With the proliferation and increasing use of Information
Communication Technology (ICT), how people communicate and
access information has improved in efficiency and efficacy.
While people may love to surf the Web, enjoy email and readily
employ other modes of ICT, it is unclear if they would want
to embark on more formal learning on the Web, which is an
aspect of e-Learning.
What is e-Learning? e-Learning is not just about learning
on the Web. Elliott Masie, President of the Masie Center,
believes that "e-Learning should change the experience of learning. It should extend learning choices and
it should expand training options beyond the limitations
of the classroom" (Rosenberg, 2001: 3738).
Because e-Learning is so close to us, we cannot ignore it.
But are we aware of its utility? Two years or so ago, the
e-Learning business was one of the gold rushes of the dot.com
fever with many predictions on the high return-on-investment
of e-Learning. To date, "nearly all the e-learning companies
have yet to earn a profit" (Welber, January 2002). Now some
providers are asking themselves:
- What really are the needs of potential e-Learning clients?
- After all the piloting and experimentation, is there now
a trustworthy model of e-Learning?
- Is there really an emerging generation of e-Learners?
- Can technology re-define needs and the ways people learn?
- Are web learners developing sustainable deep learning
and how do they do so?
Whilst technologies continue to proliferate and standards
and benchmarks continue to evolve, there unfortunately seems
to be a lack of clarity about the why, what and how of e-Learning.
To establish the rationale behind e-Learning we argue that
as teachers, the anchor should be our teaching vision, mission
and beliefs embedded in our core knowledge, expertise and
activities. The face-to-face, teacher-students interaction
that takes place when students learn the complexities and
heuristics of thinking, problem-solving and applications unique
to the domain of our professional field or expertise
cannot be easily replaced by current methods of e-Learning.
Perhaps artificial intelligence and more sophisticated multimedia
delivery and interaction will assist in more domains of metacognition
in learning in the future. But it is probably a myth that
most people are willing to sit in front of a computer or a
formal programme like educational videos or video recordings
of lectures. One wonders how many distance learning students,
when given a set of 20 lectures on video, faithfully go through
each of them.
Besides offering content, many online providers are struggling
with designs of interactivity. Many universities and online
companies have invested heavily in attempts to use the right
timely technology and instructional design. For instance on
4 April 2001, the American Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) announced its OCW (OpenCourseWare) and promised to put
a comprehensive range of its professors course materials
for free access to the world. At the moment, there
is still nothing on the MIT website (http://web.mit.edu/ocw/); but it
is promised that some 100 or so courses will be uploaded by
In the MIT approach, e-Learning is solely about making content
available and interaction is not an issue. MIT has made clear
that it will not make its courses generally available for
interaction, as the OCW is not intended to take the place
of an MIT education. For MIT, a students education occurs
through face-to-face interaction with the professors, rather
than through sophisticated platforms: what happens on campus
is primarily an access to a variety of course content and
a greater awareness and sharing of the scope of each professors
knowledge, expertise and inspirational personal qualities.
While we can admire MITs generosity in sharing its
course contents, what we can learn from the MIT approach is
that we should not stress on the sophistication of human-machine
interaction. Instead, we should strive for a correct blend
of purposes, passion, content and methods using technology
to achieve and enhance what we teachers and academics have
and are good at.
Beyond Standards, Templates & Technology:
The Right Blending & Focus in e-Learning
If e-Learning is not just about accessing static content
or the capacity for interaction, what should be the focus?
What should be the e-Learning standards? Is there a model
or some kind of good template for instructional design? Given
that learners and teachers in the new millennium face some
urgent learning problems [i.e. (1) too much content to be
covered in too limited time, (2) too many learners with diverse
needs and interests, (3) too many problems and issues demanding
solutions], we would like to argue that a problem-focused
approach, a less-explored paradigm, is more suitable than
giving priority attention to standards, templates and technology.
Consider the MIT approach where the core content knowledge
is provided on the Internet, which in some ways address the
first two learning problems mentioned above. Problem (2) cannot
be solely addressed by technology. Face-to-face teaching and
interactions on campus where learners see at first hand how
their teacher-experts facilitate learning and cognition will
still have to be blended with IT usage.
In this blend of learning, we believe that all learning begins
with a presentation of a real-world problem or scenario. As
Tan, et al. (2000) has observed, "the search for educational
methodologies that emphasise real world challenges, higher
order thinking skills, multi-disciplinary learning, independent
learning, e-learning, information and knowledge management
and collaborative skills appear to have a confluence in problem-based
learning" (p. xi). Consequently to enhance a combination of
face-to-face teaching and IT usage, problem-based learning
approaches should be incorporated.
The reasons for this stand are as follows: Although technology
can augment the reality of the problem presentation,
it is unable to provide the solution. Although technology
can increase the learners information about the world
with its ease of accessibility and interaction, it cannot
encourage and inspire how to solve messy real-life problems
that professionals encounter in their different fields and
daily life. At the most, technology may trigger the need to
learn, communicate and collaborate. Because technology alone
does not automatically lead to successful learning, it is
necessary to look for more holistic teaching methodologies
that optimise good usage of technology.
Educators have always appreciated the value of using problems
to stimulate learning and enhance the quality of thinking.
But deciding when to pose a problem and what should be the
scope of the problem has in the past been limited by the learners
availability of, and accessibility to, information.
In contrast, the IT revolution has brought about two new
changes. First, the roles of educators have been re-defined:
teachers have now become coaches, facilitators and designers
of learning and seek to empower students to become more independent
learners who can make better use of the accessibility and
wealth of knowledge and information (although students do
not always like this aim and prefer to be spoon-fed).
Second, the advent of online learning has brought about new
paradigms and approaches in the presentation of problems and
the learning of problem-enquiry and problem-solving processes.
Teaching in this new paradigm requires a blending of human-to-human
facilitation and human-machine interaction; in addition, problems
are used as triggers to enhance knowledge sharing and enterprise.
Hence when teachers ask questions, these questions should
focus on the key learning problems to be solved. When designing
and developing courses with essential content to be learnt,
questions that are posed to students should be linked to basic
instructional design elements (e.g. learning goals, objectives,
content, participants needs, instructional and learning
methods and procedures, resources and technologies, evaluation
e-Learning should not be just about changing the mode of
delivery and the retrieval of content for information focusing
on a single discipline. By incorporating problem-based learning
approaches into e-Learning, not only do we gain a fresh perspective
to e-Learning, but we can now see clearly that the problem-focused
e-Learning approach is about:
- changing the paradigm of learning;
- actively defining the scope and goals of learning;
- the learning of heuristics;
- the learning of thinking processes;
- activating prior knowledge;
- being inevitably engaged in the learning process;
- optimising flexibility;
- having a multi-disciplinary approach;
- encouraging divergence; and
- constructing solutions to unstructured, real-world problems.
Hope & Expectation of Problem-focused e-Learning
We hope our problem-focused e-Learning idea provides a different
angle of contemplation for those intending to use e-Learning.
Apart from learning to be facilitators of the learning process,
we need a new paradigm to see ourselves confronting and solving
problems as well as being designers of the learning environment.
To decide how much of the problem-focused approach should
be face-to-face and how much online, it is thus important
to consider the following three points:
- the how of e-Learning is deriving the right
blend based on your own belief, mission and core competence;
- the what of e-Learning is being problem-focused
rather than concentrating on content, interactivity and
- the why of e-Learning is about technology
enhancing our access to information and expertise that helps
us solve messy real-life problems.
Rosenberg, Marc J. (2001). E-Learning-Strategies for
Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Tan, O.S.; Little, P.; Hee, S.Y. & Conway, J. (2000) Problem-based
learning: Educational innovation across disciplines. Singapore: Temasek Centre for Problem-based Learning.
Welber, Michael. (January 2002). Where Weve Been
& Where Were Going: A Look at the Future of e-learning. http://www.elearningmag.com/elearning/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=6703. (Accessed: 26 February 2002).