Not all innovation is created equal

A few things lately have got me thinking, once again, about what innovation means, particularly in the area of online learning.

The Covid crisis has brought a lot of this to the fore, for example the list below are just two things which have been day-to-day activities for me (and many others) for over a decade (or more) but are genuinely new for others:

  • Training companies and education institutions moving their operations to online (be it virtual classroom, webinar, async, LMS/VLE, etc.)
  • Primary collaboration between colleagues taking place online, rather than face-to-face, via VOIP, Teams, ESNs, etc.

These changes will be seen as transformational for some organisations, and not for others. This will have the knock-on effects that digital transformation has, for a while, promised – unfortunately including job losses. Leading to a spate of memes on that theme:

Just one example playing on the theme/meme.

The recent MoodleMoot global conference helped highlight this to me – here we had a tool (Moodle) that critics (myself included in the past) would describe as struggling to move past its c.2003 functionality and user interface. However, many presenters were focused on their personal success of switching to online (I personally really find the “pivot” phrase odd/annoying) or offering tips for ‘newbies’ in this area. This brings to mind the often used quote:

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

William Gibson

The challenge here is not just that digital transformation will naturally mean different things to different people also that a “webinar” will mean different things depending on the organising body, presenter, purpose, etc.

This confuses the picture, as picked up recently by Jane Hart in a tweet poll over what “e-learning” may (or may not) mean today:

Personally, I would say eLearning has become synonymous with “click next” slide-style content. The result being that “online” learning became the norm and then “digital” to capture changes for learning via mobile, VR, etc. However, whilst the differences remain, and old conversations (e.g. what is e-learning? is the VLE dead? etc.) continue, it is increasingly difficult to see where real innovation in the learning sector is given many orgs are now having “transformational pivots”.

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