Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What's a Big Deal About E-Learning?

We CAN get things done if we just stop making excuses. I think this is one of the great secrets of highly successful people (err…who? Me?). Excuses always get in our way, but who gives the excuses in the first place? All of us are guilty of giving excuses of all sorts. Now, what am I rambling about? What actually is the topic of my writing…oh, it’s not about giving excuses, but it’s about 10 Good Reasons for Developing E-Learning Course.

It’s silly of me coming up with this topic not knowing whether I can think of 10 original reasons (good one) to develop e-learning or online course. Actually, at this moment I’m writing (typing), I have some anxieties or perhaps excited in anticipation of my big interview later this afternoon. I won’t say what the interview is about but as in any other interviews, you will try to anticipate the questions and try to prepare mentally the best possible answers. Oh, I’m digressing again…who cares about my interview…here we go…

Why would you want to bother about e-learning? This is my personal view, without any hard data to substantiate (scientists always want evidence, no data no talk):

  • Going with the trend - We are living in a digital age, digital generation. We (educators) may come from the past but we are now in the present. Teaching and instructional technologies are moving fast forward. Although traditional teaching methods are still relevant, sooner or later educators have to catch up with the technology advancement and utilize the tools at their disposal.
  • E-learning provides new and different learning environment – It’s not just about going with the trend, just for the sake of being trendy. In one of our e-learning workshop to discuss and formulate e-learning policies for the university, someone asked, “what’s wrong with our current teaching methods?. “E-learning is just another trend, it’s the ‘in-thing’ now, but it will cool down, so what’s the havoc?”. Well, I know, sometimes we get too excited. New things come and go, but I think e-learning will stay for good. I think the enthusiasm about e-learning is justifiable for many good reasons. I have never read any articles suggesting that e-learning is the only way and the best mode of teaching. The way I see it, e-learning is another mean to diversify the pedagogy – it provides more options for educators and open up more avenues to expand their creativities. E-learning will provide new learning environment for the students, new learning experiences beyond what can be provided in a conventional classroom teaching.
  • E-learning adds value – The traditional classroom teaching has its value – it has a long tradition. E-learning will simply add value to our current teaching. Let’s consider one example. Suppose I’m teaching a course on food processing, say, on refining of palm oil. In the class, I will show a flow chart showing the steps in the refining process, and then perhaps I will show some photos. If a video is available, I will show the video of the refining process as well. There is so much to explain but too little time to explain and elaborate. There’s almost no time for the students to ask question, let alone to have discussion. Furthermore, there’s just too much material for the students to digest in a 50 minutes lecture. This is where e-learning course can play a complimentary role. I can put all the relevant materials, including the video in my e-learning course. The students can now access and view the course material anytime they like and at their own pace. They can view the presentation as many times they wish. Not only that, the way I did for my e-learning course was, I presented the material from different perspective, give different examples, provide more visual materials (photos, etc.) and even narrated the video. In addition, I list more references and selected websites for further readings. This is what I mean by adding value to the course. Now, some people will argue that I’m spoon-feeding my students…well, I usually avoid answering this question. We can argue about it to no end, but to me this is just another excuse for not providing more for the students (discussion on this point is welcome). The demarcation line between what is and what is not spoon-feeding is not clear—very subjective. You can take the horse to the water, but you can’t force the horse to drink…. (or can you?).
  • E-learning course can be designed to suit different learning styles – It’s a fact – different people learn in different ways. What’s yours? (Take this simple test to discover your own learning style) (http://www.usd.edu/trio/tut/ts/stylest.html).

    There are three basic types of learning styles (these days people talk about multiple intelligence). The three most common are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. To learn, we depend on our senses to process the information around us. Most people tend to use one of their senses more than the others. It is not unusual to use different learning styles for different tasks. That's why people can respond so differently to the same thing. Let’s think about how traditional classroom lecture can meet different learning styles of the students. Some students learn best through seeing. These learners need to see the teacher's body language and facial expression to fully understand the content of a lesson. They may think in pictures and learn best from visual displays including: diagrams, overhead transparencies, videos, flipcharts and hand-outs. Okay, that’s easy, we can do that in a face-to-face classroom setting. What about e-learning? Designing e-learning course for this type of learners requires careful planning. There are specific technique or approach that can be used, for example by incorporating video or talking head (see my showcase for example). For visual learners, learning objects such as animation of complex process, video for demonstrating specialized technique, colorful photos/pictures, etc. can be incorporated in the course. The advantage is, they have more time to peruse, download and study the learning materials. I would not elaborate on how e-learning course can be designed for the other two learning styles but it can be done.
  • E-learning can provide more interactivity - Discussions have long been a valuable method of learning through interaction with other learners and all teachers know how effective this shared learning is for the application of knowledge. Class discussions promote reflection and further exploration of issues and topics. But how much time do we have for effective discussion in a classroom? With e-learning course, discussion can be conducted online. The advantage of online discussions is that there is no time limit and students have many opportunities for reflection and exploration of issues before such time that they are required to respond to a question or comment. True e-learning provides many, if not more, opportunities for interaction than teacher-led learning.

    Let me illustrate a typical blended e-learning scenario that includes a high degree of interaction:

    To begin his learning experience, the student logs onto a self-paced e-learning course to familiarize himself with basic layout design or interface (I’m using Moodle, an open-source learning management system for my e-learning course – the students find the Moodle interface very easy to understand and navigate). The content is presented in modularized segments that are easy to absorb (this can be presented by week or by topic), and there are plenty of engaging interactions requiring the student's input (e.g., quizzes, forum). The student receives effective feedback immediately and is given the opportunity to go back and review material if necessary. If he has a question, he can browse the course content, explore the references or web links given, post a message to a discussion forum or click a link to initiate a live chat with the teacher (using Skype or similar program).

Err... did I say 1o Good Reasons? Well, I have come up with five good reasons for doing e-learning. I think this article is getting quite long, perhaps I will come up with another five in another article. Now, that’s an excuse!

By the way, if you are interested to learn more about various learning styles, here are some links:

  • Knowing your learning style will help you develop coping strategies to compensate for your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths. Learn more...
  • What's your learning style? Take this test to find out.
  • Some people prefer to read about a concept to learn it; others need to see a demonstration of the concept. Learning Style Theory proposes that different people learn in different ways...Learn more.
  • What kind of learners are you? Time to check it out.
  • Learning styles: A multiple intelligences approach. Learn more...
  • Discover your learning style - graphically - This website contains extensive information on learning styles. Go to website.
  • Abiator's Online Learning Styles Inventory - The Learning Styles tests, Analytical/Global Thinker Test, and the Multiple Intelligences Assessment available on this site are intended to help you come to a better understanding of yourself as a learner by highlighting the ways you prefer to learn or process information. Go to website.
  • We each learn and process information in different ways. You probably didn't realize this earlier because most of us attended schools where teachers delivered instruction in one way. Learn more...


jun said...

Reason number 6: Your boss tells you to. =)

Kidding aside, This is what I actually find myself in. But I was the one who initated it so I am the one most likely to make it happen. I am also using Moodle. I am thinkning of using a combination of audio, text and powerpoint for some simple courses.

Reason 7: Cost. For user's running in the thousands, and courses that repeat on a fairly regular basis, cost will be a big issue. Though eLearning "might" cost more initially, if it is computed over time will actually save you in the long run.

PS: Thanks for dropping by my site. And great job on your site and blog.

Karim said...

Hi Jun, thanks for adding two more reasons. On the cost issue, yes, I agree. Initial investment especially in terms of time is...unbelievable. But now I'm reaping the fruits of my labor.

And I love Moodle!

AOT.AU said...

Technology enhancement enables E-learning more convenient for students to utilize learning materials with the collaboration of a computer and internet. It will surely show more positive outcome in the next coming years as million of students become more competitive with their skills.

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