Monday, June 26, 2006

Online Learning


Online learning descends from computer-based training, interactive multimedia (dating from laser discs and more recently, CDs with online learning) and integrated learning centers. With the internet boom since the mid 1990s, the concept of online learning has spread broadly. Online Learning can be thought of as a subset of the broader e-learning category because it refers specifically to content delivered via the Internet or Intranet.

For the younger children, there are free learning sites ranging from those that provide worksheets such as to those with interactive exercises. But, it is left to the parent to provide continuity, determine progress, and to assemble an overall program.

There are online subscription services for children that track the children and provide assessment, placement, continuity, and reports.

There are online universities ranging from legitimate distance learning systems to fly-by-night degree-mills.

Businesses use online learning to provide cost-effective training to their employees, partners, and customers.

As the number of students taking online classes continues to grow at a quick pace, the second wave of online college students is different: they are students who know the ingredients of a good online class, who are picky about which ones they sign up for and who will drop a class if the teacher turns out to be a dud. They are the new, savvy consumers of online education. In response to their higher expectations, providers of online education are incorporating increasingly sophisticated teaching approaches such as educational animation that address the challenges of presenting dynamic content to learners.

Nearly 3 million students are believed to be taking online classes at institutions of higher education in the United States this year, according to a report from the Sloan Consortium, an authoritative source of information about online higher education. The explosive rate of growth -- now about 25 percent a year -- has made hard numbers a moving target. But according to Sloan, virtually all public higher education institutions, as well as a vast majority of private, for-profit institutions, now offer online classes. (By contrast, only about half of private, nonprofit schools offer them.) Sloan tracks degree-granting institutions, but no one's keeping tabs on the thousands of corporate and vocational e-learning programs.

Fuelling this growth is the convenience that online classes are much more convenient, particularly for people who work full time or have families. The costs to students are typically the same as for traditional classes -- and financial aid is equally available -- while the cost to the institution can be much less. And the Sloan report, based on a poll of academic leaders, says that students generally appear to be at least as satisfied with their online classes as they are with traditional ones. In addition, the academic leaders say they believe the quality of online learning is equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction.

Most professions have online accreditation as this point. The K-12 online learning space has grown recently from a spate of virtual schools and virtual charter schools. Companies like Etrafficsolutions and are spearheading the drive to bring the traditional "brick and mortar" schools into the 21st century by integrating an online technology curriculum into the classroom and measuring student progress in using and mastering the e-learning technology.

Definition of E-learning

As opposed to the computer-based training of the 1980s, the term e-learning refers to computer-enhanced training. E-learning is usually delivered via a personal computer. It includes learning delivered by other communications technologies. Methods include online lectures, tutorials, performance support systems, simulations, job aids, games, and more. Effective e-learning is often a blend of methods.

E-learning, therefore, is an approach to facilitate and enhance learning through both computer and communications technology. Such devices can include personal computers, CDROMs, Television, PDAs, MP3 Players, and Mobile Phones. Communications technology enables the use of the Internet, email, discussion forums, WIKIs, collaborative software, classroom management software and team learning systems (see also online deliberation).

E-learning may also be used to suit distance learning through the use of WANs (Wide Area Networks), and may also be considered to be a form of flexible learning where just-in-time learning is possible. Courses can be tailored to specific needs and asynchronous learning is possible. Where learning occurs exclusively online, this is called online education. When learning is distributed to mobile devices such as cell phones or PDAs, it is called M-learning.

Computer aided Instruction (CAI)

The real problem is that the main providers have not yet managed to productively incorporate Computer-Based-Teaching (CBT) or, as it is often now called, Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) into their offerings. Thus, even with Open University material, what you typically get is large chunks of text which could be in any textbook (though in fact, in the case of the Open University, it is especially developed so that it is focused on the specific job in hand - which makes the education content more powerful). Between these slabs of text activities are inserted, which the students complete, to consolidate what they just learnt.

It now increasingly uses PC-based systems to also allow them to test themselves, usually on the basis of multiple choice questions, to see how much they know. It then provides a degree of feedback; explaining whether they are right or wrong and, if wrong, what the real answer was. Truly effective Computer-Aided-Instruction comes, though, when this feedback is used to manage the progress of the student. Thus, in theory at least, depending upon how well they have learned the lesson you may allow them to skip the next unit - because they already understand enough. Perhaps more likely, they may have learned it so badly that you have to return them to the beginning of the previous section. This all about managing the student's individual progress.

Some software for doing this is available, in crude form, but as yet it needs to be significantly enhanced. More important - and this is a killer - you have to put very much more effort into developing the material content it uses - typically providing at least three times as much (where you have to cater for all the alternative answers!) and in particular the interactions with the management system. This is where most systems currently are held up. CAI is not a cost-free solution!

Forecasts have suggested that the organisations who should find it easiest to get round problems - and produce the most popular education programmes using technology very similar to that now available in the games market - would either be the IT multinationals (especially Microsoft) or the Hollywood studios. The logistics of it are very much like making a movie - and in fact the most expensive part is indeed making the moving pictures which illustrate the programme. In fact, this does not appear to have happened; yet.

E-learning glossary

1. E-learning - Also called CBT (see the following definition). E-learning is a general term that relates to all training that is delivered with the assistance of a computer. Delivery of e-learning can be via CD, the Internet, or shared files on a network. Generally, CBT and E-learning are synonymous, but CBT is the older term, dating from the 1980s. The term E-learning evolved from CBT along with the maturation of the Internet, CDs, and DVDs. E-learning also includes Internet-based Learning, Web-based Learning, and Online Learning.

2. Videobook' - A book performed in video format, or a video structured similarly to a book, used chiefly in teaching.

3. CBT - Computer Based Training. Also called E-learning (see definition above). CBT is a general term that relates to all training that is delivered with the assistance of a computer. Deliver of CBT can be via CD, the Internet, or shared files on a network.

4. WBT - Web-based Training. Training that is delivered with the assistance of the Internet.

5. LMS - Learning Management System. A system for management and tracking of the involvement of participants with specific content, usually with the assistance of database. Typically the system tracks who is scheduled to participate in specific training programs, who has begun the program, who has completed the trainings, and what were the participants’ test scores.

6. LCMS - Learning Content Management System. A system for collaborative delovement of E-Learing content with inbuilt resources sharing and project management processes.
Content - What is taught in a course, class, or lesson. The training objectives are often a list of the content of a course.

7. Synchronous E-Learning - Computer-assisted training where the instructor and participants are involved in the course, class or lesson at the same time (synchronized). Web conferencing is an example of synchronous e-learning. Participants can log on with a trainer and interact with participants at multiple facilities or locations. Using LCD projectors and conference telephones, the audience of a web conference can be increased to include many staff at any location.

8. Asynchronous E-Learning - Computer-assisted training where the instructor and participants are involved in the course, class or lesson at different times (not sychronized, or ansychronous). Examples include job aids and programs on a shared drive, web-based training (WBT), electronic bulletin boards, blogs, and email listservs. Asynchronous methods allow participants to access training materials 24/7, even when other students and/or the instructor are not present.

9. Electronic bulletin board - A method of communication where topics or questions are posted to a website and participants can respond.

10. Blog - Web log. Similar to an electronic bulletin board, except that only one individual or group can create the initial post and participants can only respond to the post. An example is

11. Electronic mailing list - Also [incorrectly] called a "listserve." Members send email to the list, which the list service then mails to all members individually. Members can then read and respond (called a post), or email the member directly. An example is

12. ASP - Application service provider. Some LCMS products are available in a format that is Internet-based or network-based. This means that there is little or no software to install on the local computer to deliver and track the training. The information is tracked totally at the remote or server location. Service is generally subscription-based, and password protected.

13. ILT - Instructor Lead Training. Traditional training that is facilitated by a trainer who is there in person.

14. Educational animation - depictions that support the learning of dynamic content by providing direct information about how changes occur over time.

15. Page Turner - Computer Based Training which requires the participant to simply read and move from screen to screen to turn pages and read some more.

16. Courseware - Software that is designed for an educational program.

17. NLT - Notional Learning Time (or Seat time) - It is the time taken for completing an e-Learning course. This is an approximation of the amount of time @80-90 percentile of the target audience will take to complete the course.


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