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The worldwide business of online education development and delivery has been compared as the eLearning equivalent to the dot.com boom. Big money in and big money down the gurgler.
But hang on, it wasn't about the money was it - it was about revolutionising education... wasn't it?
In writing this article I am not interested in supporting or denying the research and findings of educators or educational developers on the road to creating the eLearning paradigm. I am merely painting a picture from the perspective of someone that works in the classroom with teachers and students who question what impact eLearning may have on them. I want to answer the questions - what is eLearning, and how can this emerging discipline be used effectively.
The early reactions to the concept of online education amongst educators, parents and online students was interesting for they were either positively curious or negatively suspicious, and this had no correlation to their attitude towards computing or the internet. I want to point out that a great number of teachers I meet value their profession because they care about people, society, youth, and the future. The information and links on DAT's eLearning research pages are for them.
Online education is a natural by-product or evolution of the progression of internet technologies. From the outset the internet's primary role was for the communication and sharing of information. Information disseminated through electronic communications was found to have free value. It could also have extended timely value, and then later it was discovered that information could be made to have more value with its potential. It is not difficult to see how value and potential soon attracts commercial interest.
For business organisations, and I include universities here, eLearning is the commercial harnessing of information potential. The term eLearning has become accepted (loosely) to cover the gamut of online information content used to educate or train people, and the development of online or electonic educational delivery systems.
In the search for evidence of an eLearning success map or a sign post to positive learning outcomes for students and teachers you'll find a multitude of 'eLearning' websites with white papers, educational resources, discussion forums and eLearning statistics. The information is varied, often confusing* or inconclusive however two important distinctions can and must be made between the commercial and academic purpose and motivation behind the developments in online education.
For the commerical interests, the return on investment has not yet been realised. I cannot give an objective view of what appears to be the failings of large scale commercial eLearning research. I can only guess that while there has been the contribution of some valuable eLearning models and data, probably the most important findings have been buried with the shame of financial loss.
On the other hand, many educators have experimented successfully with eLearning materials in the classroom and online. What has to be noted here is that the expectation for successful outcomes are not measured by commercial success. The level of student engagement in the training program where the student has achieved competency in the learning outcomes, is the measure of the program’s successful delivery. We also know* , is that while many learners have positive outcomes studying ICT topics online, only some eLearners successfully complete non-ICT topics and the drop-out rate in eLearning is similar to Distance Learning.
First pedagogy - then maybe ePedagogy. My opinion is that the work of improving the quality of education through the research and implementation of sound pedogogical practices is only just beginning in Australia. This at the same time that gaps in education funding ensure that the quality of public education will continue to be seriously challenged. My guess is that the use of technology in schools will continue to increase and in all likelihood so will the introduction of eLearning models that have not been adequately developed or evaluated. The caution I offer is that we are not ready for eLearning because we still don't know what eLearning is.
In order to understand how to better engage students in an eLearning environment we need to re-evaluate our approach – how we use pedagogy in the instructional design phase. There are still many factors about learner types, learning modalities and learning environments that I personally feel could have a significant part to play in establishing successful eLearning models. Questions need to be asked. What has commercial interest got to do with pedagogy or successful education? Are the percentage of students that fall outside the success margin to remain as an acceptable statistic?
... to be continued.
Kerry Gray – October 2004