Good uses for e-learning, part 1

Current debates about technology and education tend to focus on how to replace face-to-face teaching with technological solutions, so a lot of my work lately has been about getting people away from screens and talking face to face. But I've just had my first experience of successful online learning, so I thought by way of balance I should share that too.

I've been learning The Entertainer for the past couple of weeks - a personal mission of mine since the age of seven, since my piano teacher refused to teach it to me because it was "too difficult". (I quit the piano some weeks later and didn't play again until I was well into my twenties.)

I don't read sheet music, so I explored YouTube and discovered Shawn Cheek's how-to videos. And, surprisingly, after watching, playing a bit, watching again, practising and so on, it's helped me learn very quickly. If he was teaching me face to face it would have taken too long (and cost me a fortune), but this way I can watch him play it as many times as I want and learn at my own pace. For a change, learning online has worked better than having the pressure of a teacher sat next to me.

So, that's my first taste of when e-learning can be better than face-to-face: when I need someone to show me how to do something over and over again until I get it. I still need a teacher to look at what I'm doing and give me feedback though, so personal connection is still really important. But still, it explains the huge popularity how-to videos on the net these days.

One thing is odd though: now Shawn keeps 'friending' me on Facebook. It feels really weird. I've never met him or even spoken to him, but he's helped me learn. So what's our relationship now? I really don't know.

If e-learning works (for some things), then my next question is how does it affect, enrich, or replace our social relationships? And how can we take this into account when we build an education system for the coming century? Or design how social technology dovetails into our lives.