Labelling Learning – Is There a Need?

SCoR logo high resMost professionals are on board with the importance of CPD – but does it matter how and where we’re learning? Louise Coleman, Therapeutic Radiographer and Education and Accreditation Officer at the Society and College of Radiographers, discusses modes of learning and why the outcome is always more important than the method of input.

Louise Colemane-Learning is a term that was first used in 1999 at a conference in Los Angeles, according to Wikipedia.  The popular meaning is that it’s any learning using something electronic as the primary mode of delivery.  A decade ago this would mean a desktop computer or laptop.  Then, along came the mobile revolution.

Smart phones and mobile devices became de rigour and e-Learning on a phone or tablet meant we didn’t have to be tethered to a power plug, not unless the device was very power hungry.  A new term was introduced, m-Learning, meaning mobile learning.  So, how did m-Learning differ from e-Learning?  And anyway, a paper book is mobile so isn’t that mobile learning?  Or, should we call learning with print p-Learning? And what about learning at a distance, the trendy d-Learning of the 1990s?  Terminological complications and questions were beginning to arise.

As human beings we have a need to constantly label things.  Why?  Maybe to mark them as similar or different to other things.  Maybe to give them perceived importance.  A plain old “phone” wasn’t good enough for Steve Jobs, he wanted to show the iPhone was different from every other phone.  Why should plain old “learning” be good enough for us?  E-Learning is important and different too… isn’t it?

It’s always been my belief that the technology should support the learning, not dictate it.  Personally, I love technology.  I get the jitters if I’m too far from an internet browser, frustrated if I’m not being able to find out something instantly.  A slow internet connection on a train or in a hotel is my idea of hell!  I want to be able to record my thoughts and reflections on my mobile phone in a crowded train, on my tablet in bed at night, on my desktop PC and laptops when I’m at work or waiting on the coffee to brew in the kitchen.  Furthermore, I want to be able to access my thoughts and ravings on each and every one of those devices without having to manually synchronise, copy and paste or remember to take my USB stick with me.  I’m a typical nomadic worker so the e- and m- compartments of learning work for me.

Not everyone is like me, or even needs to be like me.  If you’ve access to a quiet library or reading room at work then great, use it.  It’s a brilliant resource.  If you prefer to print an online article rather than read it on a screen, then go for it.  There’s nothing quite as satisfying as highlighting a really interesting passage with a bright, fresh, ink, highlighter pen.  If you prefer to learn socially with a group of people (s-Learning) then that’s just as valid as learning on your own in front of a monitor.  You can meet your own learning outcomes just as easily.  Electronic, mobile, paper and even social learning are all just as valid and important.

The only caveat I’d like to put on this is, don’t dismiss other modes of learning just because you prefer pen and ink, or drawing a mind map, or discussing with colleagues.  It’s good to learn using different mediums.  Social learners should try sitting quietly on their own with a book, notepad and pen.  Similarly, those who love searching and researching on the internet should always remember colleagues may be just as good a resource – a conversation can give as relevant information as Google.

It’s good to learn outside our comfort zones.  A bit of role play can be a valuable learning experience (!) and Facebook and Twitter aren’t all bad if you subscribe to and follow relevant and useful pages, groups and tweeters.  You might even get to love the flipchart paper and dried up pens which are essential elements of any active learning seminar.

I don’t like the term e-Learning, or m-Learning, or even p-learning or s-learning, but I love the idea of being able to learn on the move, where ever I am, in whatever small chunk of time I have available.  I want to be able to read a book on the bus, create a mind map on the train and improve my presentations skills by watching others at a conference.  I want my learning to be just as valid by having a conversation with a colleague as it is taking data protection self-test on my main PC.  I don’t feel the need to categorise my learning into e-, m- or even bus- and train-Learning.

The mode of delivery and the location where the learning takes place is not important.  If I had my way we’d concentrate on the learning and forget all about the lowercase prefix completely.  The outcome of the learning is more important than the method of input.

I do a lot of learning on the move and have recorded my reflections as I go.  What’s the strangest place you’ve recorded your learning?  Top of a volcano anyone?

Louise Coleman, Therapeutic Radiographer and Education and Accreditation Officer at the Society and College of Radiographers

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