Keynote: Is Online Education Dead? Or Just Dying?

Snippets from my Keynote at 2023 ITC eLearning

Fake movie poster about the Keynote topic: Is Online Education Dead?

On Monday, February 13, I kicked off the 2023 eLearning conference for the Instructional Technology Council (ITC) at the Horseshoe in Las Vegas. The title of the session was:

Is Online Education Dead? Or Just Dying?

Description: You Google your online course instructor to learn that he’s been dead for over a year. Now what? Remember how MOOCs were going to change the world? They didn’t. The video lecture is dead…long live the video lecture! Why is it that we’re still asking the same questions and giving the same answers about Online Education as we did 20 years ago? Radio may have killed the video star, but it took Zoom to kill online education.

Writing your own obituary can be a fun and informative process. I know, I’ve done it! Let’s write the obit for Online Education, say a few words about how great it used to be, throw some dirt down the hole, and move on with our lives. It’ll be fun!

I started the session by reading my own obituary. I’ve been writing my obit off and on for the past year or two. I have it in a Google Doc, shared with my wife and daughter. My wife isn’t crazy about this idea, but my loving daughter guaranteed me that she will have my obit published as I have written it. She only has to fill in the date and the cause of death (maybe, that’ll be her call).

With tongue firmly in cheek, I’ve included over 15 euphemisms for dying. I like euphemisms, but I also am intrigued how people generally like to talk about death without saying that someone or something DIED. But they did. A person doesn’t “pass away,” they die!

Here’s the first paragraph:

On Someday, Month and Date, I reached my expiration date, gave up the ghost or maybe became one, was released from custody, discovered just how dead a doornail is, began to dissolve, exited stage left, croaked like a frog, bought the farm, kicked the bucket, and bit the dust. In other words, I died. Don’t say that I passed, because I didn’t. I failed.

Barry Dahl’s Obituary, paragraph 1

Skipping a couple paragraphs (can’t give away the whole thing just yet, don’t ya know?), it continues:

I was fortunate to travel to 26 different countries, but I’ve now reached my final destination. Besides traveling, I had several other favorite pursuits. I was an avid poker player, but I’ve now cashed in my chips. A lover of tennis, I lost a sudden-death tie-breaker at the end of a grueling five-set match. A wanna-be fisherman, I’m now sleeping with the fishes. An enthusiastic gardener, I’m now pushing up daisies. An aquarist most of my life, my tank turned cloudy and I went belly up. Rather than getting flushed like a common goldfish, I’ve requested to be composted. Dirt to dirt, instead of ashes to ashes.

Barry Dahl’s Obituary, paragraph 4

So yes, I spent nearly 3 minutes reading my obituary (note to self: at the top of my obituary, I should add “3 minute read” so people know what they’re in for). I most enjoy the obituaries similar to what is shown below, where the nickname of the person is put in quotation marks. One prominent use of quotation marks is to indicate words used ironically or with some reservation. In other words, they’re not true. Such as, Donald Trump espouses one “alternative fact” after another. So, if the obit says Robert “Bob” Nab, then I take that to mean that they are saying: Not Bob. Which is funny to me. YMMV. In my case, I want my obit to appear as shown below.

Three obituaries. Two for Robert "Bob" Somebody and one for Barry "Barry" Dahl.
BTW, the faces shown first and third above are computer-generated and are not real people. The names are real, but that’s it. And yes, that really is me in the middle, from back in the day.

Hey, it’s my obit, I should get it the way I want it.

Another BTW, my request to be composted did create a few puzzled looks. I explained that although legal in only a few states, I’m hoping it will be legal everywhere by the time I croak. If not, then ship my body to Colorado where it is legal. Wanna learn more about it? I highly recommend the Science VS. podcast titled: Should We Compost Human Bodies? (Spoiler: it’s a YES.)

Then it was time to start writing the obit for Online Education.

Headstone for Online Education, born 1984, died 2023.

We decided (okay, I decided) that we would call Online Ed by its new nickname, Bob. Not his nickname, its nickname. Think of it more like Bob who is out in the middle of the lake (bobbing up and down) and less like a person. No people died in this presentation, and there was no fun poked at the death of any person (except for yours truly, of course). Just Bob, aka Online Ed.

Before we continued with Bob’s obit, we talked about some ideas that are dead and some ideas that aren’t dead but should be. More about those in a later post. Same same with tools that are dead, especially web-based tools (formerly know as Web 2.0, but we decided that all things 2.0, 3.0 and similar are dead, with the exception of actual software versions).

We considered two versions of Bob’s obituary. The second one was slightly more popular than the first. Here it is:

And it came to pass that Online Education, aka Bob, was no more. It had gone to its rest and had taken its place among the greats that had come before it.

In its time, Bob was a shining light that shone brightly and brought knowledge to the masses. Its legacy was one of innovation and progress, and it will be remembered fondly by all who were touched by its presence.

Bob was a beacon of hope in a world that was often darkened by ignorance, and its passing has left a great void. But even as it rests, its spirit lives on, and its teachings will continue to inspire and guide future generations.

And so, let us celebrate the life of Bob, and give thanks for all that it has given to us. May it forever rest in peace, and may its memory be a blessing to us all.

Bob’s Obit, Version 2

These two versions were pretty lame (which is why I only printed one of them here). After reading them, I explained that they had been written by ChatGPT. The second version above was written in the style of the Old Testament (sort of, anyway).

To finish this post, I’ll give you the start of Bob’s obit that we wrote during the session as we finally got down to brass tacks (what does that mean?):

In February 2023, Online Education, aka e-Learning, aka “Bob,” died.

  • Bob was born in 1984 at the Electronic University Network (EUN).
  • Bob was born in 1985 at National Technological University.
  • Bob was born in 1986 at the University of Toronto.
  • Take your pick.*

Bob’s spirit is carried on by its wife (Face-to-Face), three children (Blended, HyFlex, and MOOC), four grandchildren (EdX, Udemy, Coursera, and Udacity) and an extended family of relations and friends from all walks of life.

Bob has been reunited with its mother (Correspondence School) and its father (Telecourses) in the Great Beyond. If you don’t believe that, you might want to enroll in our class about the Afterlife. It’s fully asynchronous.

We were blessed to learn many valuable lessons from Bob during his 39 years (could be 38, or maybe 37), among them:

  • best practices are almost never the best
  • it takes two or more humans to have an interaction, you can’t interact with an inanimate object
  • just because you CAN dump a lot of content into an online course, doesn’t mean you should
  • [fill in the blank] – audience participation ensued

* Turns out that there’s a fair amount of controversy about when online ed actually began. I’m referring to the first Internet-only college course that was offered and delivered. Not distance ed, not delivered by other means of technology, but the first fully-online course. Besides the three listed above, you’ll find others who also claim to have been FIRST!

More about Bob’s death later.

Meme from Lord of the Rings: One does not simply interact with an inanimate object