E-Learning, The Future of Education

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So what is e-Learning? First I would like to stress that it is learning. The difference between e-Learning and traditional learning is that e-Learning incorporates the web and all the other technologies that are present there. It can be thought of as a convergence of old and new.The student may be exposed to blogs, Flash videos, music, animated text and a wealth of other virtual-classroom aides. The virtual classroom, however does not eradicate the obstacles that are forever present in the traditional classroom environment. Every teacher is aware of the dynamic nature of the classroom. He/She has to fully understand the orchestration of the the classroom floor, the importance of vocal intonation, the detection of loss of interest, the relevance of material, the factorization of “meaty” topics and most importantly the individual learner.

The e-Learning environment presents challenges to the instructor/presenter. Noticeably absent is the human contact. You are not afforded the ability to detect confusion by the dropped jaw or raised eyebrows. The student is disallowed the one-on-one interaction. Students express satisfaction when they receive that directed response. Virtual classrooms, if not humanized, may tend to radiate isolation. It is imperative that the designer or presenter compensate for this by tailoring his/her vocabulary. One may choose to use words like “you”, “we” etc. Remember a mouse click is way different from a raised hand. The virtual environment removes that impulsive response. In classes I’ve taught, the student’s body language and response times tell me when a break is needed. The human brain does suffer from information overflow. A virtual class should involve short, well orchestrated topics. Monotones are hypnotic. The presenter should practice his/her presentation skills. A short story that is ice breaking is often welcomed by the learner. Comedy removes the stress of having to digest a lot of information.

I have found myself using crutch words or fillers. You know that ever present “uh”. I never realized how often I used this filler until I decided to tape myself. To be honest, I got mad at myself. This habit is extremely difficult to break, it takes a lot of practice. Newscasters spend hours breaking bad speech habits. Technical courses are also very difficult to present, technical jargon can be problematic in a live classroom environment and twice as problematic for the virtual learner. Grouping is a phenomenal aid in the traditional classroom. Though needing a lot of planning and monitoring, it can be achieved in a virtual room. Again we must overcome the problem of distance.

PowerPoint, Flash, Dreamweaver, Camtasia, Captivate are all tools with super functionality. Creativity is at its best with these tools but can also take away from the general class objective. Too much technicality can be distractive. This is synonymous to a classroom with way too many charts, colors and pictures. The designer of the program should be vigilant of media overkill.

So what is the future of e-Learning? This opinion was given in 2000 by Richard C. Close, Rob Humphrys and Brian W. Ruttebur in a SunTrust Equitable Securities report, titled e-Learning and Knowledge Technology:- “technology is increasingly changing our lives. First, it was the emergence of the desktop computer, now it is the Internet. It enables the ordinary person to have access to never-ending quantities of information and knowledge. Technology and the Internet empower individuals and facilitate a more active role in the educational process. As previously mentioned, the Internet has transformed the way people shop (B2B) and the manner in which businesses conduct transactions with each other (B2B). Over the last several months, we have seen the evolution of a third area that we believe can have the most significant impact on all our lives. The e-Learning sector is just beginning to emerge. Just as the Internet has transformed the retail market, we remain confident that it will also transform the education and knowledge market. In 1999 John Chambers (CEO Cisco Systems) commented “The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail look like a rounding error.” How right they were, today billions of dollars are being spent on the education and knowledge market.

e-Learning brings a lot of convenience to the learner. The advance of technologies for remote access, streaming, conferencing and VOIP has made education available anywhere, anytime and for anyone. High speed desktops have become remarkably cheap. Employers and the individual learner realizes a substantial cost saving due to elimination of need to travel. According to Training Magazine, corporations save between 50-70% by implementing e-learning instead of instructor led training. The removal of the static class curriculum allows the student some degree of customization to enhance his/her learning. One recent e-learner expressed her comfort while taking an on-line course. She described the environment as risk free, avoiding the intimidation of classmates who are sometimes far more advanced.

I tend to agree that we are about to witness the total revolution of schools and education. With the competitive nature of large business, Learning Management Systems will become more efficient, robust and functional. I, however, stress the maintenance of social interaction, especially for children. The classroom environment is irreplaceable for the all round development of societal skills. With this said, I hinge my bet that e-Learning is here to stay.

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