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Pitfalls of online learning (a personal story)

January 24, 2011

I live in a semi-rural island on the west coast of Canada.  We have a lot of tall trees here in BC.  One of them fell over on my property during a snow storm last week.  This was wet, wet, snow and the weight of it must have forced this fir tree to snap.  It took out a small section of our deer fence (fence to keep the deer out of the yard, or they eat everything in sight).  This was a problem and I thought I should get someone to come and clean it up for me.  My husband was away and I decided to wait until he came home on the weekend and get him to deal with it.  My hard drive also just died and I was more concerned about that in all honesty!  The tree already fell, so crisis was over, right?

You are probably wondering what this has to do with online learning.  Stay with me, it’s coming in the next paragraph.

My husband rents a chainsaw and we proceed to buck up the portion of the tree that is on the ground.  It was bigger and heavier than I thought.  We begin discussing the remaining tree “stump” which is standing – do we leave it, attempt to bring it down or call in a professional?  I said, “well, it’s better if we bring it down, then let the rest of it come down in the next storm.”  We decide to do it ourselves (cue music of impending doom).  Having never done this before, we asked: “where does one turn to learn about felling a tree?”.  Why, YouTube of course!  After he watches several videos, my husband feels pretty confident that he can take this tree down and begins making the notch on one side and then powered up the chainsaw for the other side.  All laws of physics meant this remaining tree “stump” (at least 20 ft tall) should fall away from the fence and the house.

Can you guess what happened next ?

Yep, tree did not fall the way it was supposed to, fence demolished, porch roof damaged and the dog kennel may be “re-purposed”.  Could have been worse.  If it was another few feet taller, it would have gone through the bedroom window/wall and we would really have been hanging our heads in shame.

Some things you just can’t learn from books and videos.  Apparently felling a tree is one of them.

I’m wondering how this experience relates to one of the courses that I’m developing.  It contains a lot of facilitation exercises, which I’m worrying about.  It is hard to emulate this in a self-paced e-learning format.  And, even video doesn’t mean we’ll get it right.   Does it?

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