In the final years of the process of pre-accession of Bulgaria to the European Union, the conditions for involving and efficient use of e-Learning in different educational institutions were significantly improved. The basic factors that positively influenced the improvement of the e-education index in Bulgaria could be summarised as follows: the participation of educational and research institutions in a lot of international projects; government policy; initiatives by universities, educational and research institutions; well-qualified experts in information and communication technologies, didactics, psychology and other subject areas that, with enthusiasm, add value to the development and dissemination of e-learning content.
Unfortunately, there are problems, such as lack of sufficient e-Learning content, especially in the humanity areas; insufficient preparation and readiness of university lecturers and school teachers to use e-Learning technologies; insufficient didactical readiness of teachers to use e-Learning technologies; lack of a regulatory system in schools and in some universities to stimulate school and university teachers to develop and use e-Learning content.
In our view, to overcome the above problems, a regulatory system has to be approved to stimulate, develop and use e-Learning content at all educational levels; good practices need to be disseminated; open-source software and e-learning environments with Bulgarian language interfaces should be popularised; joint research concerning the technological and didactical issues of e-Learning have to be conducted on a larger scale; and more universities should offer Master’s programmes in e-Learning education.
Virtual learning and ICT capacities have thus become a permanent component of the curriculum. Key factors for success were the approach to use e-learning to improve overall teaching methods, the tailored e-tutor system and the constant information and training policy. Other important factors were the support through university leadership and the university-wide e-learning programme/CeDiS, as well as the exchange with projects in other departments. Moreover, the project was permanently adapted during the slow start with the pilot and grew consistently through constant monitoring and evaluation. In conclusion, we would like to underline the importance of training, networking, IT infrastructure and consultation with students for the successful implementation of e-learning in any department.
Currently, the faculty is preparing a project proposal for the 2007 academic year to enhance content development and teacher training for a truly integrated blended learning approach.
Maja Pivec: "Games can be applied as a tool to foster various aspects of the life-long learning process"
Dear Maja Pivec, I am concerned about the matter of the structural design of educational games and very pleased to have the chance to ask an expert: how should the game be designed to make sure that the learner does not avoid some important educational contents by cheating?
How to avoid cheating? The game should, in the first place, be fun to play – and the interaction in the game should be more rewarding than the completion of the game itself.
Where is the guarantee that students won’t cheat? There is no guarantee. Also, in commercial games, cheat codes are available and popular. Cheat codes are included in the game to allow the developers to test and debug their code without having to play for hours to test enhancement. For example, a driving game may have a cheat code to repair damage, or a shooter may have a cheat code for unlimited ammunition. This allows the developer to test without having to be an expert at the game. These codes always find themselves posted on the Internet and are usually found by players wanting to experience the game in an easier mode.
When designing your own game, it is always a challenge to ensure that the game is linear enough to cover all aspects for learning, yet not so linear that it would restrict players’ further gameplay if they got stuck.
I can see that a video game is of great advantage to help integrate schools in the new digital era. But, for students, can you tell us in which way video games improve children's potential?
finateca (United Kingdom)
Many publications include research that details potential aspects of player computer games. For example, hand-eye coordination, spatial orientation, mental rotation, spatial visualisation (Tetris achieves these), spatial integration and mental mapping (3d maze games), strategies for dividing attention and multitasking (fps games), brain capacity improvement, problem solving, etc.
The games to train site is one of many sites where learning or training games for different topics are listed.
Dear Maja Pivec, I believe that games contribute to the creativity of learners. Do you think that creativity is important for the learning process? Could you give us some examples of these game-based learning projects? Thanks in advance.
Marta Casares (Spain)
Creativity is a basis for learning and forms many of the constructivist learning theories. Gardner, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, suggested that individuals are “creative” in specific domains. He suggested that providing students with ways to be creative allows them to find and solve problems and communicate ideas in various forms. Game-based learning is ideal for this. Some examples are described in Piloting New Ways of Learning and Education Arcade zooms in on games in the classroom.
There is a recent EU-funded project on the application of mobile phones and games for learning called mGBL – mobile Game-Based Learning.
Malcolm Gladwell, a writer at the New Yorker, said about the programme Sesame Street: “If you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them.” Do you agree? Do you believe that this could also be applied to adults?
Pedro González (Spain)
I also believe that attention and focus on the topic are necessary for successful learning. However, there are other factors that influence and contribute to the learning process, e.g. arousing interest in the topic, interaction with the topic, etc., where games can be applied as a tool to foster various aspects of the life-long learning process. There are also many publications on immersive environments. Research shows that 3d games can create such an environment and that, when immersed, the player’s cognitive learning abilities are increased.
Games, play and playful interaction can successfully be introduced in all areas of (adult) learning, i.e. formal, non-formal and informal learning.
Dear Maja, thanks for answering our questions. Do you think that game-based learning helps the learning process to take place out of the classrooms as well, for example, at home? And do you believe that collaborative learning is possible in this type of learning? For instance, three children playing together with a videogame.
Octavio Giacomo (Italy)
Many multiplayer games achieve exactly this. Dungeon Siege One is a good example. Each player controls a different character and, in multiplayer mode, they must work together to complete tasks and advance levels. This promotes teamwork and fosters collaboration between children. Multiplayer online games also foster collaboration with many players participating solely for the social interaction.
Are there any examples of this kind of learning in Europe or in other countries in the world?
There are many examples of the application of games for learning in different areas.
One can decide to use “educational games” for learning e.g. Chemicus (by Heureka-Klett publisher; or TIVOLA for the US market), a puzzle-adventure game for the self-directed learning of chemistry. One can find an entire series of titles similar to Chemicus, e.g. Physicus, Hystorion, Informaticus, etc., by the same publishers.
One can also apply off-the-shelf games that cover various aspects of the learning issue, e.g.: Age of Empires for the introduction of ancient history, Jurassic Park covers the topic of dinosaurs, SimEarth or SimCity can be applied for ecology and resource management, The Sims is for social and behavioural sciences, etc., as outlined in the Edge Magazine Oct. 2004, issue 141.
There are also online games available. Several online games and case studies can be seen at the UniGame site.
I am the founder of the Kindersite project. Please could you evaluate the Kindersite within the format of game-based learning?
joelhjosephson (United Kingdom)
The SIG-GLUE quality stamp service is aimed at assessing the quality of learning games. The service started in May 2006. Individuals and companies can submit their learning games for an evaluation process. The term “learning games” is used for games that have an explicit learning purpose and can be used, adapted and adopted for supporting, improving and fostering learning processes within formal, non-formal and informal learning scenarios.
Access the web site to see more details about criteria, submission, the evaluation process and benefits of the quality stamp.
Dear Maja, I'm very interested in games for learning, in order to support constructivist learning. Do you know an interesting software tool for making games? Thank you very much.
“Gamemaker” is a good example. It has a free version and a registered version with many tutorials included.
For the more experienced, there is “torque” from garagegames. This is a commercial engine with 2d and 3d versions, as well as an educational pricing structure.
Both products are very good and produce good quality output; however, you still need to foster the idea and develop the gameplay design before you start.
I read an article that stated that game-based learning is negative because children get used to working in unreal situations (fun, games) that will not be the case when children grow up and work in a company. What do you think?
Lucie Smith (Ireland)
Despite having fun and playful interaction in games (though I personally don’t see why fun and play should exclude learning) games can cover different learning objectives and contribute to various learning outcomes that can also be applied in the professional world.
For example, when playing multiplayer games, the social aspects of these can contribute to the acquisition of numerous skills relevant to professional life, e.g. team work, communication skills, digital literacy, etc. Also, today, many digital games do provide a real-life situation. Simcity is a classic and often used to teach economics. Microsoft’s Flight Simulator is also true to life. Achieving a balance between fun, gameplay and learning is a goal that many developers have yet to achieve.
Online Educa Berlin 2006 organises a round table discussion about the purpose of games in learning, quality issues and theoretical foundations of games design and development on Friday, December 1. To read more please click here.
Call for Papers: SIG-GLUE Special Issue on Game-Based Learning - British Journal of Educational Technology. The SIG-GLUE editorial board would like to invite researchers, practitioners and game-developers interested in the use, or potential use, of games in adult educational settings to contribute to this special issue with articles reporting original research and current developments in the area of game-based learning. To read more please see the PDF on the right-hand side resource area.
Markku Markkula: "Europeans have learned to network, and the working culture is increasingly changing towards working and learning together"
The desired future cannot be invented in the traditional way. We need more innovativeness and more innovations. We, Europeans, have learned to network, and our working culture is increasingly changing towards working and learning together. In this very much needed cultural development, progress in technology is a crucial precondition. In working communities in general, and in education in particular, ICT enables totally new dimensions and new levels of quality in creating joint innovative solutions to meet the challenges we are facing. The changes needed in work culture at all levels of modern knowledge societies are still huge. Both the decision makers and e-learning practitioners need to be more open minded and committed to hard work in order to generate technological and social innovations.
Finland is one of the top countries in education and information society development. What could be done to enable other countries to benefit from Finland’s experience and example?
Too often the wheel is reinvented through countless projects. On the one hand, this is positive, as people learn. But if the decision-makers want to reach the targets of the Lisbon strategy, they have to invest much more in really large and in-depth multidisciplinary development projects. We have plenty of good experiences regarding systemic development processes. Conceptualising the results and disseminating them through effective learning and implementation processes should be emphasised, by using substantially more money on this than has so far been used.
What are the main activities of the Lifelong Learning Institute Dipoli in the area of e-learning?
TKK Dipoli has indeed been and perhaps still is a forerunner in lifelong learning and professional development. Our uniqueness still lies in linking quite successfully the latest industrial and scientific developments in the areas of foresight, innovation and productivity with the latest e-learning developments. Our special expertise is in organising knowledge creation processes with concepts, models or roadmaps, if you like, as the outcomes. We have participated in a number of quite successful European projects working on these kinds of tools for knowledge creation and learning; for example, in the Value-Scout project a powerful tool was developed to foresee emerging learning needs through a specific model designed to detect needs by analysing both strong and weak signals through a specific methodology.
In your organisation, what do you consider to be the impact of e-learning on students' networking and lifelong learning?
The learning habits of youngsters, who have used computer games and networks since their early childhood, are very different compared to those who have not had much experience in using ICT. The huge impact will be seen when the development of using ICT, which we see in the entertainment industry, is implemented in education with the same enthusiasm. This is really creating new value networks globally, which is also big business. Education is expensive, and this radical change to use ICT effectively is even more expensive. But it is most expensive to continue with the traditional teacher and lecture-centric educational model. The new mode is characterised by phrases describing learning throughout your life: “learning is fun”, “learning is based on curiosity and inquiry”, “learning is knowledge creation through collaboration and communication”, “learning means happiness”, and “learning means challenging job opportunities based on your own interest”.
First of its kind
ICT has been introduced into the Nordic schools during the last 10-20 years. While many studies have analysed how and how often ICT is used in schools, hardly any studies have taken this analysis to the next level: What is the impact of ICT?
The inter-Nordic study E-learning Nordic 2006 focuses on the impact of ICT on education within three key areas:
- Pupil performance
- Teaching and learning processes
- Knowledge-sharing, communication and home-school co-operation.
ICT has a positive impact on the schools’ overall target
E-learning Nordic 2006 shows that ICT has a positive impact on the schools’ overall target – improving the pupils’ learning. However, the study also shows that the full potential of ICT is not being fully realized in many schools. Teachers are mostly focused on using ICT to support the subject content. Still, a positive impact of ICT on teaching is also seen on pupil engagement, differentiation, creativity and less waste of time. The study also shows that the preconditions for using ICT for knowledge sharing, communication and school-home co-operation are at hand, and ICT is indeed being used for this in many schools. However the positive impact of this is as yet only moderate.
Real life example: At Oslo Montessori Skole (a primary school in Norway) it is assessed that ICT specifically has an impact on pupils with special needs in the area of writing and reading. It is the school’s experience that ICT has been a valuable tool to support the concentration and motivation among this group of pupils.
Impact of ICT on Pupil Performance
The teachers assess that the impact of ICT is strongest on the pupils’ subject-related performance. However, a positive impact can also be seen on learning basic skills such as reading and writing. 60% of the teachers reported that they experience a moderate or high degree of positive impact of ICT on the pupils’ writing skills.
Also, teachers experience that ICT support differentiation both challenging the academically strong pupils in new ways or supporting the academically weak pupils so that they can more easily participate on equal terms with other pupils. Many teachers find that it is easier to differentiate their teaching with ICT than without.
Real life example: At Mörbyskolan (a primary school in Sweden) the pupils really like that they can manage their own learning to a much greater degree when using ICT. From the point of view of the teachers’ at Mörbyskolan, the computer is not seen as replacing the teacher, but supporting the pupils in new ways to be able, to a larger extent, to work in their own way.
Impact of ICT on Teaching and Learning Processes
Results from E-learning Nordic 2006 show that ICT generally has a positive impact on the teaching and learning situation. However, some people expected that ICT could in some ways revolutionise the teaching and learning processes at school, and compared with this view, the impact must be seen as more limited. ICT does not revolutionize teaching methods. The teachers are mostly focused on using ICT to support the subject content. However, the impact of integrating ICT in teaching can be measured in pupil engagement, differentiation and creativity.
It has been stated in the public debate – in for example Denmark – that a barrier to the integration of ICT has been that too much teaching time is wasted. The results of the study cannot support this argument, since the great majority of teachers do not experience that more teaching time is wasted with the integration of ICT.
Real life example: Oulun Lyseon Lukio (a secondary school in Finland), is a school with an advanced use of ICT. The teachers at the school emphasise, however the importance of that the focus remains on the subject of teaching itself. The choice to use ICT tools in education must be based on a sound analysis of whether the use actually can bring another dimension to the learning process.
Impact of ICT on Knowledge Sharing, Communication and school-home co-operation
E-learning Nordic 2006 shows that the use of ICT as an organizational tool has not yet fully matured. The preconditions for using ICT for knowledge-sharing, communication and school-home co-operation are at hand, and many schools, teachers, pupils and parents use the ICT infrastructure for informational and collaborative purposes. However, in spite of massive ICT-based communication within the teaching staff at many schools, the positive impact on co-operation and knowledge sharing is as yet only moderate.
Real life example: At Greve Gymnasium (a secondary school in Denmark), the headmaster finds that knowledge-sharing is not necessarily easier with ICT, but as the complexity of the school organisation and the management of daily activities increases, ICT is the only way to handle the intensified complexity.
The study shows that the potential of ICT is not being fully realized at all schools. To address this problem E-learning Nordic 2006 offers a number of recommendations for the future. A special key concern is the need for more focus on organizational implementation of ICT. If the potential impact of ICT in Nordic schools is to be further realised, school owners and management need to be more professional in their organisational implementation of ICT. Substantial investments in ICT have been made at both regional and local level, but often with no clear criteria for success and no structured monitoring of the benefits. At many schools, the situation can be compared to buying 10 new laptops and not un-wrapping them. For example, during the last few years a number of schools have invested in Learning Management Systems (LMS) with the ambition of improving education and knowledge-sharing. However, often the investments have not been accompanied by use of the new systems. Return on investment from ICT investments and ICT projects require a commitment to organisational implementation on the part of the school management. They must be visionary enough to initiate and continuously support the use of ICT as a strategic tool for developing the general ambitions of the school.
The E-learning Nordic 2006 study has been designed and launched as a partnership between the Finnish National Board of Education, the Swedish National Agency for School Improvement, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, the Danish Ministry of Education, and Ramboll Management.
Data collection in the study was based on an internet-based survey conducted among 224 schools in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark as well as 12 on-site school visits. More than 8000 persons participated in the survey. Respondents were pupils in the 5th and 8th grades in primary school and the 11th grade in secondary school, teachers in these grades, the pupils parents, as well as the headmasters at the participating schools.
Studying impact is methodologically difficult. The method chosen was to ask different key participants in Nordic schools about their personal experiences using ICT and their assessment of the impact of ICT. This methodology does not necessarily prove a direct link between the use of ICT and learning impact, but it uncovers the impact as it is perceived by the headmasters, teachers, pupils and the pupils’ parents.
- Ella Kiesa from the Finnish National Board of Education,
- Peter Karlberg from the Swedish National Agency for School Improvement,
- Øystein Johannesen from the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research,
- Lilla Voss from the Danish Ministry of Education, and
- Sanya Pedersen at Ramboll Management.
"The use of technological media in education is due as much or more to the goals of industry as to educational aims"
I believe that the greatest progress achieved at Spanish schools has been with regard to increased computer networking and Internet connection. The greatest advance in terms of availability is in the ratio of pupils per computer with broadband Internet connection, which has now dropped to below ten. There has also been a significant increase in something considered important for improving educational results: the number of pupils with computers available to them in the home.
The programmes launched by the Spanish public administration with the aim of bringing the information society into education seek not only to improve average access figures, but also to find a balance amongst the different Spanish regions and to increase the number of homes with Internet access amongst pupils from the less privileged classes. Another important goal is to encourage pupils’ parents to use the computer services provided by schools.
Some initiatives and approaches to eLearning have not been as effective as was hoped at first in bringing ICTs closer to society as a whole. Which ones do you feel have failed, and why?
Many policies and strategies aimed at introducing the new technologies into education have been applied in Europe since the 1980s. There has always been insufficient experimentation and research leading up to the launch of these policies, in a technological environment which is changing so rapidly that we get the feeling that both school and society are moving permanently.
The use of technological media in education is due as much or more to the goals of industry as to educational aims. The content and services most used in schools were first used in business, and in the best case were only slightly adapted.
Methodological development has been held up by the inertia characteristic of education systems, and technological advances have taken place quicker than it has been possible to include them in the curriculum. It is still a complicated affair to use the new technologies in courses preparing pupils to take university entrance examinations, in which qualification is still closely linked to traditional content.
A large proportion of teachers have welcomed all this with open arms, accepting the extra work load required in introducing the new resources and making the necessary methodological adaptations. It would not be realistic to say there has been a 100% positive response, however.
You run a public institution that provides access to online products and teaching and training initiatives to a wide community of users. What are the most important lines of action or initiatives that you have developed to ensure the integration of ICTs in education?
The broad working lines education providers follow in Spain are similar to those followed in other EU Member States: firstly, to try to keep a good balance in the use of resources for provision, communication, maintenance, teacher training, content and digital services development, research and dissemination of models and education practices. Secondly, updating and adapting curricula (goals, content, assessment systems), the teacher’s role and education spaces and times, making them as flexible and cross-cutting as possible, are indispensable measures without which no progress can be made. In close cooperation with the autonomous communities, we promote all these lines of action as part of the Spanish government’s Aula y Avanz@ (Classroom and Progress) programmes, extending the education environment beyond the school walls, particularly into the domestic arena.
How will learning be in the near future (2010)?
The process of integrating the new technologies into the classroom is still at its initial stage in most European schools. We are talking about a process of transition in which the technology is introduced firstly as tools to support tried and tested methodologies, well known to all, making this a more quantitative than qualitative change, increasing the efficacy of these methodologies and extending them. If we look at the main line of action behind eLearning 2004-2006, School Twinning, its basic goals – cooperative learning, interculturality, greater emphasis on learning other European languages, better teacher training, etc – had all been pursued before, though without the support of the new technologies. Now we have Internet, which enables instant, easy communications between European countries, and allows inter-school working groups to be formed, sharing tools and resources. In a few years’ time we will have created a huge database on which most European schools will be registered, greatly helping us to develop joint projects on any theme, in any area of knowledge.
This is a huge step forward, but we expect even more from the new technologies through the development of new methodologies created specifically to make full use of the support provided by communication technologies, helping us to progress more in areas such as training assessment, individualised training, everyone’s contribution to the task of educating our young people, ensuring they get the best preparation for life-long, autonomous learning. We expect that by 2010 all pupils will have computer access, both at school and at home, and that a huge majority of teachers and pupils will have the instrumental training necessary to use the tools available, making it possible for methodological changes to be speeded up.
Progress in the use of the new technologies for methodological innovation continues to be made more slowly than we would like, much more slowly than technological advances or the introduction of ICTs in industry, trade and leisure. The problem is that, in education, we still have to do a lot of research into how learning processes take place before we can bring the full potential of these new tools to bear. Although this seems to us to be a time of huge technological advances, we still know little about our how brains work and about the huge differences that exist between one brain and another, and how these differences affect the way we acquire different types of knowledge and learning.
eLearning and Virtual Universities
At the height of the dotcom bubble Peter Drucker predicted that “universities won’t survive … as residential institutions” (The Guardian, April 13, 2004), and others, along the same lines, foresaw that universities would become content providers and learning facilitators to for-profit producers of “learningware”.
In the late nineties, several US universities formed commercial companies alone or in collaboration with other universities, cultural institutions and providers of e-solutions. Among others, New York University invested $20m in NYU Online and Columbia University formed Fathom together with 14 universities, libraries and museums, using $40m. None of these ever launched an e-learning course. At the same time, Cornell University invested $12m in eCornell without registering any significant numbers of students. Also, the attempt by the Open University of the UK to deliver education on the US marked failed with a loss of approximately $20m.
One of the few successful e-learning providers in the USA is University of Phoenix, and its success seems to be related to a focus on a limited and specialised market in the business and health field.
At the same time, in Europe, the European Council adopted a grand scale plan called Europe. An Information Society for All (Lisbon, March 2000) with the goal of becoming ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’ by 2010. In May the same year, the European Commission published a communication entitled e-Learning – Designing tomorrow’s education.
Parallel to these political initiatives, but without coordination from the European Commission, many national European projects for e-learning were launched, e.g. the UK e-University, the Digital University in the Netherlands, the Bavarian Virtual University, the Virtual University in Finland and the Net-University in Sweden.
Five years later, the UKeU has ceased operations. What was launched as a worldwide 21st century successor of the Open University never attracted financial support from commercial partners and recruited only 900 students at a time when 5000 were expected. £60m of public money was spent on the operation.
The Dutch Digital University - a consortium of universities in the Netherlands together with some it-companies and publishers - is still in operation, but the volume is in no way significant, and partners are considering withdrawing.
The Finnish Virtual University and the Swedish Net-University – both government-run initiatives - have increased their amount of online courses, trying to recruit students from other institutions and regions in the country, but the expected inter-institutional collaboration is still missing.
At the Bavarian Virtual University, also a government initiative, the amount of courses offered as e-learning and available for students from all institutions in Bavaria has been successfully achieved, but with no side effects along the lines of improved inter-institutional collaboration.
The most important lesson learned from these European virtual university and e-learning experiences is that none of the initiatives have reached a level of sustainability – they will not survive if government support is withdrawn.
Considerations regarding eLearning development
In his presentation at the eLearning Conference in Brussels in May 2005, Fabrizio Cardinali from Giunti Interactive Labs, Italy, characterised e-Learning the development in the late nineties as ‘the big wave of e-learning’, and the development at the start this century as ‘the Tsunami of e-learning’.
Nevertheless, in a report published as early as 2001, the OECD spotted the difficulties of implementing e-learning: "In spite of having spent US$ 16 billion in 1999 in OECD countries on ICT, there is (…) no clear evidence that ICT investments made by the public sector have resulted in improved performance of teachers and/or learners, nor that it has improved the quality and access to educational resources on the scale predicted.” (E-Learning. The Partnership Challenge, 2001, p. 24).
Recently, another OECD report entitled E-learning in Tertiary Education. Where do we stand?, published in 2005, has elaborated on the same problem:
“e-learning has not really revolutionized learning and teaching to date. Far-reaching, novel ways of teaching and learning, facilitated by ICT, remain nascent or still to be invented. (…) The adoption of learning management systems (LMS) (…) appears to be one of the prominent features of e-learning development in the tertiary education worldwide. (…) The current immaturity of online learning is demonstrated by low adoption of content management systems (…). ICT has penetrated tertiary education, but has had more impact on administrative services (e.g. admissions, registration, fee payment, purchasing) than on the pedagogic fundamentals of the classroom.” (p. 14-15)
Although the reports express scepticism regarding the integration of ICT in tertiary teaching and learning, they also stress a general confidence in the use of educational technology. The first one gives an analysis of the situation that points to technology fixation and lack of cultural specificities as the main cause for the absence of success in e-learning:
“Technology alone does not deliver educational success. It only becomes valuable in education if learners and teachers can do something useful with it. (…) educational content and e-learning services (…) need to be tailored to local needs and cultures." (E-Learning. The Partnership Challenge, 2001, p. 24-25).
In the British debate following the collapse of the UKeU in 2004, the national funding council explained with a certain degree of bitterness that the lack of interest in e-learning was caused by universities focusing on ‘blended’ learning. But, already a year earlier, at the opening of the Learntec Forum in Karlsruhe on February 4, 2003, Commissioner Reding promoted blended learning as the future for e-learning:
“Modern e-learning solutions now recognise the importance of learning as a social process and offer possibilities for collaboration with other learners, for interaction with the learning content and for guidance from teachers, trainers and tutors. (…) Teachers and trainers once more play a central role, using virtual and traditional face-to-face interaction with their students in a “blended” approach. An approach in which they are no longer seen simply as consumers of pre-determined e-learning content, but as editors, authors and contributors to a contextualised learning scenario”.
This statement by Mrs Reding is not to be read as a total decline of e-leaning or online education, but as recognition of the need for teacher-student interaction and shared responsibility in the learning process. Neither should the statement be taken as an indication of lost confidence in ICT as the means by which to realise the vision for the Knowledge Society by the Commission.
Taken together, the OECD reports, the VET-report and Mrs Reding’s statement indicate that the success of e-learning depends on pedagogical development and the closer integration of technology within students’ previous learning experiences.
Attempts to dig deeper into the problems of eLearning
Parallel to the experiments with virtual universities over the last decade, many universities, particularly open universities, have implemented e-learning solutions in their programmes, often with a touch of the blended approach. Let me use the Open University of the UK as an example.
The success of the UKOU has often been seen as a direct consequence of its well-prepared educational resources and the conscious use of educational technology in a speed adapted to students’ needs. The point I want to make is that this interpretation overlooks an essential feature in the UKOU concept: the integration of learning activities in the resources and the tutorials – and the ability to make these activities culturally relevant. The success of the UKOU is related to the implementation of a social constructivist approach to learning. They shifted the concept of learning from knowledge acquisition to knowledge construction.
The difficulties faced by many of the e-learning and online learning initiatives mentioned above have been caused by viewing learning, and especially e-learning, as a process of knowledge transfer instead of knowledge construction - too much emphasis has been placed on the concept of stand-alone courses and resource-based learning. This approach has been supported, on the one hand by a relative success of short, practice-orientated just-in-time and just-in-place courses available on the Internet or on CD-ROM and, on the other hand, by a focus on learning objects – reusable learning resources - as a possible means of reducing costs in education.
My point is not to diminish the achievements of the learning object concept, but to question the concept of learning, which in many cases is incorporated through instructional design theory. “Instructional design is based on the empiric assumption that behaviour is predictable, and that educational design, therefore, can occur in isolation from educational execution.” (Koper, 2000 p.14), but: “(…) a lot of learning does not come from knowledge resources at all, but stems from the activities of learners solving problems, interacting with real devices, interacting in their social and work situation. (…) it is the activities of the learners in the learning environment which are accountable for the learning.” (Koper, 2001 p.3).
Learning resources (learning objects) broadly taken only become active during the learning process when the learner is doing something useful with them. The creation of relevant learning activities becomes essential. Successful learning activities mobilise the capacities (present knowledge, cultural heritage, etc.) of learners and establish a dialogue with the new learning resource as the basis for learning. Hereby, teachers and tutors are reinstalled in a position as responsible for organising the learning process. They are choosing relevant learning resources and creating learning activities needed in order to reach defined educational objectives.
Technologies to enhance learning as e-learning should augment these realities of the learning process – interaction, communication, collaboration and construction; in order to be successful and meet expectations, the knowledge society has to offer ICT-based learning in the future.References
Bang, J.(2005): eBOLOGNA – Creating a European Learning Space. A Step Towards the Knowlegde Society, IN: UNESCO between Two Phases of the World Summit on the Information Society, Saint Petersburg, Russia, 17-19 May, 2005, Moscow 2005, p. 137-143 (ISBN 5-901907-14-0)
Bang, J. & Dalsgaard, C. (2006): Rethinking e-learning. Shifting the focus to learning activities, In: O Murchú, D. & Sorensen, E(eds.)., Enhancing Learning Through Technology, Idea Group, Inc, 2006 (in print)
E-learning:The Partnership Challenge. (2001) OECD. (Online), March 1, 2005.
E-learning in Tertiary Education. Where do we stand? (2005) OECD
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The study, carried out by Cedefop, was initiated to address to the priorities of the revised Lisbon strategy and the Maastricht communiqué. The Lisbon Strategy, relaunched in 2005 by the European Council, states the necessity to concenter among others on productivity, social cohesion and innovation. Lifelong learning is seen indispensable in this process to meet the objectives. In the Maastricht Communiqué (2004), 32 European countries agreed on the future priorities of enhanced European cooperation in vocational education and training.
The aim of the study is to contribute to the Commission policy development of ICT in the Integrated lifelong learning programme and to help to prepare the ground for identifying the needs for further investigation of ICT for innovation and lifelong learning for all.
The study reports the current state of e-learning within the context of lifelong learning in five Member States of the EU (Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Finland and the United Kingdom).
In the research it was take into consideration the perspectives of individual learners, education and training organisations, and work organisations.
The primary questions of the study were:
- What are the national policies of e-learning in lifelong learning?
- How is e-learning organised in lifelong learning?
- How does networking enhance e-learning in lifelong learning?
- What are the relevant issues in future developments?
Various resources (e.g. published research and studies, European e-learning projects, conferences and seminars) were used to collect information for the study.
European e-learning policy developments
E-learning is one corner stone in the European Union's strategy of becoming by 2010 ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion’ (Lisbon Agreement, 2000). The Commission’s e-learning initiative in 2000 has four main lines:
- Training at all levels,
- The development of good quality multimedia services and content, and
- The development and networking of centres for acquiring knowledge.
Furthermore the Commission's eLearning programme (2004–06) aims at effective integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in education and training systems in Europe. The four action lines of the programme are:
- Promoting digital literacy,
- European virtual campuses,
- e-Twinning of schools in Europe, and
- Promotion of teacher training and transversal actions for the promotion of e-learning in Europe.
According to the information gathered and analysed in the five Member states, the study shows the promoting factors for e-learning in lifelong learning. These factors include among others:
- Broadband connections
- Supply of courses in a number of languages
- Initiatives to improve the low level of digital literacy
- Encouraging cooperation between training instituations and SMEs
- Blended learning initiatives at universities
On the other hand some inhibing factors are:
- Lack of programmes and information available in the vocational sector despite of considerable volume of training opportunities
- No quality standards set for private e-learning providers
- Lack of governmental support to promote the availability of e-learning for continuing personal development
- Culture of learning develops slowly
Furthermore, the following areas were concluded to point out the critical and important factors to enhance the use of e-learning in lifelong learning in the next few years:
- Technology: mobile e-learning; faster speeds via broadband and satellite; improved computer power and affordability.
- Courseware: improved delivery systems that are compatible across computer platforms.
- Networks: universities and SMEs creating bigger networks for the development, exchange of information and software systems.
- Literacy: governments will increase efforts to raise the basic literacy levels of EU citizens.
- Digital literacy: greater investment in opportunities for people to step on to the e-learning platform.
- Vocational training: an overall increase in the investment of developing e-learning packages for the vocational sector and especially people in SMEs.
After a transition phase that e-learning has been going through it is establishing its place in education, training and lifelong learning. However, e-learning opportunities varies in quantity, quality and accessibility in the countries studied.
An important factor when introducing lifelong learning is encouraging people to participate and “selling” the idea to the individuals directing them to realise the benefits of such learning to themselves personally. Therefore, governmental support is important and each Member State should develop a policy to promote learning for individuals and providing easy access to courses.
Apart from university courses which are widely available, there seems to be a short of accredited courses in the vocational area. The SMEs tend to hold back most the training possibilities. Thus, several pilot networks try to change this situation allowing them to share resources and reduce costs and labour. These networks can work in collaboration with universities as well.
It has not been possible to evaluate the true level of digital literacy skills. Digital literacy is actively promoted by the Commission through several projects. Key factor for digital literacy is the competence of the lecturer/teacher. This can be addressed for example with staff development programmes and introducing a standard system that would allow an easy courseware transition from one system to another.
One problem with courses available in the Internet is that there is no quality guarantee, except the ones organised by recognised organisation. One example of a standardised course is the European Computer Driving License (ECDL). The situation can be improved with the development of higher education standardisation, VET qualifications and European qualifications framework.
The implementation of a rich Open and Flexible Learning Environment (OFLE) strongly support the Dalton concept. Examples of an OFLE are Blackboard, Fronter, N@tschool and Profiler. Dekeos and Moodle are examples of Open Source OFLE's. An OFLE manage the process of education by pupils themselves.
An OFLE is a rich digital environment, where the pupil is able to study based on the basic assumptions of constructivism (Vrielink, 2003). The name rich is not incidentally chosen. It should encompass more than a traditional environment within which the teacher and/or the curriculum are the distinctive factor. The use of ICT should contribute to the design of teaching, to authentic teaching, integrative teaching, active-reflective teaching and to social or collaborative learning (Kral, 2005).
The Dalton principles
The three Dalton principles are freedom (responsibility), cooperation and assignment (self-reliance). These principles lead to the formulation of three questions:
- How can we increase the self-reliance of pupils through an OFLE?
- How can we stimulate cooperation among pupils through an OFLE?
- How can we increase the responsibility of the pupil for his own learning process through e-learning?
Ad 1. Teachers are obligated to put study planners on the OFLE. Pupils can study any were ant any place if there are ready for it.
Ad 2. The products should be delivered electronic in a drop box or on the discussion board. Peers and teachers can give feedback. The quality of the products will rise
Ad 3. Put the answers on assignments on line. The pupil is responsible for his digital portfolio. This portfolio will be assessed.
Implementation of an OFLE
When a school starts to implement an OFLE there should be a strategic action plan, which includes:
- A shared vision on the use of an OFLE
- Participation of the management
- An exchange - celebrate successes!
- School arrangement on structure
- The OFLE must be on the agenda of the job evaluation
To make online courses more attractive for pupils the enjoyment could increase by:
- Improve the usefulness
- Same simple structure
- Attractive announcements
A number of critical factors distinguish the use of Web based tools and OFLE's, like Blackboard.
The study of Selim (2003) revealed four major critical factors for the perceived usefulness of course web sites. The first of these factors is course work interactivity. Several Web-based tools improve course work interactivity. For example, asynchronously offered course material allows pupils to retain control as to when and where they wish to engage in the instructions. Electronic discussion forums are a qualitative improvement tool, which enhances communication and interaction among pupils. Deinum (2003) investigated the implementation of Blackboard on 35 schools in the north of the Netherlands. This research pointed out that the use of the discussion board in courses is low (4%).
Another critical course web site usefulness factor is, to enable pupils to complete their course work quickly by providing them with on-line components such as animations and multimedia modules. The third factor is to make studying course material easier by promoting its availability of: anytime and anywhere, by facilitating pupil-pupil and pupil-instructor communication lines, and by using interactive tools to explain the course contents. The last critical factor is to increase the pupil’s productivity and effectiveness.
Although a Blackboard supported lesson will enhance the quality of education, teachers do not tend to see the benefits of a Blackboard supported lesson.
Working with Blackboard more or less forces the teacher to look more critically at the structure of his or her lesson. Therefore the quality of the lesson will rise. The lessons get a clearer didactics (Helder, 2004). Another point is that it will become easier for pupils to start the lesson themselves. A certain degree of independency allows pupils to take responsibility for their own learning process and this will increase when Blackboard supports the lesson (Oudshoorn, 2004). This electronic form of communication combined with a proper use (good assignments and tasks) makes it possible to engage oneself in intensive exchange, more time-on-task, and effective discussions than is the case with many face-to-face groups in education (Deinum, 2003; Kanselaar, 2004). The quality of the pupil’s products will increase because pupils will become more motivated when the assignments are supplied in a digital form (Helder, 2004). For instance, Power Point promotes linear-hierarchical thinking (Laanpere, 2005).
The Seven Principles of good practice in undergraduate education
If a school introduces an OFLE without sufficiently formulating the different goals and without a teacher’s experience how to actually use the OFLE, there is a great change that the use will be under utilized (Vrielink, 2004) or sometimes abandoned because of the lack of user acceptance (Yi, et. al., 2003). The critical factors as mentioned above prove, that the assumptions, which have been used to analyse courses in Blackboard, were good. Investigated were the present and use of the following functionality's: the use of announcements, study planners, the possibilities of answers, tests, the discussion board, the use off group work and e-mail (communication) and the drop box . Analysing courses at a secondary school in the Netherlands in this way, Vrielink (2004) found that only 20% of the teachers use Blackboard; the barrier is considered (too) high and working with Blackboard implies extra time investment. The facilitation present is poor.
Therefore, it is important that managers and teachers are aware of the critical factors and conditions e-learning is based upon. The critical factors as mentioned before flow in the Seven Principles of good practice in undergraduate education (Chickering et. al., 1986). Understanding and awareness of these principles are essential for a successful implementation of a rich OFLE.
Those principles are:
1. Encourage contact between pupils and school: frequent pupil-school contact, both inside and outside class, is an important factor in pupil motivation and involvement. (Baars, et. al., 2003). The pupil’s intellectual capacities will increase. Current communication technologies such as e-mail, chat and discussion boards make it more accessible for pupils and teachers to ask questions and to give feedback. Shy pupils, for instance, will more easily start asking questions than when they are confronted with an actual face-to-face situation.
2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among pupils: School should create and encourage opportunities for collaborative learning among pupils. Collaborative learning stimulates the involvement of learning. Exchanging ideas and giving and receiving feedback improves the thinking en engrosses the understanding (Weiland, 2002).
3. Encourage active learning: School should require that pupils apply their learning process in oral as well as in written form. Pupils should actively work with their knowledge and skills. Interaction is an important feature of an active on-line way of working. Interaction is essential in order to receive feedback on the learning process. Feedback is a relevant factor in the interaction between the pupil and the teacher as well as between peers. Next, it is important that an assignment is geared to the pupil’s perception of his or her environment. This can be made possible, for instance, when data is used coming from the pupils themselves. Pupils tend to become more motivated developing their own product. If this product is really actually used in a factory or at school than it works extra motivating (Andernach, 2005).
4. Give prompt/immediate feedback: School should provide appropriate and prompt feedback on performance. Pupils need assistance in assessing their actual competence and performance, and they need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestion for improvement. Such feedback should be an ongoing process in collegiate settings; it is essential to the pupil’s learning process. Periodically, pupils should also be given the opportunity to reflect critically on what they have learned so far. An OFLE offers the possibility to give pupils feedback in different ways. A digital portfolio makes it possible to assess on the learning process, to see if their is prove that the learning goals are reached.
5. Emphasize time on task: School should create opportunities for pupils in order to enable them to practice good time management. This includes setting a realistic deadline for pupils to complete assignments and to use class time for learning opportunities. A teacher’s support is made effective when clarity on the overall aim, time investment and choice of literature is provided. As a result, pupils are able to learn more efficiently. Furthermore, pupils tend to lose time by searching for resources on the Internet. However, on-line communication can be efficient if you organise it well.
6. Communicate high expectations: School should set and communicate high expectations of pupils. Such will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy and pupils will often endeavour to meet the challenge. When a pupil has a clear awareness of his/her own expectations, he/she will work harder.
7. Respect different talents and ways of learning: School should create learning opportunities that appeal to the different ways pupils will process and attend to information. A variation of presentation styles and assignment requirements will allow pupils to highlight their own personal and unique talents and it offers them different ways about how to learn on an individual level. Pupils differ in talent and style of learning and they should be offered the possibility to show their talents in a way that suits them. This can be made possible by taking account on the different styles of learning by supplying a variation in ways of working (Winkel, et. al., 2004). We have to be aware of another dimension; does the OFLE consider different learning styles?
Pupils possess their own way of learning; our “traditional” education does not respond to the differences in the individual learning process of pupils. The study of Sandra Seagal and David Horn “Human Dynamics” (1997) supports this idea. In general, Human Dynamics divide people into three categories namely mentally centred, emotionally centred or physically centred. To avoid any misunderstanding: no discrimination whatsoever is implied by drawing this distinction! The mentally centred pupil proceeds in a linear way and does so mostly alone. He gathers information and he asks himself what the use of this information is, next he comes to a product. The emotionally centred pupil starts immediately. The process looks chaotic. He proceeds by trial and error. His product gradually improves but is never finished. He has an eye for detail. The physically centred pupil gathers a great amount of information, many details and after a (long) time he completes his product. That is the end; they do not chance it any more.
A rich OFLE has the intention to be in account of these different learning styles, to be in account of independent working of pupils and their own responsibility of their learning process. A rich OFLE fits with social constructivism. Nevertheless, if there is no master plan and without a pedagogical or didactical component introduction of Blackboard has no extra value to education; “Moore’s gap; Mind the gap.” (Siekkinen, 2000).
Significant effects of factors which influence the use of a OFLE
Recent research (Vrielink, 2005) pointed out that by the arrangement of courses in an OFLE there should paid attention to its Usefulness. Usefulness is the key factor. It predicts most powerful the use of an OFLE.
Picture: Significant effects of factors, which influence the use of an OFLE
Usefulness is influenced in two ways. First, learning goal orientation influences usefulness through enjoyment. This is an intrinsic factor. If a pupil or a teacher is able to sufficiently clarify the goal, and render it obtainable, then there is enjoyment. It has a direct and positive effect on usefulness and on the ease of use. Second, a goal within one’s reach, affects application specific self-efficacy. This deals with competency. If a pupil thinks he/she is competent enough to work with Blackboard, there is an experience of ease of use, which effects usefulness. Again, enjoyment has a positive effect on application specific self-efficacy. The relation between learning goal orientation and application specific self-efficacy indicates that users who orientate themselves on learning and mastery of content are more likely to develop a higher sense of confidence in using the specific target system (Yi, et. al., 2003).
Understanding the factors that promote effective utilization of OFLE’s continues to remain an important issue for researchers and practitioners.
By the arrangement of courses in Dalton education, the recommendation is to pay attention to its usefulness. This can be done by putting the study planners on line as well as the answers on assignments. The use of the discussion board and the drop box should be promoted too.
Reinder Vrielink is headmaster VMBO Stedelijk Daltoncollege Zutphen, the Netherlands and manager/owner of Revédi Consultancy Deventer, the Netherlands. He is holder of the Diplome Masters in eLearning, Multimedia and Consultancy of the Sheffield Hallam University (UK).
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