TITLE : E-Learning Experiences
Contemporary Issues and Trends in Education III
Submitted by: John Vianey S. Trocio
Submitted to: Dr. Maria Theresa P. Pelones
In this age of rapid technological advances, one cannot help but come across the reality of E-learning. It is a whole new approach in education where the teaching and learning process is no longer confined to the four cozy corners of the classroom. Instead, the student is brought to a whole new perspective of things with the help of computer technology. As the world continues to spin frantically in the third millennium, more and more importance is being put in the use of the Internet and other technology-aided instruction. E-Learning is “the use of Internet and digital technologies to create experiences that educate fellow human beings” (Horton, 2001). E-Learning was born during the dot-com frenzy, and the term “e-Learning” was not well known until a few years ago. But now the term is common, especially in the University community. In 1999, more than 50 percent of US college students were planning to have Internet access from their dormitory rooms, and virtually all were planning to have access from campus locations. Today, more than 90 percent of students have accessed Internet, with 50 percent accessing Web daily, and nearly 40 percent of all college courses using Internet resources (OECD, 2001).
As a network technology, the Internet creates, fosters, delivers, and facilitates learning, anytime and anywhere. In distant modes of education, it provides connections to outside computers (Wheeler, 2003). Network technologies also make possible delivery of individualized, comprehensive, dynamic learning content in real time, aiding in the development of knowledge communities. By making them accountable and accessible, it links learners and practitioners with experts and enables people and organizations to keep apace with the rapid changes that define the Internet world. It is a force that gives people and organizations the competitive edge, permitting them to participate in the rapidly changing global economy (elearning.com, 2002). Clearly, the penetration of Internet in the post-secondary sector is significant.
A growing number of countries are focusing their capacities in investing in their human capital as a critical feature of their economic growth (Kamel 1999). Generation and transmission of knowledge is transforming through the availability of large-scale freely available information and online interaction. The role of the management teacher and developer is gradually altering from one of ensuring the accurate transmission of known information to one of enabling critical exploration and of generating new and relevant knowledge for the use of individuals, groups businesses and not-for-profit organizations.
Computers and telecommunications are having a huge impact on organizations and hence their managers. Managers are discovering new ways of collaborating with others, exploring new communities, inventing businesses, seeking resources, finding information and learning through interacting electronically on a huge scale. Changes in management learning and development therefore need to derive from these drivers. Challenges to traditional approaches to learning are rife (O'Donaghue, Jentz et al. 2000). We know that new modes of teaching and learning for managing at work are emerging, together with the need for rapid updating of skills and knowledge (Salmon 2000). Indeed, we could argue that the skills needed for managing and for learning are converging. They include the willingness to support others, to work in multi-skilled and remotely located teams, to handle information (rather than know everything) and become critical thinkers.
Most of us would agree that the advent of fourth generation learning delivery tools (Moore and Kearsley 1996) for use both on campus and at a distance, offer the potential for enhancing business and management education. There are increased opportunities for student: student interaction, student-centredness, and collaboration. Some argue that “the real learning “space” among students is closer” (whether on or off campus) (Passerini and Granger 2000 p.4)
The challenge for all management and business educators is to explore and translate the opportunity into worthwhile learning processes. Engaging in reflective and interactive activities, especially those leading to explaining, justifying and evaluating problem solutions, is a very important part of the management learning process. The critical issue is, that no matter how amazing the online technological platform, managers most appreciate learning from others, with the support of a credible facilitator.
But a word of caution! Online teaching and learning, changes the scope and the skills we require of academics and lecturers. It changes what we actually do with students. Currently most of the online teachers (the people I call the e-moderators) do not themselves have enough training to make this truly successful and productive for learners. Where training is provided it often concentrates on the use of the technology rather than the role of the online teacher. People get exhausted and worry about the use of their time. Hence online teaching gets a bad name.
II. Approaches to E-Learning
1.Flexi-time Approach. An e-Learning course offers a flexible time and location approach by changing the learning environment. It enables learning to take place in a variety of different places, both physical and virtual. Learners now have a choice and as a result increasingly wish to combine the options, choosing when and where they study and learn. For education providers, preparation and integration of materials and services have now become a challenge, because it fundamentally changes the learning environment (OECD, 2001, p. 22).
Students who work full time and have tight work schedules, who have young children, or are disabled, or for whatever reason are unable to attend regular classes at a specific time and location, often require and really appreciate a flexible time and location course. But to be successful, such courses require self-motivated and independent learners (Mantyla and Woods, 2001).
2. A Mixed-mode, Blended Approach. E-Learning was misinterpreted after it was first introduced. It was oversimplified and wildly optimistic. Some described e-Learning as putting all learning on computers. They felt that e-Learning could result in savings in instructor salaries, and could keep students out of the classroom. They felt students could learn anywhere, whenever they wanted, and could save time by studying only what they needed, and could learn at an optimal pace, neither to be held back nor bypassed by the rest of the class. But they forgot that learning is a social experience. Even in the classroom much learning takes place informally in exchanges between students. Most people learn better when computer-mediated lessons are combined with virtual classes, study groups, team exercises, mentors and help desks, off-line events, and online coaches. The act of learning itself has not changed. Computers can make aspects of learning more convenient, but they do not eliminate the need for human intervention. The presumption that e-Learning would automate every aspect of learning sounds unnatural and is unnatural (How People Learn, 2003).
Thus a mixture of both face-to-face and distance mode was thought to be most appropriate for the target group. In fact, all conventional universities are becoming mixed-mode where a convergence of distance education and conventional education is becoming apparent. Dual mode institutions are emerging in many countries, and the distinction between traditional and distant mode is disappearing. Institutions are being replaced by “mixed-mode” education systems, which are substantively centred on communication and technology (OECD, 2001).
3. A Student-Centered Approach. An e-Learning package not only provides a marriage of Internet, digital technology, and learning, it also facilitates student/ learner centered learning. In recent years, there has been a shift from the teacher/ instructor-centered approach to a student-centered approach. A teacher-centered approach believes in teachers disseminating and pouring content into empty heads as students passively listen, rather than proactively engaging with what is incoming and what is already there. With this approach, students usually recite, often by rote memory, some concepts on examination scripts. In this form of instruction, teachers are seen as the “gatekeeper” of knowledge, which is acquired from textbooks. However, teacher-centred, textbook-based learning is not conducive to our ever changing information rich, global society. This situation is well put by Cook and Cook (1998) who said: “Rapidly changing political, social, and economic environments often made textbooks and articles outdated soon after they are published” (p.1).
In an extreme situation of the teacher-centered approach, students never learn how to find out the right information, or how to discover and learn to use higher-level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation to disseminate information to others. On the contrary, a student/ learner-centred approach believes that students are active participants and construct their own knowledge by interacting with the information available. Such an approach believes in rewiring the brain by sculpting new pigeonholes and adding new connections. It places students at the centre of the teaching/ learning process, and believes that teachers should act as mentors, navigators, facilitators, or “guides” to help students access, organize, construct, and transfer information to solve authentic problems. According to Harmon and Hirumi (1996) “Student-centred learning is where students work in both groups and individually to explore problems and become active knowledge workers rather than passive knowledge recipients”.
In this approach, students gain expertise not only in the content area being studied, but also in learning process itself – i.e., how to learn through discovery, inquiry, and problem solving. Thus it was felt that a student-centred e-Learning package would be appropriate for the UB target group.
III. E-moderating is not a set of skills any of us is born with, nor ones that we have learned vicariously through observing teachers whilst we ourselves were learning. As yet there are few online mentors to guide us through step by step. Maybe in the future, managers will draw on their childhood e-learning experiences and try to emulate the examples of good e-moderators who changed the direction of their lives! But, meanwhile, e-moderators must be trained.
Exploring these ideas has led to the focus on the role of the e-moderator in management and business education. The e-moderator is the person responding to and building on the contributions to an online conference. E-moderators need to be able to engage in reflective practice themselves (Orsini-Jones and Davidson 1999), and be very democratic and open about their roles (Hunt 1998). The challenge is to enable managers to recognise the narrowness of their own experience and be open to other evidence. The e-moderator should to prompt, encourage and enable such openness, whilst acknowledging the personal experience. Sensitivity and courage may be needed to explore an experience with well-established well-focussed managers, expert in their own industries!
Adding value to the online networking by managers comes in various ways. Firstly, the contributor needs to be acknowledged, i.e. “heard”. Secondly, online, the contribution will be recorded and available for others to read and so becomes a form of inventory. The e-moderator’s role is to enable it to be surfaced and used by others. In a collective conference, personal “reflections” may be responded to in various ways. One person may need more time to explore issues, and another may reach conclusions quickly and may become impatient with those who are still thinking. It is important that the e-moderator avoids the temptation to discount the experience in any way or to counter it and enter into argument. Instead s/he can draw on the evidences that are presented to try and explore overall conclusions. Thirdly, the e-moderator should comment, at an appropriate moment, on the sufficiency of the data being presented and fourthly to the quality of the argument around it. These ways ensure that the experiences, whilst valued, are not necessarily considered complete on their own. And the e-moderator is thereby modelling ways of exploring and developing arguments. And all this for inviting contributions through networked technological opportunities!
IV. The research
In 1991, the Open University Business School (OUBS) started exploring CMC in MBA courses. During the early 1990s general interest conferences were provided covering topics of the students’ choosing. They were available to those MBA students and tutors who wanted to use them and could – typically 20-30 percent of students or 100-200 individuals per course. These first online discussions were seldom e-moderated except to start and stop conferences and to ensure that nothing obscene or inappropriate occurred (this was extremely rare). I used these early voluntary conferences in the MBA to build simple working models of CMC use in the Business School. I developed a framework for action research, which allowed for pathways, ideas and feedback to be explored (Salmon 1998). My action research was aimed at solving problems rather than establishing theory. However, the models I created and developed provided a set of constructs for testing as well as basis for later online induction and training programmes. See Salmon 2000 for more details about the methods used.
Individual access and the ability of participants to use online learning tools are essential prerequisites for participation in online learning (stage one, at the base of the flights of steps). Stage two involves individual participants establishing their online identities and then finding others with whom to interact. At stage three, participants give information relevant to the course to each other. Up to and including stage three, a form of co-operation occurs, i.e. support for each person’s goals. At stage four, course-related group discussions occur and the interaction becomes more collaborative. The communication depends on the establishment of common understandings. At stage five, participants look for more benefits from the system to help them achieve personal goals, explore how to integrate CMC into other forms of learning and reflect on the learning processes.
Each stage requires participants to master certain technical skills. Each stage calls for different e-moderating skills (shown on the right top of each step). The “interactivity bar” running along the right of the flight of steps suggests the intensity of interactivity that you can expect between the participants at each stage. From stage two onwards, it is important to provide online activities that encourage participants to engage in active learning and with each other in meaningful and authentic learning tasks.
Of course this shows what can happen – our experience in large scale online conferences in the Open University Business School (OUBS) is that individuals or groups demonstrating the gradual progression through the 5 stages are by no means inevitable. Although the model traces a highly productive and potentially happy route to learning, e-moderators need to enable this to occur.
Scaffolding suggests a way of structuring this interaction and collaboration, starting with “recruitment” of interest, establishing and maintaining an orientation towards task relevant goals, highlighting critical features that might be overlooked, demonstrating how to achieve those goals and helping to control frustration (Wood and Wood 1996). The notion of scaffolding provides an overall framework for training and learning online.
V. Online student “engagement”
The concept of mobilisation is to describe the ways in which e-moderators attempt to generate and maintain attention and participation from their students online. The concept draws on work by (Hammersley 1976), albeit in the very different setting of compulsory schooling. Hammersley regards the teaching techniques (which he calls 'teaching technologies') employed by the teachers he observed as 'collectively produced and sustained rather than idiosyncratic. Furthermore, they are also adapted, in one way or another, and to one degree or another, to the constraints operating on schools and teachers.' (Hammersley 1976 p. 104)
Most management facilitators are very interested in the techniques and strategies by which e-moderators achieve the generation and mobilisation of attention and participation of business and management within the constraints and opportunities of a very different setting from that of schools.
Another useful concept can be drawn from the literature on engagement theory. Engaged learning means that “all student activities involve cognitive processes such as creating, problem-solving, reasoning, decision-making and evaluation. In addition, students are intrinsically motivated to learn due to the meaningful nature of the learning environment and activities” (Kearsley and Shneiderman 1998). Principles associated with engagement theory are: •Group activities •Project based •Authenticity (i.e. focused outside the immediate learning context). These are just the ones we try and use for management teaching - the challenge therefore is to apply them to the online learning context. Recently the term “e-tivities” was coined to bring together the practical aspects of mobilising, engaging and effectively e-moderating in technology mediated teaching and learning environments. My suggestion is that e-moderators create e-tivities with attention to content, process and outcomes. They will then be much more satisfied with their students’ attention and engagement! E-tivities need to be linked with the 5-stage model, with the model providing a clear scaffold to the engagement. Scaffolding suggests a way of structuring this interaction and collaboration, starting with “recruitment” of interest, establishing and maintaining an orientation towards task relevant goals, highlighting critical features that might be overlooked, demonstrating how to achieve those goals and helping to control frustration (Wood and Wood 1996).
VI. Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning Support
As the delivery of courses becomes more interactive, a role for intensive, real-time discussions has been identified (Ingram, Hathorn et al. 2000). The 5-step model can be applied to both synchronous and asynchronous support for learning. In 1999 the OUBS began its first presentation of an MBA elective course, B823, entitled “Managing Knowledge”. To deliver the course existing electronic support through bulletin board system (FirstClass) was supplemented with Lyceum, a synchronous internet-based tool developed by the Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) at the Open University. This delivers audio communication and a shared graphic workspace via a single connection. Lyceum represents the new technologies available for the support of knowledge-based organisations and provides students with experiential learning opportunities.
There is an overlap between the synchronous Lyceum mode and the asynchronous CMC (FirstClass) mode, in that both applications include a synchronous text-chat option. The use of both FirstClass conferencing and Lyceum discussion has revealed a need to capture interaction in both media as a resource to be shared by successive cohorts of learners. FirstClass conferences are archived during course presentations, but a more accessible means of creating a shared resource is being assessed at present.
VII. ICT Empowerment
E-Learning generally promotes greater proficiency in Information Technology (IT) skills, which helps in personal employability and corporate competitiveness (Stephenson, 2001). The world is changing towards an Information age – and Botswana does not want to be left behind, a fact that is clearly articulated in the government’s Vision 2016 (2000), which states: “Botswana must recognise the importance of information and of developing efficient information systems and networks for the support of research, education, development and communication with the rest of the world” (p.20).
This aim can only be realised, however, by educating the nation’s people about the importance and use of technology by facilitating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) empowerment. Use of ICT can be of great help in this regard. As it is stated in (OECD, 2001): ICT can empower the learner by offering choice and potentially more engaging and effective means of learning. ICT can accommodate a whole range of different learning styles and preferences. Individuals differ markedly in their appreciation for ability to learn from different types of communications, learning processes and materials. Interactive multimedia and the opportunity to combine various media resources, styles and methods is a key feature of ICT-enabled learning (p.23).
An e-Learning course, which requires a repeated use of ICT resources like computers, floppy discs, printers, multimedia projectors, Internet connections, email and discussion forums to send, retrieve, and process information, ultimately empowers students via the development of their computing skills. After all, the only way to learn a skill is to practice it. A student may not have any interest in how a system works, but might be interested in knowing how to use it to receive information. Moreover, the essence of real education is repeated practice (Schank, 2002). The author was thus interested to establish the best practices required to create high quality e-Learning packages, since this would not only cover the important issues of the subject area, but also enhance students’ basic computer skills through repeated use of computer resources.
VIII. Enhancement of Research Skills
A key component in an e-Learning approach is students’ ability to obtain information and research materials (Lynch, 2002). The author determined that an e-Learning course, with Internet access to online materials with hyperlinks to relevant websites, would encourage students to actively participate in the search for materials and answers, active learning that would enhance their research skills.
To optimise resource management through interaction, counselling, coaching, assessment, and evaluation, the author determined that it would be beneficial to establish a phase-by-phase, student-centred, flexi-time course. She also felt that UB would be able to make better use of its resources in terms physical place and human resources, as well as regularly update the course to take advantage of technological advances and development, and to deliver newly digitised course materials. The author also felt that the propagation of such courses would increase the market opportunities for the ICT industry in terms of hardware, software, and related services such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Thus a phase-by-phase, mix-mode/ blended e-Learning course, that strived to be individualistic, flexible, competency-based, and varied in methodology – as well as unconstrained by time or place – was proposed for the target group at UB. The plan was to achieve this objective through the use of a variety of instructional tools and methods, as well as flexible learning arrangements in terms of time and place. The course evolved and was ultimately delivered in three phases using a combination of face-to-face and independent/ online learning.
The quality of the e-Learning course “Issues and Trends in Early Childhood Education” was standardised using e-Learning approaches. Most pilot project objectives were achieved. The author (course instructor) found it feasible to design and deliver a mixed-mode, blended, flexi-time, student centred course, which in turn provided students with the basic course contents, facilitated the development of research skills empowered them with basic computing skills, and, more significantly, provided them the basis for lifelong learning. The author is of the view that a step-by-step approach with student-oriented-active learning, designed to encourage students to explore information and materials available on a wider spectrum (e.g., Internet access), and provide a basis for their active participation in collaborative life-long teaching/ learning processes, would enable them to reap the real benefits of an e-Learning course. The author hopes that this approach may be one day popularised in the region. It is important to remember, however, e-Learning requires planning, which is especially important for courses reliant on a particular technology (Mantyla and Woods, 2001). The author hopes that for the benefit of its entire population, the Government of Botswana will adequately plan for greater Internet connectivity and increase computer and Internet access accordingly. By increasing access to technology, only then will the people of Botswana become truly engaged and thus competitive in today’s global economy.
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