Often, eLearning professionals believe that they have been working on the latest educational technology. They are confident of their best practice knowledge in andragogical design, feeling they have completed their research on the content and the learner analysis. In short, they feel they are ready to serve the learners through their eLearning programs. Unfortunately, in many instances, this is not the case at all.
The truth is that, as an eLearning professional, you may be missing out on research that demonstrates a gap between the growing research base for eLearning and the policy-making for educational and training institutions – the theory and practice gap.
Without the gap, these policies would have dictated (as reflected by research) the strategies for course design and course facilitator development.
Now, where does this information leave us? What can we do, as individual eLearning professionals, to minimize the gap between research and policy-making for best practices?
Let’s find out!
Laurillard. D, the pioneer behind several educational technology adoption frameworks, declared how trainers and educators in general “have too little help in addressing the issue at the heart of our educational problems: how to identify and provide what it takes to learn”.
With this broad statement, we can safely assume that a gap in theory and practice exists and is prevalent.
The research centers of higher educational institutions and training centers focus and reward more for research than practice. The main culprit behind this negative trend is the lack of time to develop and apply research findings to practice.
The question is, how to bridge the theory and practice gap in eLearning?
Being aware of the problem is without doubt the first step towards the solution!
As an eLearning professional, with access to a plethora of educational technology tools and learning management systems, and years of development experience, you need to push your creativity up another notch.
This may seem like a tall order, but it is the fastest way to bridge this uncomfortable gap. The power and flexibility to design and create eLearning programs also offers us the opportunity to build upon our research and reflect it through how we practice it. Instead of waiting for application-related experiments conducted by eLearning specialists, try out your own implementations of the research you read.
eLearning is an evolving field. Instead of creating reusable templates of your previously successful eLearning solutions, you would need to innovate for the next course you create. Linking published research with your professional practice is a great way to solve this problem.
Think about language training courses. These courses have a proven history of distance learning provisions. Language learning courses are highly interactive. They utilize the latest eLearning capabilities and have a high number of enrollments. They offer both synchronous and asynchronous options for learning.
They also reinforce online writing and audio-based conferences. Plus, they use culture-based storylines and characters, and they cater to a very diverse eLearning population. In short, language courses have been utilizing eLearning to full throttle!
For these reasons, language courses offer perfect grounds for “action research” and “exploratory practice”. This strategy involves understanding a situation before the problem is solved. It ensures that there is a reciprocal relationship between theory and practice.
The key is to encourage eLearning practitioner research.
Furthermore, as an eLearning professional you need to conduct your own experiments and your own research on linking published research and practice. Talk to your organization for support in your efforts to create a positive momentum towards minimizing the theory and practice gap.
The challenge here is to harness the expertise of the individuals behind the extant research and use it to propel an eLearning research culture within an organization.
This is not limited to the language courses only, of course. Rather, multiple disciplines need to adopt this approach. Generate a powerful link between eLearning research communities and eLearning practitioner communities. Collaboration between these two communities is essential to merge theory and practice.
Also you need to remember that, as with any research in any discipline, the eLearning research field invariably poses a multitude of practicing hurdles.
This is regardless of how easy or simple the theory sounds on paper! Even researchers who teach and train find it quite challenging to implement their own frameworks. Testing the applicability of the research is the main task here. The goal is to pursue research theories and tie them closely with the unique needs of the eLearning practitioner.
You need to realize that published research is based on discovering the “solution” and not on “how to use the solution”. In short, the research that you maybe currently reading is addressing the concern of the researcher more than your own as an eLearning practitioner.
In the professional knowledge-building practice, eLearning, more than any other field, blurs the gaps between “researcher”, “practitioner”, “evaluator” and “facilitator”. The relationship between each of these elements needs to be reviewed again if eLearning research is to inform eLearning practice.
By collaborating effectively with researchers, the practitioners can become co-constructors of eLearning programs and and work in unison to brigde the theory and practice gap.
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