I have been dipping in and out of the book Finding Your Online Voice: Stories Told by Experienced Online Educators in recent weeks. It is a compilation of chapters edited by J Michael Spector, a research professor from the Learning and Performance Support Laboratory at the University of Georgia. It has made for interesting reading. As an educator who has worked in online distance environments for the past ten years, there were many points which adequately represented my research and experience as well as providing further food for thought. The foreword was written by Donald P Ely and contained one recurring phrase which set the tone for the rest of the book: the most important number is one.
The most important number is one
Why is this such a big concept? Who is this ‘one’? Ely is referring to early efforts to teach via distance learning programs. His 1970 paper of the same name was a reaction against initiatives which required the greatest good for the greatest number. Where did this leave the individual learner who might not fit the generic mould of the greatest number? In time, this thinking evolved into the best for each. But what does this actually look like? Individual learning programs peculiar to the circumstances of individual students? A generic program tailored to meet individual needs? A new program developed independently and in isolation with the individual in mind? Or something else?
As our collective thinking and understanding about personalised learning has evolved, it is obvious that e-learning, now more than ever, offers new and creative approaches to allow authentic personalised learning to happen. No longer does personalised learning need to be synonymous with individualised or isolated learners working independently. Truly collaborative learning opportunities within an authentic, meaningful context can be designed with both individual and group needs in mind. Well-designed open and distance learning activities can facilitate personalised learning while capitalising on the benefits of collaboration, sharing and group capability building. And still, the most important number is one.