Promises and reality: file exchange as popular E-Learning technology

E-Learning promises a lot. And seemingly it can live up to its promises – contrary to many other "future topics" there is a lot of empirical research about what to do and what to avoid to make it work.

There is a rather wide range of possibilities to use E-Learning: Recorded Lectures for »flipping the classroom«, (self) assessment tests, digital workspaces and and and…

Recently I evaluated some interviews on the use of E-Learning technology in the teaching practice. It turned out that, despite of all the possibilities, E-Learning is mainly sharing files – and other tools and technologies were rarely used.
Nobody would doubt that sharing documents, links, code etc. can be an important part of teaching. But it seems surprising that all the neat other stuff is rarely used. It could probably improve learning and teaching in quality and efficiency to do si. So why is it not used? And why is the exchange of files that popular in contrast?
I don't have any well tested conclusions but some educated guesses, aahmm, theories.

1) Adaption (to E-Learning) is hard…

That there are good tools out there doe's not mean that they are used. How many of us have ever thought about changing something in our lifes and have been sticking with some "bad habit" nevertheless? And while stopping to smoke or doing more sports has clear benefits, the gains (and losses) of E-Learning are not that clear for the professors (who are experts in their field and no experts in E-Learning). And creating online-self-assesment test or recording a lecture and publishing it is new for most of the teaching staff.

2) …but if you can continue what you do anyway, it is far easier.

In contrast to many other ways to use technology for learning, exchanging files is already known. Not everybody uses the same way: Mails, USB-Sticks, Dropbox, the learning-management system’s  sharing function… This leads to several logins and possible chaos – but in contrast to many other possibilities to use technology for teaching, file exchange is actually used.
Exchanging files has another property that makes people adapt easily: They can use the applications they use know. No matter how you created the content – as long as you can create a file, you can share it.  So if they want to share information they can created the way they are used to. Or just use the files they have already created for other uses.

So in brief: In the use of technology for teaching, sharing files is more often used than other methods because it requires few effort to adapt to it since almost everybody does create files and shares them in some way it already.