This paper aims to provide a brief overview of how two unrelated
developments, the ever-evolving technological advancements
and a paradigm shift in education, have combined together
to form a new approach to learning (i.e. from instructor-led
to learner-centred instruction) and highlight areas of synergy
between the two developments in transforming education via
the deployment of ICT (information & communication technologies).
Impact of technological developments on education
The emergence of both ICT and technological tools of multiple
capabilities have increased the possibilities of using technology
as a powerful medium of delivery, instruction and communication
(Lim, 2000c, 2001). The convergence of technologies offers
not only easy access to vast online teaching and learning
resources, flexible life-long learning and educational opportunities,
but also new ways of interaction and communication as well
as building online learning communities.
Traditionally, courseware has been built in huge structures
with intertwining content, making it difficult to isolate
sections of the content for searching and re-purposing. With
technical innovations in developing reusable learning objects,
courseware content can now be separated into database-driven
objects and centrally stored, searched, retrieved and re-assembled
according to the learners’ needs and requirements (Barrit
& Lewis, 2001; Mow, 2002). This trend of learning object
development is well suited for supporting learner-centred
Paradigm shift from instructor-led to learner-centred
To meet demanding workplace requirements, learners must
firmly grasp the fundamentals of their discipline and develop
a range of skills that is highly valued by employers. These
skills include teamwork, construction of new knowledge, multidisciplinary
problem solving, communication, life-long learning, self-assessment,
change-management, and a familiarity with technological developments.
However, traditional modes of didactic instruction, which
treat students as passive learners and the instructor as the
sole provider of information, are no longer adequate in providing
learners with the necessary skills. For effective instruction
and learning, learners must be actively involved in and be
more responsible for their own learning (Lim, 2000a, 2001;
Felder, 2000; Lim, et al., 1999). This poses a compelling
shift of roles for instructors and learners: instructors now
function as facilitators/resource persons and learners are
self-directed and autonomous, independently managing and monitoring
their own learning (Abdullah, 2001; Clifford, 1999).
Learner-centred instruction focuses on learning rather than
on teaching, paralleling learner-centred psychological principles
that emphasise the active and reflective nature of learning
and learners (American Psychological Association, 1997). Learner-centred
instruction moves from teaching learners to facilitating learners
Deployment of ICT-supported learning strategies
in learner-centred instruction
Today, educators face two major challenges: (a) they must
manage the paradigm shifts of roles and practices in learner-centred
instruction; (b) they must learn and adopt appropriate online
learning technologies in their teaching practice to help them
achieve their educational goals. Consequently, some ways in
which online learning technologies are capable of supporting
a learner-centred learning environment are outlined below.
The proliferation of web-based technologies has enabled
the quick production of online lectures and other learning
resources. Besides being a delivery medium for easy access
and download of materials, online technologies are also capable
of providing varied, meaningful learning experiences through
the careful planning, designing and structuring of learning
tasks, activities and support.
- Online learning activities
Online learning activities are tasks and problems used to
engage learners (Oliver, 2001) by providing opportunities
for learners to actively construct their own understanding
of content (Laurillard, 1993). Learners assume much responsibility
for their own learning: they are able to determine where,
when, how fast and what they learn and in what sequence.
In this ‘unstructured’ learner-centred learning
environment, learners set their learning goals, create their
learning paths by selecting and assembling learning objects,
as well as monitor their own progress. Online learning activities
that are capable of supporting learner-centred instruction
- By incorporating concepts, problem statements, reference
sections and a variety of tools, online technologies
are capable of supporting and enhancing problem-based
learning processes (Lim, 2002, 2000b).
- Participation in online debates requires learners
to assume an active role so that they are able to reflect
on their own perspectives and those of others.
- Project work to be completed online by teams promotes
active participation within a learning community.
- Apart from being able to disseminate information
to learners, online technologies can help in research.
For instance, instructors may refer to useful online
learning resources, pose provoking/thoughtful questions
through email/discussion boards, and provide opportunities
for the construction of knowledge, self-reflection and
- Online communication and interaction
Online communication provides excellent opportunities for
learners to exchange, share and brainstorm ideas, discuss
issues as well as engage in problem solving and critical
thinking, independent of time, distance and location. Consistent
interaction, via online communication between instructor
and learners and among learners over learning issues, is
cited as the most essential component of any successful
web-based course (Lim, 1998). ICT makes possible two modes
of online communication and interaction:
- Asynchronous or delayed-time communication (e.g.
email, listserv, newsgroups and discussion boards) is
basically text-based and can be conducted anytime, anywhere.
Such flexibility enables reflection and critical thought
before any posting is made.
- Synchronous or real-time communication takes place
via chat rooms, electronic whiteboards, audio conferencing,
video conferencing, file and application sharing, and
live e-learning/virtual classrooms. With improved network
bandwidth and more capable conferencing tools, real-time
communication is gaining popularity in complementing
Both modes of communication are well suited for learner-centred
instruction in promoting knowledge construction and creating
online communities for collaborative learning (Coomey
& Stephenson, 2001; Oliver, 2001; Lim, 2001, 1999).
Instructors can capitalise on the capabilities of online
technologies to design group-learning activities (e.g.
peer assessment, collaboration and interaction) and promote
self-directed learning. However, a wealth of literature
indicates that for any type of online interaction to be
successful, it must be carefully structured into the course
as learners will not automatically participate in group
discussions, debate, or answer the questions posed online
(Coomey & Stephenson, 2001; Oliver, 2001; Lim, et
al., 1999; Lim, 1998; Laurillard, 1993).
Online learning support
Online learning support is an integral part of the online
learning process in guiding learners and providing feedback
(Coomey & Stephenson, 2001; Oliver, 2001). In learner-centred
instruction, learners direct and control various aspects
of their learning (e.g. learning outcomes, choice of group
members), with instructors in the background providing
advice and general guidelines on resources and procedures.
Various means of online learning support include:
- Learning guides (e.g. generic ones on study and research
skills or specific guides on how to complete a particular
- Online mentors and buddies who facilitate, coach
or guide learners through the course.
- Online personal learning portfolios (e.g. learners’
journals, personal learning logs) to promote self-reflection
(a critical component of learner-centred instruction).
- Online public learning portfolios to encourage peer
review and feedback on each other’s work.
The current shift from an instructor-led to a learner-centred
learning environment can be well supported by the concomitant
development and proliferation of online technologies and tools.
The effective deployment of ICT-supported learning strategies
calls for good practices in designing and structuring learning
tasks and activities that promote active involvement of learners,
and also provide support and feedback for self-directed learning.
If the use of technology is to be maximised, the dominance
of the instructor-led approach to instruction must be challenged.
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