E learning has been part and parcel of education and training in the western world for many years now. In recent times, since the Internet took the world by storm, online learning has become accessible to people in various parts of the world. Now e-learning has found its way into the educational system of developing nations as well. The advancement in technology and communication has made teaching and training possible anywhere, anytime.
This brings us to the question of how relevant traditional methods of teaching like classroom teaching are in the modern world. Will a teacher or a trainer eventually become dispensable? Will textbooks and other reference books cease to exist? Will there be no schools and colleges in future? Will e-learning companies replace traditional publishing companies? Before we attempt to answer these questions, it is important to understand what it takes to make teaching or training effective? Whether it is traditional classroom instruction or e-learning, the key areas of designing a course and implementation remain the same.
How to bring about effective learning?
A systematic approach is mandatory to any type of instructional design. The major phases of Instructional Systems Development (ISD) are analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. Walter Dick and Lou Carrey in their book ‘The Systematic Design of Instruction’ greatly advocate the systems approach model. “A system is technically a set of interrelated parts, all of which work together toward a defined goal. The parts of the system depend on each other for input and output, and the entire system uses feedback to determine if its desired goal has been reached.”
Let us take the simple example of an air conditioner in your home or office. It is made of many components that work together to produce either hot or cool air. The thermostat in an air conditioner acts as a feedback mechanism and once the desired temperature is reached the system shuts itself off. In the same way, the test administered at the end of the course is the feedback mechanism that helps the instructors to determine if the present method of teaching is effective or not. (The Systematic Design of Instruction, (Fifth Edition), Walter Dick and Lou Carrey, Copyright Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 2001)
Crossing the Classroom Boundaries
Classroom courses represent the type of learning called formal learning because the learning has stated objectives and is supposed to yield predetermined results.
Some forms of e-learning – online education and online training recreate the formal learning experience online. Online education provides adults with limited literacy skills with a safe and patient place to develop basic skills such as reading and mathematical skills. Universities such as Phoenix University and San Diego State University offer online degree and certificate programs. Online training is also a structured event like online education. The only factor that separates online training from education is that the skills and knowledge taught via training are expected to be used immediately.
E-learning allows us to explore the potential of informal learning such as Knowledge Management and Electronic Performance Support.
Knowledge Management is basically recorded pieces of corporate information such as
- policies, procedures and product information
- documents, reports, presentations and proposals
- expertise, often recorded in the form of documents like lessons learned, stories and case histories and online interaction with colleagues
- and can also include online chats, discussions and symposia during which participants can exchange information not yet been recorded.
Electronic Performance Support (EPS) refers to a work environment on a computer in which performers receive assistance. EPS is used in providing information, training, coaching and monitoring needed for support to customers. (Designing E-learning, Saul Carliner, 2002)
Why companies prefer e-learning?
Web Based Training (WBT) is a viable option for many international companies over instructor-led training. Many companies, especially IT ones, prefer online training because they consider it cost and time effective as otherwise people have to meet half way across the world for training On the other hand, classroom training is a very costly business venture, particularly for IT training courses. It requires a staff of highly paid instructors, fully equipped labs, and full-time staff to co-ordinate scheduling of students, instructors, and lab facilities. No-shows, students that don’t show up for class, are very common. Printed course materials like textbooks and lab manuals are very expensive, often representing 10-30% of the course cost.
Loose ends in e-learning
E-learning is however not without its weaknesses. WBT places most of the responsibility for learning squarely on the shoulders of the student. Motivated learners do well with online training because it is a stimulating efficient alternative to classroom training, which is often perceived as a waste of time. Unmotivated students either never start or do not finish their online training course. High initial costs, lack of IT infrastructure, lack of adequate computer knowledge in students, little or lack of personal interaction with instructor and other participants are some of the weaknesses of e-learning.
Solution – the blended approach to learning
Many people still consider classroom training as one of the most effective training methods available. In blended learning the strengths of both classroom training and e-learning are utilized.