I enjoyed this presentation from George Siemens, Athabasca University, on teaching and learning in decentralized spaces. I have heard similar arguments before and concur generally. There seems to be a juxtaposition between how students learn online in social, disaggregated spaces, and how institutions provide environments for learnings (Blackboard, WebCT) that do not always mirror this disaggregation.
Online learning depends on rapid associations, connections, making meaning from seemingly unrelated items. As teachers, we often can’t (nor should we) force the connections down a proscribed path (often disciplinary), but should we provide structure? And what should that structure look like? It all depends on context, what learning should look like. What are the learning outcomes and are those outcomes aligned with learning activities? And is all of this structure designed for the learning experiences of the learner or the convenience and predictability afforded the teacher?
Universities (any teaching institution, really) should explore this learning process online as it represents an opportunity to continue to add value to the learning equation. Trying to comport elearning to existing notions of academic ‘space’ (appropriate learning spaces) will only ramp up the migration of learners from traditional academic institutions to profit-oriented institutions (no judgment here; nothing wrong with them). The Oxfords, Cambridges, Princetons, Harvards can afford that migration (brand value certainly still has its draw), but nondescript universities (those drawing strictly regionally, offering every major under the sun, excelling in none, but merely accredited in most) will be slowly starved.
Either way, good for thought from a solid thinker in this field.
I actually briefly met Siemens in Accra, Ghana at an eLearning Africa Conference and enjoyed his presentation then. Really had me thinking outside my little box a bit on what education really is as opposed to how we merely choose to define it.
On a slightly related note, I think Slideshare is one of the more underappreciated social utilities for teachers and learners. Very productive tool.