The Great Debate: Is elearning effective?

Is e-learning really effective? Or is it a buzzword that promises much but deliver less? Trying to learn a language online has been likened to learning how to swim without entering the water. But more learning is likely to be delivered electronically in the future.

Two key factors are speed and scale, says Dr Tay Chor Ter, CEO of regional e-learning company Inchone. Inchone is running an e-learning programme for the Singapore Youth Olympics, which requires 20,000 volunteers to be trained for the Singapore Youth Olympics in August 2010. “It would not be possible to train this number of people consistently or effectively in the time we have without e-learning,” he says.

A weak spot is that e-learning is that it is a lonely activity. “People need to know they have someone to turn to when they have problems understanding,” says Dr Tay. “Web 2.0 and collaborative learning platforms are emerging to solve this problem.

The future promises much, including "m-learning" as public sector work forces become more mobile. But investment is the tallest hurdle. Mark Medwedski, Superintendent, Crime Prevention Bureau, Hong Kong Police, complains that the cost of e-learning projects is prohibitively expensive (a project the size of the Youth Olympics costs around US$70,000).

Dr Tay tries to put this in perspective. “As we come out of recession a lot of people will need training. Remember that e-learning is not just part of the IT infrastructure, it is part of a strategic business consideration for developing human resources.

A panel of end users give differing views on whether or not e-learning is effective.

Maybe, says Desiree Yap Wei Li, Head of Programmes, Faculty of Computing and IT, INTI University College, Malaysia:

Whether or not e-learning is effective has a lot to do with the design of e-learning content and the web environment. Effective e-learning activities at INTI University College, which received positive comments from students, include using multimedia content in the learning module and putting it on the web. It is interesting to note, however, that our studies have shown that students still preferred the presence of a lecturer in the room when they are going through the e-learning module. The lecturer’s role was to answer any questions the students might have. Research conducted by Blackboard Inc (2000) concluded that almost 50 per cent of educational institutions have started using online learning as a means of teaching because of some significant advantages. INTI University College is involved in e-learning activities in teaching and learning. Lecturers and students are encouraged to communicate using online mechanisms.

Yes, e-learning is effective, says Shai Reshef, Founder & President, University of the People, United States:

Having spent over 20 years in the international online education arena, I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of technology and the internet to advance education. Between 2001 and 2004, I chaired the first online university outside of the United States, which taught me that online academic studies are both effective and far-reaching, but also extremely expensive. When I joined Cramster. com, an online global study community, I learned that a significantly less expensive model based on peer-to-peer teaching was not only possible, but equally (if not more) effective. Combining these two principles—eLearning and peer-to-peer teaching—I knew there was the potential to create a high-quality, lowcost and global pedagogical model. The US Department of Education recently did a study on the effectiveness of online learning versus face-to-face instruction. The overall finding was that classes with online learning on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction.

Well, no, not necessarily, contends Mark Medwecki of Hong Kong Police.

Maybe there is a role for learning in the context of crime prevention work, but for a Crime Prevention Officer to be effective, he has to develop and demonstrate strong presentational skills and that cannot be done via e-learning. This is done very much through face-to-face interaction in the classroom, giving opportunities to officers to express their views and facilitate involvement in projects which officers then present to an audience. E-learning is very suitable for simple acquisition of factual knowledge and would probably be very useful in most contexts as part of a comprehensive learning package. When it comes to acquisition of management skills or problem solving skills (such as would be required in a crime prevention/security type training scenario) the utility of e-learning is less. In practice, I have found that e-learning is more of a buzz word in training circles that promises much but delivers a lot less.

However, Dr Fawzi Amin, Assistant Undersecretary for Planning & Training, Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Bahrain, says yes it is – in the context of telehealth.

“E-learning complements telehealth, which is extensively used in the Middle Eastern region and makes a big difference to the way medicine is practiced. This is because most advanced tertiary hospitals here are required to refer all patients from regional hospitals to the capital, so telehealth saves a lot of time and trouble for patients. It is also quite an important source for learning for physicians working in peripheral hospitals. Most of my colleagues in Arabia consider telehealth to be very effective. Our experience in Bahrain is based mainly on educational activities. We manage to conduct several conferences remotely and contact many speakers from different countries all over the world who might not able to travel to meet us here in Bahrain. So for us it is particularly useful and makes a lot of economic sense. And because telehealth means less air travel, it‘s environmentally friendly too!


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Elearning.Romania este un program naţional care îşi propune creşterea calităţii şi eficienţei în educaţia asistată de calculator, prin oferirea de suport teoretic, prin diseminarea bunelor practici şi a experienţelor locale în elearning, prin informarea continuă cu privire la iniţiativele şi evenimentele semnificative din domeniu, prin promovarea celor mai bune soluţii, sisteme şi servicii pentru elearning. Platforma cuprinde materiale, articole, studii, anunţuri şi informaţii actuale în domeniul utilizării noilor tehnologii ale informaţiei şi comunicării în educaţie.