in a traditional classroom? Learners can ask risky or stupid or even politically incorrect questions in a safe classroom and we trust the competency of the instructor to keep the company in the ethical and legal zone.
If we make every dialogue
and learning experience a part of the corporate record, we risk losing
the environmental factor that cultivates learning: TRUST.
So, how can we balance organizational needs to monitor learning with the need to create an environment where mistakes and honesty can happen without consequence as part of the learning process. I would be very interested in your comments and ideas. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will include them in a future TechLearn TRENDS.
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