The intrusion of the vowel “e” to almost anything related to electronic medium has permeated our lives as professionals. We now send mails through the e-mail and transact business via e-commerce.
The classroom will not be spared of this invasion. The electronic learning or e-learning is an alternative modality lulled in the darkness ready to revolutionize a conventional classroom setting in countless possible ways. But, are we ready to take the challenge?
The e-learning had its earlier appearance as computer-based training (CBT) where material was stored on CD-ROMs. Since the content was in digital form, it was then easy to convert CBT into web-based training (WBT) which could be accessed through a browser from any desktop with an intranet or internet connection. The e-learning came into the scenario by making difficult concepts more comprehensible through engaging and interactive features. Elliott Masie of the Masie Center defined e-learning as the use of network technology to design, deliver, select, administer, and extend learning. The delivery of courses may be possible through the Web, CD-ROM or satellite transmission.
In the Philippines, CITE is a frontrunner in e-learning production through its tie-up with top foreign telecom equipment manufacturer Lucent Technologies, Consuelo Foundation, Inc. and other local agencies in January 1999. Since then, CITE has partnered with 14 voc-tech schools all over the country (known now as e-skills.net) to be the end-users of the e-learning modules which have benefited over 2,500 students and out-of-school youths. The project started then with modules on lathe and milling machine operation, building wiring, and work orientation program courses. Now it has grown by leaps and bounds with 14 ready-to-use courseware in mechanical technology, 4 in electrical technology, 6 IT/electronics-related courses, and 4 non-technical courses. Most of these were patterned after CITE’s 3-year industrial technician program.
E-learning Value Chain
Each course has corresponding subject matter experts (SMEs) who specifically deal with the content and know what learning objectives are needed. The SMEs will provide the material to the instructional system designer who then coverts the offline content to content suitable for e-learning. To make content interactive, the multimedia authoring team, a group of technical programmers well-versed in authoring tools, will code and program the e-learning modules into graphic user interface (GUIs). The course management is done by people trained on learning management system (LMS) and who can also act as administrators. The e-learning modules are then distributed to education and training providers for use.
Is e-learning a threat?
For some of us who have been products of the traditional classroom way back our school days, we might have doubts whether e-learning will serve its purpose of improving the quality of training. This is the first time that we’ve seen the classroom being challenged. This must be a stiff competition Bob Mosher of Element K said in his column that, “[e-learning] forces learning centers and training departments to look at themselves critically and reevaluate their strengths and weaknesses. The classroom needs to better understand what it does best and where it best fits into this new world of learning. If it doesn't - it may not survive.”
The e-learning should not be viewed as a threat or an enemy. CITE Business Manager Roy Zapata, who oversees the project, has said many times that e-learning emphasizes on learning not on technology. It may have changed the way knowledge is delivered but it hasn’t changed the way students learn. In fact, it’s the best thing for the classroom since the whiteboard and LCD projectors. Mosher cited in his article some ways to address the change. One is to move beyond the perception of a classroom as simply an event. After all - students don't look at learning as an event - they look at it as a process. The e-learning is used in the middle of a lesson to teach concepts, a prework before class and a reinforcement after. He also advised to take a “walk-before-you-run” approach. We can’t use e-learning and let the students be on their own immediately. One of the best places for self-paced options, such as e-learning, to be introduced is in the classroom. It's where most of us were taught our other learning strategies. It's also in a non-threatening environment - not back at the desktop where the learner is alone and the risks are higher.
With the use of e-learning, the classroom becomes a place to understand learning strategies and tools, not where the students sit and listen to the content. The content now becomes secondary to the skills needed to acquire it, such as critical thinking and skills upgrading. Mr. Zapata believes that with the advent of e-learning, group work and labs will begin to dominate and there is less time spent in lecture.
How about the instructors? They now become mentors. This will be a major change to trainers, especially those who have been teaching for quite sometime. This doesn't mean that the instructor's content knowledge and background isn't important, it just changes how they use that knowledge in class. Instead of the lecture and a one-way dissemination of information, the classroom becomes much more collaborative. Instructors now guide their students to discovery and learning based on the learner's needs and job outcomes.
What are expected of the students to be? With e-learning supporting the learning process, the gathering in a classroom takes on a new meaning and purpose. They would become more aggressive and responsible of their individual learning. It would be more engaging with peer interaction and lab work.
Few years ago, teachers have had difficulties reinventing the classroom into a dynamic and interactive environment. The advent of e-learning will free the classroom to do what it does best-an environment where students gather to interact and literally attack learning, as Mosher said. With this, e-learning may save the classroom, and not to phase it out.