E-Learning in the New Millennium

E-Learning in the Educational Sector

This report explores E-learning in the new millennium which is an alternative method for people to study tertiary education through the Internet. The new technology allows the learners to access the courses at anytime and anywhere around the world. This report indicates some aspects of E-learning in the educational sector and in the organizational sector. Also it classifies E-learning into two categories synchronous and asynchronous, and explains each one separately. The report also includes a discussion regarding the learner having the ability to self direct their own learning as well, such as managing their time in a suitable way and having familiar basic computer technique skills. (Chelin, 2003)

E-learning in the new millennium is thought to be the latest advancement in technology-based learning and it plays an increasingly vital role in growing learning opportunities. This advancement in technology is seen as another opportunity to learning instead of taking courses in the usual classroom setting, also providing flexibility and convenience in education. (Galtonm, 1998) The number of tertiary education institutes around the world has increased to offer online courses and degrees in order to satisfy increasing demand for education and providing education for those whose needs cannot be met by the formal educational process. Through E-learning education is made easy and available anywhere and at anytime. (Rosenberg, 2000)

Discussion

E-learning is considered to be the latest advancement in technology-based learning and it plays an increasingly important role in expanding learning opportunities. Since the emergence of computers, information is more accessible to people. The traditional outlook on learning has changed significantly and allows people to learn at their own pace. With all this information so readily available why not attend college online and allow people to earn a degree from the comfort of their own home? E-learning is a great alternative to the traditional school and can allow students the convenience of learning from their own home or workplace (Williams & Tollett, 1997).

The most exciting new trends in education are the use of E-learning. Many universities and corporations have ventured into it, and, in fact, some universities are devoted exclusively to providing an entire curriculum and degree through E-learning. Although the term “distance education” is of relative recent coinage, the concept of learning at a distance is not new at all. Many companies and universities are participating in E-learning to better serve their employees and students. It is convenient, economical, flexible and supportive. Online courses offer more flexibility in course times, which can appeal to the student with a career and family (Chelin, 2003).

Firstly, E-learning is convenient because it is self-paced and saves time. Most online learning programs can be taken when needed. It moves faster, online-learning courses progress up to 50 percent faster than traditional courses. Time is very important to most students today. Especially for the student who is returning to school to help better themselves in their current job or even going to college to help them find a better job. The college experience is not important to these people and therefore makes E-learning a great alternative to traditional college. This also offers privacy to the student in a way that traditional college can not offer. In a traditional college environment a student is often forced to participate in a classroom whether that student is comfortable or not. E-learning offers students another way to attend college without the burden of the college life. It is convenient as it saves a lot of time as it takes to drive to school and walking to classes, or the frustration of trying to get to a class on time while searching for a parking space in which you won’t be towed or ticketed.

Secondly, E-learning is economical because a student who attends a traditional school and lives on campus also has to pay dorm and meal fees. Costs are also lower with using an online university compared to a traditional university. Students do not have to pay for dorm rooms, building renovations, or pay extra money to support athletic events and other campus activities. Using the internet to continue education can save businesses and students commuting costs. Students that use an online university do not have to worry about paying these fees. Costs of using an online university are lower than traditional schools for many reasons. Expensive textbooks that a traditional student would have to buy are not needed since the information is available online. Students do not have to pay additional costs for renovations of the regular universities’ buildings. This is also true with a traditional student paying more for tuition to help support athletics and other campus activities. It is often presented as a simple cost-savings solution in training terms, i.e. classroom costs are directly compared to online training cost (Bonk, 1998).

Thirdly, E-learning offers much flexibility to students. For instance, they don’t have to try and find classes that fit in between their work hours and other responsibilities. Online universities offer classes that can be taken late at night when a persons’ children are asleep. Most traditional schools have a thick course catalog full of times that classes are offered. Using an online university, a student does not have to spend large amounts of time trying to find courses that do not conflict with their schedules (Bonk, 1998). Although not all classes can be completed whenever a student wants to, they are given deadlines which can allow the student to work at their own pace and can help to eliminate additional stress (Williams & Tollett, 1997). As an alternative to listening to a lecture, a student can have first hand access to the material over the internet or directly from the E-learning course website. For instance, if a student is studying Shakespeare, they can view his work on the internet as well as other information about him. Another benefit would also be students who are struggling in math courses. There is plenty of information on the web that can assist the student (Steeples et al., 2002).

Additionally, many traditional students have to set appointments with teachers or get a tutor to improve their grade or to have something explained to them better. Using an online course, all of that information is readily available which can reduce hassle on trying to track down the teacher for help. Students find it flexible that they can attend a class while sitting in the comfort of their own home. Soldiers, pregnant women, and others with tight schedules are all able to complete their course work in a timely manner through web-based courses. A man, who works full time as an assistant at law firm and wants to continue working, while attending classes so he can become a lawyer himself, may want to take online courses instead of face-to-face in order to accomplish both goals. Situations like this one makes online learning brilliant since it opens doors of opportunity to certain people. By posting information in discussion forums up to several times a day, professors can keep students working, but the students can respond when they have the chance (Rosenberg, 2000).

E-learning in the new millennium requires more instructor time per student than classroom learning. The instructor’s role in the E-learning environment is more of a guide than a teacher in the traditional sense. The students are expected to handle most of the courses by their self-access, and the instructors are there to help guide them if they get stuck on some technology or if they do not understand some issues (Charp 2002 online).

Designing Successful E-Learning Programs

In order to design successful E-learning programs the following features have been considered. The first step is to be sure the course was designed or sponsored by a credible source, because the web is an uncontrolled territory, where anyone with knowledge of HTML can set up and claim to be an authority on any given subject. Also a good quality of an E-learning program examines the technical qualities of the delivery method and the ease of interface, such as can the learner move from one page to the next without getting lost? Is the format of the program legible and consistent? Does it use several fonts that can confuse the learner? Does the program offer help menus that can guide the learner through rough spots (Halverson 2003 online).

Moreover, remediation is stressed for an importance feature as well. When students answer quiz questions incorrectly, the programs should have the options to see why they missed them and what the right answers are? Students may learn by making mistakes, but if they do not know what they did wrong, they will not have the chance to correct it. Some programs offer a well remediation option for the apprentices while they miss a question, they can click on a link to expose a box with the correct code reference or a brief explanation (Williams & Tollett, 1997).

In addition, another feature that can improve E-learning is ‘made-to-order curriculum. Almost all computer-learning courses allow learners to more through the program at will, but a more complex course will quiz apprentices at the beginning and tailor the material to their strengths and weaknesses. (Steeples et al., 2002) People learn at the different pace, E-learning courses allow students to access the material on their own and make it possible for the more advanced students to skip over subjects they may already know and understand. In contrast, for the students who cannot catch up meaning instantly, E-learning provides them flexible chances to review the course whenever they need.

E-learning Techniques

Techniques used in the delivery of E-learning courses that incorporate these qualities include online discussion, questioning, tutorial support, content structure, and information technology support. (Salmon, 2000) Online discussion should be directed at critiquing ideas and theories and acting them out in debates, discussion forums, and simulations. Questioning increases student confidence and enables evaluation of individual performance through the instruction and feedback received during learning and tutorial support. Breakdown of course content into small units provides the flexibility to choose content suited to individual pace and time constraints. Meanwhile, information technology assistance reduces students’ anxiety and maximizes any available E-learning opportunities (Lewis & Price, 2007).

Effective online interaction is a challenge not only for the student, but also for the online teacher, or E-moderator. Successful E-moderating requires more than the transference of classroom resources and lecture notes to an online environment (Steeples et al., 2002). The role of the E-moderator is not simply to provide adequate resources, but rather to successfully facilitate online interaction and provide adequate student support. For successful E-learning to occur, online interaction is pivotal. Placing a student in front of technology without support serves only to lessen any E-learning experience. E-moderators are required to think through the design of structured learning experiences and incorporate appropriate elements (Lewis & Price, 2007).

E-moderators require not merely sufficient knowledge, but new attitudes and a range of different technical and communication skills if they are to operate successfully in the online environment (Lewis & Price, 2007). The role of E-moderator, particularly in higher education, is fast becoming the predominant style of teaching. If E-moderators are to exploit online technology for teaching, they are required to understand its potential, which is different from that of any other teaching medium (Rosenberg, 2000).

Advantages of E-Learning

E-learning has many benefits rather than studying in a traditional classroom. Some of them have been listed below. For example:

  • Its cheaper than studying in a school
  • It’s self-paced – you can “learn” according to your comfort, whether at night or during the day.
  • It moves faster – This is mainly because students skip topics which they are familiar with and stress on the difficult topics.
  • It is convenient to access these websites from any location and at any time –
  • It can be updated without much effort –

Disadvantages of E-Learning

Even though there are so many benefits of adopting E-learning in order to educate yourself, there are a few disadvantages as well. The following are some of the disadvantages to E-learning or distance education:

  • Taking courses from the comfort of your home can be very lonely.
  • Interactions between a students’ teacher and other classmates are very limited. In addition to limited interactions, a student cannot just raise their hand or lean over to ask another student a question. (Steeples et al., 2002)
  • Time management is a big concern with this issue. If the student cannot manage his time appropriately for the studying, then extensive benefits of E-learning will not work out completely.
  • The learners should require the basic computer technique skills for doing E-learning, otherwise the learners will find it extremely difficult to access the various source in the web (White & Weight, 2000)
  • Attending an online university causes a student to miss out on traditional university life such as living in the dorms and attending campus activities.
  • Another disadvantage is procrastination. A student that has the opportunity to work at his or her own pace may wait until the very last minute to do the assignments given or even study for a test right before they are scheduled to take it (Sinclair et al., 2002).

So why are some e-learning solutions unsuccessful?

One of the main reasons is quite simply because they are not used. There are many explanations for this, but essentially they fall into three main categories: learners won’t, don’t or can’t use them.

Learners won’t use them because e.g. they are unnecessarily long and don’t meet their immediate learning needs (e.g. a 3-hour course for someone who simply needs the answer to a quick question) OR they are presented in an inappropriate format (e.g. a set of linear, text-based materials for learners who need visually exciting and interactive materials to engage them in the subject).

Learners don’t use them because e.g. they don’t run properly on their computers, because the computer specification is not adequate enough OR their manager thinks if they are using them they are not working so prevents them from using them OR they are too generic and don’t meet their specific needs so are considered a waste of time.

Learners can’t use them because e.g. they don’t have the necessary understanding or competence with computers to make use of them OR they include audio and video material which they can’t play because it would disturb their work colleagues.

To summaries, the reason for failure is frequently because the solution is inappropriate for the organization, the learners, the working environment, the technical infrastructure or sometimes all of these (Galtonm, 1998).

As compared to classroom teachers, distant teachers have a difficult job at hand. They cannot have visual cues. Those cues that do exist are filtered through technological devices. It is difficult to carry on a stimulating teacher-class discussion when spontaneity is altered by technical requirements and distance.

Teachers should be given hands-on training with new technologies because some feel intimidated by the equipment even if the environment is non-threatening.

Distance education has some disadvantages such as innovative expertise is also expensive and multifaceted. Distance education, in particular the utilization of live video-based contact involves vigilant preparation such as the advance development of tools, equipment and services. The instructors have to arrive early around an hour before to set up all the equipments and just to make sure that every thing is in order.

Moreover in this state of affairs, there may be a requirement for a second individual, recognized as a catalyst or a facilitator, at the far-flung place who is acquainted with how to use the tools and machinery in case anything fails. If the place is some far flung area then it would be very difficult to get the equipment stationed there and it would increase the extra cost of handling mailing and traveling expenses. If the cost of production of a certain product were more then it would be more expensive when passed on to students. Moreover students cannot spend a lot of amount on buying books and course materials (Linda, 2006).

Costing issues

In distance education the teacher and the student are separated most of the time. This necessitates the reorganization of the learning process into two main teaching functions: instruction (content presentation) and dialogue (learner support). Instruction is provided via resource media and learner support via communication media. Resource media make it possible to provide students free-standing, pre-prepared objects such as course material in the form of books, cassettes or CD-ROM. (Chelin, 2003) Communication media allow dialogue, contributing to an educational process rather than providing course material; videoconferencing, telephone tutoring or lectures can be used in this way. Resource media allow economies of scale, communication media do not. The more students use a printed book or listen to a broadcast, the lower the unit cost of writing and producing the original text or programme; in contrast, the costs of using communication media to provide dialogue increase with each additional student. To improve the trade-off between economies of scale (a parameter of efficiency) and teacher-student interactivity (a parameter of effectiveness), distance education designs interactivity into resource media (internal interactivity) while keeping control of the level of teacher-student interactivity (external interactivity). In Table 6.1 we distinguish between technologies in this way.

Cost-effectiveness analysis 1 is a technique designed to help choose between alternatives by examining their costs and effects. It requires us to measure the costs of alternative approaches to achieving the same result: preference is given to the strategy with the minimal ratio of costs over effectiveness scores. We can, therefore, carry out cost-effectiveness analysis at two levels: at the institutional level looking at the comparative costs of dedicated distance-teaching universities and of conventional universities and, at the course level, comparing the costs of different media configurations (Bonk, 1998).

In order to be seen as cost-effective, distance education had to demonstrate that it is possible to teach effectively using media. The media equivalency hypothesis claims that media have little impact on outcome effectiveness, and teaching using media can be as effective as teaching conventionally. Understandably many distance educators subscribe to this hypothesis. On the other hand, distance educators are also interested in researching the capabilities of different media in order to make optimal use of them. There is a certain conflict, at least between the radicalized version of the media equivalence hypothesis (‘media do not influence learning under any condition’ 2 ), and the effort to identify media capabilities in order to use them more effectively for teaching (Linda, 2006).

Once it is accepted that you can teach effectively using media, it is possible to look for economies of scale in distance education and so to establish that it can be cost-effective. Some of the costs of distance education are fixed: capital equipment, or the writing of course material, have costs that are the same irrespective of the number of students enrolled. Other costs are variable: the cost of providing tutoring to students, for example, varies with the number of students. (In practice, fixed costs are often lower in distance than in conventional education because you can teach students at a distance without building classrooms, lecture theatres or student accommodation.) Provided the variable costs per student of distance education are lower than those of conventional education, we can also expect the total cost per student to show economies once we have enrolled enough students. Economies of scale, which seldom arise in conventional education where most costs are variable and are driven by staffing ratios, can be achieved in distance education. There is thus a breakeven point for an institution, or a course, at which the cost per student is the same for the two methodologies that are being compared. Whether student demand allows us to reach this point remains an empirical question (Chelin, 2003).

Table 6.1 Classification of open and distance learning technologies

Resource media Communication media
Examples print, broadcasting media, audio/video cassettes, CD-ROM, Internet tutorials, telephone tuition, CMC, videoconferencing, Internet
Type of interactivity internal interactivity external interactivity
Cost structure large proportion of fixed costs (strong potential for economies of scale) mainly variable cost (weak potential for economies of scale)
Timing asynchronous predominantly synchronous
Pedagogy individual teacher-student contact allows either group learning or individual dialogue between student and tutor

E-Learning in the Organizational Sector

Many public authority initiatives are now designed with the objective of wanting “all services” to be available online. This poses enormous challenges to the concerned organizations. This is especially true for local authorities that run so many of the vital services that could in theory be provided electronically. (Chelin, 2003)

One challenge comes from the potential ability of the Internet to streamline delivery of existing service. As a result, the relationship between local authorities and the public will change as now it will be easier for both parties to communicate with each other. (Steeples et al., 2002) For instance, local authority web sites used to provide a limited array of services such as planning application database, but now citizens can also find out who their local officials or councilors are, send them E-mails, request a birth or marriage certificate, look up school tables and report broken street lights, graffiti and even dog mess. The move toward interactive citizenship on these lines will then have significant effect on the nature of skills employed and how these new skill demands are met in public organizations. (Bonk, 1998)

There are indications that different organizations hire different quality workers. The catering industry can be cited as a relevant example in that restaurants come in a range of quality levels. Secretaries working for the public prosecutor’s office earn more than their counterparts in an educational establishment. This happens because the secretary’s wage in a law firm correlates with one of the lawyer’s. (Sinclair et al., 2002)

Organizational Factors

Managers interested in e-learning can draw comfort from the experience of colleagues in a range of large organizations. There is a growing body of expertise and experience that will help those who are embarking on the introduction of e-learning. Others who have already made a start may be able to anticipate problems they have not as yet encountered. The organizations in this study all have a firm belief in the potential of e-learning and predict they will increase its use over the next few years. They see the activity in strategic terms to match training and learning with strategic objectives, perhaps at the same time reducing overall cost. They also appreciate the potential for flexibility and access offered by e-learning to cope with the rapidly changing business environment.

Successful e-learning requires sensitivity to a balance of technology requirements and needs of e-learners and those who support them. The technology associated with learning management systems is now more advanced and can be accommodated within the IT infrastructure of large organizations. Where the history or nature of the organization does not require most people to use computers, access to e-learning can be a problem. Likewise external access to gain full potential from the flexibility of e-learning can be frustrated by the security of firewalls. (Bonk, 1998)

A major challenge for those introducing e-learning is to appreciate the needs of e-learners and to provide an adequate level of support. It is clear from the study that success comes from the facilitation of learners to engage with the technology and the content of learning packages. In some areas, notably IT training, both are well developed. For training of soft skills with e-learning a rather limited situation is changing with advances in the production of new content. However, the challenge still remains to get the learner to engage. Here branding of the activity within an organization can stimulate interest, although the issue of learner support becomes crucial. There are issues of time for learning, freedom from the demands of the workplace and reward and recognition of achievement. Attitudes of managers and supervisors are critical, and engagement with labor organizations in developing partnerships for learning might be a way of instigating change.

While those in the study are enthusiastic about the potential of e-learning there remains an issue of measures of effectiveness. None of the firms could provide a comprehensive way of measuring the outcomes of e-learning and relating them back to strategic targets.

In making a case for the use of e-learning, managers should understand its role and contribution. For instance, this study has shown there are often strong business drivers to deliver training to large numbers of employees, possibly in different locations. The use of communications and information technology reduces the long-term cost of learning, although the successful deployment of e-learning requires initial investment and resources.

E-Learning within an Organization

E-Learning is not a miracle recipe for establishing learning organizations. Within organizations, it needs to be part of a total strategy for improving performance. There needs to be commitment from senior management, the learning has to be planned and managed. The learners themselves need support, encouragement and the reward of external recognition. And the learning needs to be related to the organization’s goals. (Bonk, 1998)

E-Learning is only a tool, part of a blended solution for human resource development. Most e-learners need a mixture of taught courses, online courses, experiential learning, mentoring, peer group contact, learner management, plus encouragement and recognition, if they are to remain motivated.

Despite all the hype, the predicted growth in the take-up of e-learning has been slow and uneven over the last year. What we have now is pent-up supply, rather than pent-up demand. What people need is not e-learning in isolation but an electronic learning management system which includes e-learning and captures all ways of learning. That way the unmanageable becomes manageable and the learner can be at the heart of the process. Ultimately the learners themselves will be the drivers of the systems. Then lifelong learning will really mean something. (Galtonm, 1998)

However, using distance education involves a steep learning curve for inexperienced providers and in one-cycle projects, the organizational learning cannot be transferred to the next cycle of presentation. At the end of projects, the personnel and their newly acquired expertise may be lost. Where several separate projects are in progress, perhaps funded by different donors, transfer or pooling of learning from the experience may be lacking through weak co-ordination. (Bonk, 1998) It can in any case be difficult for governments, especially in contexts where open and distance education is new, to co-ordinate efforts to establish clear policy and plans for open and distance education with different donors providing different advisors, perspectives and priorities. Because of its temporary nature, and perhaps small scale, a project’s impact on the teacher education system as a whole may be marginal and its status uncertain. The odds are against its being institutionalized without strong intervention at the policy level. Many successful projects have failed to dent the amour of traditional provision.

Conclusion

The claims of faster, better, cheaper, anytime, anywhere and at your own pace are, however, a mixture of truth and hype. Fast might not be with a good quality, cheaper may be true, all depending on the audience numbers and the development cost. Anywhere anytime will depend on connectivity, network access and hours of support.

Although, E-learning in the new millennium provides a lot of benefits for the students to complete their education without restriction of time and location, but the learners should have the ability to self direct their own learning. (Sinclair et al., 2002)Time management is a big concern with this issue. If the student cannot manage his time appropriately for the studying, then extensive benefits of E-learning in the new millennium will not work out completely. Also the learners should require the basic computer technique skills for doing E-learning, otherwise the learners will find extremely difficult to access the various source in the web. (White & Weight, 2000)

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