Thoughts on e-learning; how the internet changed us

School sites are polarising. You either love them or you hate them. Some are meticulously designed, others are abysmal masturbatory exercises of the Uni’s ego.

This is true of any educational website or theme. From universities to private english-as-a-second-language schools, most fail to avoid the classic pitfalls of web design, or even good content writing.

This is bad for a number of reasons, the worst of which is the fact that bad user experiences drive people away. No one inherently *wants* to visit an ageing website that’s designed badly and hides vital info. We all brave it for the sake of bravery… and grades.

The hassle of seeking out information – may it be specific or general – is still not alleviated even today, when there are children born with mobile phones in their hands. Touch screens before picture books; their first instinct is to grab slabs of heartless, soulless glass. They navigate user interfaces with breeze even though they cannot even read yet. They open up YouTube and watch the latest rendition of Peppa Pig, the feminist cartoon.

And yet, fielding education sites still prevails as the equivalent of trying to climb Mt. Everest. Why is this so?

Sometimes even the act of handling educational websites can be a downright chore. A nightmare at best. Yes, best. The hellish journey of administering a school site largely depends on the school’s current website, leadership, IT department (which is a gamble every time since fickle programmers often debate trivialities when the web is concerned, focusing on the technicalities instead of the content and experience), and so much more.

It’s a hazardous cocktail of tears, hurt feelings, bruised egos, and endless 3am jobs of updating the website with test results – that were supposed to be published by midnight but yeah, the Drupal installation was from 2004 and you accidentally used up all of the server space so the site crashed, causing a domino effect that crashed not only your hopes of getting enough sleep, but also your dog’s hope of being walked in the morning. I guess we’ll just tell the poor hound it’s raining again.

This needs to stop.

A good, well-built site by your local programmers is not good or well-built at all. It’s a project that has an expiry date, and will begin to fade the second your engineers leave it. What’s worse, should you run into any trouble. they won’t be able to nor would they be willing to, help you out. The trick with these “projects” where you hire an outsider to built a content management system from scratch is that they will truly do so – and charge a hefty sum for their “custom” management system.

The great lie we tell ourselves is that custom systems are better, faster, leaner… when in actuality they are not.

Custom systems are just that – custom. They require custom support: only the person that built it knows how to remove bugs from it. And when you find a bug 4 months later, guess what will happen? Either nothing, or the programmer will charge you even more for just fixing a random bug. Either way you’re royally screwed. There’s something so sublime in calling the same programmer over and over again, hoping they’ll pick up. It’s an almost religious experience where you’;re left with no choice but to believe in something that you have no way of confirming it exists: support. Support for issues of any kind.

What’s even worse, the programmer might just jump ship after a certain point, leaving you with a spaghetti code disaster, a custom build of something they made using kind-of-open source code that they failed to open source themselves. Who are you going to call when something runs afoul then? The programmer that quit?

You could call yourself a professional and say you’d never hire someone who would bail on you like that. But then again I’d call you pretty naive. People, including engineers, are fickle beings.

That’s why you should consider switching to WordPress.

WP is great. It’s easy to maintain, it’s built by people for people, so it’s easy to use, too. But what exactly is it? It’s a content management system… just like your custom system that your school uses. Only, you know, not as custom and not as proprietary.

The trick with WP is that it’s free and open source. That means constant updates, because there’s bunch of people around the world working hard all the time in an effort to squash bugs and improve the system itself.