Stories From Around the eLearning Fire


We often picture our primitive ancestors gathering around a fire to share stories. Amongst the tribe members, the seasoned imparted experience to those with less experience. Survival depended on it and so did the emotional well-being of the tribe.

This holds true today. Mitch Ditkoff (2015) points out that storytelling is one of the most effective ways to develop trust, shared vision, collaboration, clear communication, diversity of thought, commitment to learning, freedom of expression, and a sense of belonging—qualities important for Fortune 500 companies, small non-profits, or even softball teams.

A Story about eLearning

It’s hard for me to believe, but if there was a group of instructional designers (IDs) gathered around a fire sharing stories, I’d be one of those grey-haired, time-weathered elders.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

I was finishing my doctorate in educational technology in 1992 when The Electronic University Network offered a Ph.D. program via America Online (remember how prevalent AOL was in the 90s?). I became an assistant professor at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in 1994—the same year CalCampus introduced the first completely online curriculum. The very next year, Arizona was one of the 19 Western states whose governors founded the Western Governor’s University with the vision to help maximize educational resources through distance education. In 1996, I was part of a NAU faculty team who launched one of the first fully online master’s degrees in educational technology.

So, I am a weathered elder—a seasoned member of the eLearning story.

Exploring in the Early Days of eLearning

At the same time digital technologies unshackled creative spirits everywhere, online education created a new kind of learner. It was easy for me to get lured in and become blinded by the dazzling lights of digital glitz and ensorcelled by the Sirens of innovation.

Sure, my early online developments looked cool—but were the students actually learning?

I needed guidance, and I found it in constructivist learning theory. Constructivism gave me (and other IDs) an understanding that building community in the online environment is just as important as content. We developed a shared vision: it’s all about the learner.

We were a new breed of Instructional Designers!

But those early days were like living an oxymoron. Outsiders imagined online education as students sitting alone looking at computer screens. As the new breed of IDs, we created innovative learning environments with powerful digital content where learners collaboratively participated in a process of knowledge construction and learning.

Our Present eLearning Story

It’s been a long journey, but we have arrived. The eLearning pioneers successfully established eLearning in the landscape of education, and we stand on the experiences of those early settlers.

In the not-so-distant year of 2010, the number of online students grew to over 5.5 million. By 2013, online education achieved legitimacy—over 77% of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those found in face-to-face instruction. By 2020, it’s predicted that ninety-plus percent of college students will be taking at least one online course (Dumbauld, 2014).

What’s next?

The Future of eLearning

The future of eLearning lies in embracing a learning-ecosystem paradigm. We need to improve how we prepare today’s learners to sustain themselves as learning/knowing beings with the current approaches to education in the evolving world.

Over the last 20 years, technology has reorganized how we live and communicate—and how we learn. New terms like mobile learning, flipped classroom, gamification, AR, VR, open educational resources (OER), and others are becoming common. With all of this innovation, it’s no wonder we have to learn to communicate “What We Do” to our stakeholders.

In 2009, Siemens and Downs developed a theory for the digital age called connectivism which states that learning can reside outside the learner and knowing how to connect information sets is as important as our state of knowing.

The growth of human knowledge is changing—from a linear scale to exponential one. In 2013, it was estimated that human knowledge doubles every 13 months. And according to IBM, the build out of the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours (Schilling).

Talk about overwhelming.

We cope with this exponential growth by containing knowledge outside the learner, in places like dynamic databases or other specialized information sources. This might sound complex, but have you Googled anything recently?

As we prepare learners for the future we need to understand a significant part of personal knowledge will be knowing how to actively interact with these dynamic databases and social networks. But even more important will be their ability to analyze, evaluate, and create using these external sources (using those upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy).

The exponential growth of knowledge and complexity of society requires nonlinear models of learning. A learning-ecosystem begins by exploring how to integrate constructivism with connectivism. This will mean we need to evolve as instructional designers.

eLearning’s Adventure Story: An Opportunity for Exploration

It is time to advance the eLearning story again. We need to become pioneers; we need to dust off our Conestoga wagons and become an even newer breed of instructional designer.

Once we’ve designed the learning ecosystem of the future, we’ll share the story of our experience.

Where do you see yourself sitting around the fire in the eLearning story? Where should we go next? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

Tucker, Gary


Ditkoff, M. (2015, May 12). Why create a culture of storytelling [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Duke, B., Harper, G., & Johnston, M. (2013). Connectivism as a Digital Age learning theory. The International HETL Review, (Special issue), 4-13. Retrieved from

Dumbauld, B. (2014, July 11). A brief history of online learning [infographic] [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Schilling, D. R. (2013, April 19). Knowledge doubling every 12 months, soon to be every 12 hours. Industry Tap into News. Retrieved from


Author: Gary Tucker, Executive Director of eLearning

An early adopter in online education, Gary helped develop and deliver one of the first fully online Masters degrees in Educational Technology. Still an early adopter, he now depends on the expertise of his dynamic eLearning team. When off-the-clock, he reads and rides his bicycle.

3 thoughts on “Stories From Around the eLearning Fire”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: