Ayan Muse is a female journalist in war-torn Somalia, Africa, working as a reporter for a magazine focusing on HIV/AIDS. Initially professionally unprepared and lacking basic journalistic skills, she enrolled in the 12-month e-learning certificate course in Journalism through the African Virtual University (AVU) that is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Bank. She is now considered well-trained for her job.
In May 2007, the ‘One Laptop per Child’, the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte became a reality, with the help of designers at MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as children in Uruguay began to learn via laptops. In Nepal, where 70% of all women and 35% men in the country were illiterate, an educational initiative called ‘Room to Read’ paved way for students to instantly reach the world via internet through Skype and Google in October 2009. These are striking instances that show how ICT-enhanced learning or e-learning as it is commonly known, is supporting educational initiatives in nations with disadvantaged higher education facilities, and allowing them to compete with other nations of the world.
Vital educational tool of the 21st century
The only constant thing in the world is change. Changes in the nature of the Internet; demographics of the student population and a shift towards a more consumer-centric society have provided an environment conducive for a student-centric approach to learning. E-learning, in its fifteen odd years of existence, has grown from a revolutionary concept to becoming the fastest growing trend in education. Typically, E-learning is characterized by lack of face to face interaction. Students submit assignments electronically, and work in virtual teams for their projects. E-learning management systems such as Blackboard, WebCT, Desire2Learn or Moodle help delegate assignments and groups, and other communication tools facilitate individual and group discussions among students and the instructor.
Providing universal education
In the global scenario, E-learning offers students, who do have access to traditional teaching centers, opportunities to reach out to communicate with their peers from across the globe, in both informal and formal teaching and learning environments, thus making them feel part of the ‘next-gen’. E-learning is also contributing to a ‘trickle-down’ effect on education, with successful examples such as Rural Wings, an international research project on e-learning through satellite telecommunications. The project provides broadband e-learning-services for rural and isolated areas in thirteen countries all over Europe. It proposes to develop a “digital” culture in rural areas by using e-learning applications in schools, workplaces and homes.
E-learning places the control of learning in the hands of the learner, and significantly blurs the distinction between the teacher and student. The emphasis is on ‘CATNIP’ – the acronym for a ‘creating, accessing, trying, networking, intending, and performing’, through activities, projects, networking, and mentoring. A fine example of this is MERLOT – the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching for Higher Education. MERLOT is a user-centered, searchable collection of online learning materials, where faculty, staff, and students from around the world share their learning materials and teaching methodology. Educators have also started evincing keen interest in blogging and podcasting. McMaster is a broadcasting site where engineering professors host an online show.
Online tutoring marketplaces like ‘Teacheo’ allow experts in particular field share knowledge with or teach others in virtual classrooms. This is especially important for knowledge-sharing between people physically remote from one another, or those who cannot afford to travel. Sites such as ‘Teacheo’ thus also acts as a catalyst in reducing social isolation.
A personal portfolio tool
The new age E-learning tools enable students to have their own personal place to create and showcase their work. Some e-portfolio applications, such as ELGG and IMS Global, help provide an opportunity to students to collect, and share their views on documents and sources of information; thus furthering their professional and scholarly competence.
In times to come, the demand for higher education will only escalate in the world’s populous nations. With the supply of E-learning remaining embryonic in many developing nations, the answer would be to make E-learning high on their government agenda. Its time the cocoon of E-learning emerged from its confines and begins its metamorphosis.