What can the manifesto do?

It’s been a really rich few weeks of activity around the manifesto – thanks to those who have emailed, commented, blogged and remixed. There are some very exciting ideas and provocative challenges being put forward. We’ve already blogged a bit about why the manifesto is focused on teaching. Another matter that’s come up is the question of what the manifesto can “do” or accomplish. Justin Marquis’ great blog post yesterday raised this explicitly – “is this pop culture approach really what online learning needs to gain widespread public acceptance?”

making online learning cool?

This follows on from a mainstream news article that framed the manifesto as an attempt to make online learning “cool” (which we loved, by the way!). And it echoes many conversations that we had with our colleagues during the development of the document, when we discussed what its purpose was and who we were hoping to convince.

In short, we’re trying to contribute to a conversation about what a generative and exciting vision of online education should be. More and more online and distance programmes are being developed here at our university and around the world. In that sense, I’m not sure that we need to worry about widespread public acceptance. What worries me more is that some problematic assumptions seem to structure a lot of what is developed and promoted as “e-learning”. That’s why it’s been so great to see responses to the manifesto that are exploring some of those assumptions in detail. I’m not knocking pop culture or the meme at all – these are powerful genres for grabbing attention and making ideas accessible. But I’d be disappointed if it didn’t seem like the manifesto is a “good thing to think with” – that it’s open to detailed and critical responses. As Justin put it, it is “a sincere attempt to capture the essence of online education and explain it to the world in one easy to comprehend outpouring”. The extent to which the manifesto points are able to be unpacked and worked with – whether I agree with the interpretations or not – is the extent to which I’ll feel that attempt has succeeded.

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