An Introduction to e-Learning

Why is it important to promote e-Learning ?

The digram here illustrates the ubiquitous nature of technology in the 21st century and is available in an animated form in the course materials . The lower semi-circle illustrates how activities undertaken autonomously by learners day to day can support and underpin their learning in a formal managed learning environment and could be utilised to good effect in the delivery of teaching, training and learning in a formal context.

illustration of the e-learning, e-living animation

The upper semi-circle of the diagram describes different models that can be used to enhance the learning experience. Any or all might be appropriate. The degree of learner autonomy increases from left to right as the use of technology enables individuals to engage in their own self-directed activities.

Traditional Teaching Tool: A way of supporting learners that is common practice in a large number of colleges is to provide learners with resources and activities outside scheduled learning time: giving them handouts, assignments, revision exercises, and offering them the opportunity to talk to other learners and members of staff. This type of opportunity is still very much immersed in, and tied to, traditional methods of teaching.

Blended Learning: At this stage, these traditional methods might be supplemented by electronic media such as a computer, data projector and interactive whiteboard, or may include handouts produced with a word processor rather than hand-written ones, or perhaps even use presentation technology to replace the overhead projector. Here, a number of technologies are used to supplement the teacher- centred approach. This is where many practitioners start: by enhancing practice they know, feel confident with and are familiar with. They might begin using e-mail to communicate with other members of staff and with their groups of learners, or they might start to place digital resources in a shared folder on the network where learners can access them.

Differentiated Pace: when learning at a differentiated pace, account can be taken of the differing learning speeds and abilities of learners within the framework of learning programmes. Additional electronic resources and computer-based support can be made available to those learners that are struggling, whereas more capable learners can be provided with more challenging activities and assignments. If practitioners are lucky, the college might even have electronic tracking processes in place that enable staff to monitor the progress of groups or individual learners. This certainly facilitates learning at a differentiated pace.

Differentiated Programme: The big leap is to jump from the three opportunities for learning represented so far to offering differentiated pathways. In this situation, learners are offered individualised routes through content and individualised learner support that meets their learning styles and needs. In this scenario, a number of mechanisms would need to be in place to support the learner whilst on a course: access to electronic resources ranging from simple materials to multimedia content; electronic methods of communication & support that might be e-mail-based or web-based; automatic assessment and tracking systems.

Anytime Learning: The ability to offer differentiated pace in learning, and differentiated pathways to learning, is critical to our the concept of anytime learning : an environment that provides all the mechanisms of delivery and support mentioned so far, but which doesn’t necessarily require the learner to set foot in a college at all.

Remote Learning: To provide a truly comprehensive learning environment that can offer learning at any time and in any place, facilities have to be made available to learners and staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week (24/7). This doesn’t mean that practitioners and learners will have to work 24/7 - although this is the fear of some staff - only that elements of learning must be accessible when the college is shut.

It should not be assumed that any segment or half of the model represents better methods or modes of learning, or that learning only takes place in the upper part of the circle. The many forms of e-learning should rather be seen as a set of opportunities to meet the differing needs of individual learners in different contexts. Each segment of the circular model of e-living and e-learning lends itself to high quality, effective learning when it is appropriate to the needs of the learner and the context in which the learning takes place.