It seems to me that we get pretty carried away sometimes with what we loosely call 'content' and we forget about those all important tools that make the difference between the worldwide web as it was and Web 2.0 as it is. For those of you not in the know the real difference between the early days of the web, cloud or internet (yes, pretty much the same thing depending on how old/trendy you are) and the cloud we now know and love is the collaboration - or at least the ability to.
Once upon a time there existed something called the world wide web that we colloquially called the internet. It was a place of worship where we went to find all the answers to the universe. Where the smart people went and put information so the rest of us could go and get it. Nowadays that all seems pretty daft, who would want a cloud system where everything was one-way, where you couldn't leave an opinion, contribute or simply host your own site (not to mention prattle on in a blog like this)? But ironically enough it reminds me of the old-school methodology of education and training, in that the teacher was the god-like form and fountain of all knowledge with the students attending like a dial-up modem to get information from the all-knowing virtual Deity.
So the strange thing is we've come a long way haven't we? We now know that learning is not a one way (or even two-way) street but a multi-connection where everyone can contribute. Modern education features far more student-centric learning, we design 'pull' elearning rather than force-feeding hours of video (and if you don't please drop me a line) and in face to face classes we encourage interaction and group work so that learners can learn from each other. Great. So how come when I see elearning courses all the money, design and thought seems to go into the module type activity and so little seems channeled into the collaborative tools that define good learning, good teaching, good course design and ultimately good use of the web?
The daft thing is that good elearning design with more interaction between learners is as easy to achieve and less hard-work than single source of knowledge based learning. This is true of classroom based learning too if you think about it; back when I was a teacher (wow.. good memory) I loved getting the class to work together on tasks and dropping into that facilitator role. It's the same with elearning design; it's very difficult to design a course that is all things to all people, but by adding those collaborative tools you take the pressure off.
So what are these collaborative tools? They're really simple and most LMSs will have them; start with the single most important one; forums. Don't sigh, this may be the best weapon in your tool-kit to get learners actively working with each other. You just have to put a little thought in beyond the 'News' or 'General Discussion' to take it to the next level. Try posing questions that will draw a controversial discussion or question and answers forums where learners can not only ask the questions but respond and give the answers too - and then sit back and feel the weight lift :) I like tools as simple as voting, or using feedback tools in a way that shows the consensus of opinion and then use that as a starting discussion. If there's a tough part of the course, how about rather than trying to make a complex widget to do it you set up a synchronous session, a webinar or even a simple chat. Record it and attach a forum to answer questions from those not there or expansion on what was asked and answered.
Want to know more? In New Zealand we're running the eLearning Essentials Programme and the next webinar (13 Aug 13) is on Collaboration in elearning. Ira from the Kineo Pacific team will be going into details on these and more! If you want to subscribe to it go here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6685322419231894016 or pitch me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org