E-Learning, is it an effectual tool?
This study investigates the effectiveness of E-learning in multiple environments and its likability among users. The four subject groups examined were librarians, professors, students and library patrons. The primary methodology used was a literature review. The findings revealed positive outcomes: all users found E-learning to be effective, but at varying levels dependent on the context within which the learning was situated. The study findings and implications for implementation will be discussed.
This paper will examine the history of electronic learning (E-Learning) and offer an analysis of its effectiveness within an educational organization. One will explore the different existing methodologies of E-learning and its likability among librarians, professors, students and library patrons. Lastly, the future of E-learning and implications for implementation will be discussed.
E-learning is best described as training on a computer, using many different mechanisms and forms of media. It is generally structured as a learning module organized by topic; whereby, the student may view videos, read documents and respond to electronic discussion boards.
This study will address the following topics:
The purpose of this study is to determine the effectiveness of E-learning. E-learning is a tool to help teachers, librarians, students and others achieve continuing education.
Many libraries, universities and companies have implemented E-learning due to the changing learning environment and the demand for education that is not located on a college campus or at a library. According to Concannon, Flynn and Campbell (2005):
...pressure to utilize information and communications technology (CT) at university level comes from changes in the student demography. The rise of "full-time part–time students" is a phenomenon of recent years, where school leavers take part-time jobs whilst attending university, leaving less time for evening tutorials or weekend study. (p. 502)
Analysis and History of E-learning
E-learning is currently being used in many institutions in several different ways. Academic libraries customize tutorials based on student needs as noted by Gruca (2010):
An academic library has many possibilities for preparing interesting E-Learning courses, customized according to the library;s profile, users' needs, and collection features. In this way, its digital environment may become a source of interesting and useful educational materials. (p.19)
E-learning is often used as a continuing education tool for students, professionals, librarians and teachers. They use E-learning to acquire skills.
The demand for E-learning is due to the large number of working individuals who want to obtain a degree, but cannot because of time and travel constraints. The surge in the use of E-learning in institutions is noted by Maribeth Slebodnik and Catherine Fraser Riehle (2009):
...staff shortages, a desire to provide more point of need assistance, and increased distance learning and a growing awareness particularly in public and academic libraries-of learning styles of the... (p.33)E-learning has allowed libraries and colleges to reach a wider audience and provide members with valuable services, such as a college degree.
History of E-Learning
E-learning, formally distance learning, has been in existence for many years and in many different formats. It originated in universities located in the United States. Initially, professors and learners used the United States Postal Service to send and receive necessary materials.
As society became more technologically advanced, the demand for a more educated workforce increased. According to the United States Distance Learning Association (2010), "As the country grew and evolved from an agrarian society to an industrialized nation, the demand for education increased significantly." Companies simultaneously needed to find ways to control costs and train employees in new technology.
With increased demand for smarter employees and longer work hours, companies had to reduce the time employees spent away from the job receiving training, while still learning new skills.
The United States Distance Learning Association (2010) notes that, "Learning communities quickly realized the potential of this powerful new technology and adopted it as another delivery tool." E-learning provided employees with much needed training using distance education. This was true especially for companies whose training headquarters were located in other nations. E-learning allowed companies to provide materials through different media outlets for employees to learn new technology and procedures.
Different Methods of E-learning and Their Use
The three different methods of E-learning that are used are self paced, asynchronous and synchronous. Self paced learning allows the student autonomy and freedom to complete work at his/her own speed.
Asynchronous learning allows the student to complete assignments after they have been put online by the instructor. According to Gell-Mason, Chesemore and Van Noord (2006), "...asynchronous facilitator-led learning is where the students and instructors interact at different times" (p.1). This is different from the first due to time constraints. In asynchronous learning, the student has a time frame to work in and must complete the assignment in order to receive full credit.
Synchronous learning is where the student and instructor interact simultaneously. Gell-Mason, Chesemore and Van Noord (2006) express this as "where the students and instructors interact at a set time" (p.1). An example of synchronous E-learning is video conferencing. In this scenario, the instructor conducts him/herself in a manner similar to that in a traditional classroom.
The pressure may be quite high for the student because the facilitator has the ability to ask a question and expect an appropriate answer. In addition, the instructor may post materials online prior to the meeting and ask that the student to read them before the session.
Currently, the trend in E-learning is to have a mixed or blended interaction between instructor and student. According to Gell-Mason, Chesemore and Van Noord (2006), "The current trend among E-learning developers is to blend self-paced and facilitator-led modules to create a single, interactive experience" (p.41). Most implementers are blending self-paced with facilitator-led modules because they believe that having a mix of both creates a more effective and structured learning environment with better communication between the learner and instructor. Typically, the facilitator expects the student to work at his/her own pace, but meet certain deadlines.
The blended interaction is needed for both student and instructor. Dykman and Davis (2008) note in their work Online Education Forum: Part Two - Teaching Online Versus Teaching Conventionally, that, "The Primary way students feel comfortable communicating with the professor online is by responding to the professors inquiries" (p.160). This is why communicating from the first day of class is important. Consequently, it is important for the instructor to participate in the online learning to ensure that students stay on track and complete the work. Having the instructor participate and answer questions also helps alleviate any misconceptions that learners may have from the E-learning structure.
Effectiveness of E-learning
It is important to measure the effectiveness of E-learning and rate its likability as perceived by faculty, staff and students.
Students who are able to draw their own meaning or interpretation and apply teachings to their lives may gain the most from E-learning. E-learning creates a student-centered learning environment as noted by R. Gravoso (2008) who states, "Efforts to improve students' learning outcomes have suggested the need to embed the use of educational technology in a learner-centered learning environment where students construct their own meanings" (p.109). E-learning may offer some students an environment that allows for a better understanding of the materials.
Research shows that effective education is comprised of a mix of the learner's memory and how well he/she will retain information, how involved he/she is in classroom activities and prior knowledge of the topic.
The ability to remember teachings long after the period of learning is quite significant. Willis (2007) believes that, "When memory and retention brain research are applied to the classroom, they not only drive the learning process, but also allow educators to energize and enliven the minds of students" (p.6). A student, who remembers information long after it has been taught, has been taught effectively.
Involving students in class activities and discussions engages them and heightens their desire to learn the subject. According to Bobbitt, Inks, Kemp, and Mayo (2000), "Instructors should be the designers of a learning environment in which students are active participants in the learning process" (p.15). In this way, the teacher may move from a teacher-focused to a learner-centered style of teaching.
Having prior knowledge of a subject will allow the learner to obtain a deeper understanding of the content and have an easier time recalling information that is stored in memory. Vanderbilt (2005) emphasizes that, "When students have some knowledge of a topic, it is easier for them to make connections and learn new information" (p.1). Having some prior knowledge of a subject area helps learners relate to past experiences; thereby, understanding with a much clearer thought process of what is being taught.
Another consideration is the instructor or presenter of the learned subject. An instructor or professor who is knowledgeable in the material and has a true love for the subject can make a learner enjoy what is being learned.
Effective learning requires memory, inclusion in the teaching process and knowledge of the topic. All three are tied together by one common item, the learner. Most students have the inherent ability to learn and possess all of the factors described above for effective learning.
Now that effectiveness has been defined we can determine how it is valued as perceived by instructors, learners and users.
Instructor, Learner and User Perceptions of E-learning
Faculty tend to evaluate E-learning in a different way than patrons and learners. Many faculty members feel that E-learning lacks the interaction found in a traditional educational setting. John R. Tanner et al. (2009) describes the perceptions of faculty members:
...faculty perceive online learning as having numerous shortcomings; these include: the lack of instructor-student / student-student interaction; no structured classroom environment; students tend to teach themselves the course material; the difficulty of teaching quantitative courses online; and the challenges associated with administering exams online. (p.32)It is not surprising that faculty members may feel that E-learning has shortcomings; ultimately it is their responsibility to ensure that each of their student's is taught the course requirements.
Many librarians feel that E-learning is effective and they have implemented E-learning and tutorial-type workshops in their libraries. Marilyn Gell-Mason, et al. (2006) states, "When fully realized, E-learning programs can provide convenient, high quality opportunities..." (p.41). E-learning is an effective tool to meet the individual needs of patrons via various media forms. Slebodnik and Riehle (2009) feel that E-learning benefits librarians in many ways,
"...particularly in libraries where in-person instruction is not always feasible, online tutorials can reach more people than a typical instruction team. Tutorials can provide 24/7 access to library information as well as instruction in information literacy skills and electronic library orientation..." (p.34)E-learning as a teaching tool in libraries can be very effective but it is costly and labor intensive due to the software and technological needs that are required. Currently there is a lack of excess funds allocated to E-learning but as more libraries begin to purchase content from developers, an economy of scale will help reduce cost and time invested.
Librarians do not need to worry as much as professors about the E-learner’s ability to understand content because librarians already use this type of resource with patrons. Patrons will have full access, as they are usually posted on the library website.
Students and library patrons may find online tutorials and E-learning useful, but intimidating when first using the software. It has been shown that students who previously used E-learning find it easier, as noted in Tanner, Noser and Totaro (2009): "...students with prior online experience appeared to view online courses more favorably than students who had no prior online experiences" (p.32). Although online education may be quite easy to get used to, it can be significantly more challenging if the subject is complex.
Overall, E-learning is very effective for corporate training, education and the library. This is noted by Susan L. Silver and Lisa T. Nickel (2007): "The tutorial proved to be as effective as classroom instruction, as there were no statistically significant differences in the quiz scores between the students in the tutorial and classroom groups" (p.395). This research finding has great significance for the future of E-learning. As students and library patrons become accustomed to this type of instruction it will be in higher demand.
The Costs and Implications for Implementation
To build or create your own content has many direct and indirect costs. First, the creator needs to determine what software package to obtain and what computer system will properly operate the software. Most software packages range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars depending on the content and implementation. This is illustrated in the following chart1.
The next consideration is the amount of time required to create the tutorials and the skill set needed for employers to administer the programs. Slebodnik and Riehle (2009) emphasize this:
"Creating online tutorials is time intensive. Libraries that have staff already trained in programming, audio recording and editing, and Web development will have key advantages." (p.37)It is possible that small libraries will have employees with these skill sets, but they may not have the time needed to create this type of technology. Large institutions may have the time, but they may not want to spend the resources creating tutorials.
It may, however, be feasible for library systems to create E-learning technologies and disseminate them to satellite libraries for use. It may be more practical to purchase a content resource management system from a vendor or bundled tutorials from companies like Web Junction2 who offer high quality electronic resources.
E-learning has several barriers including the acquisition of the technological infrastructure needed to create and maintain this type of content. Libraries receive technology grants such as the Universal Broadband Access Grant from the Federal Government, but this may not be enough to purchase the software and pay for other other library-related technology costs.
Another barrier is staff. Adequate staffing is needed to update the content and troubleshoot problems as they arise. In this instance, purchasing the content from a provider may prove to be quite beneficial in the long-run. Overall, the barriers to E-learning are high if there are not resources to acquire and maintain the technological infrastructure.
Based on this literature review it is evident that E-learning is an effective tool for a variety of learning situations. E-learning seems to be most beneficial when the curricula is comprised of self-paced and instructor-led courses. For cost effectiveness, the content should be purchased rather than developed.
E-learning is being viewed as effective tool by librarians, faculty, patrons and students. All institutions should consider implementing E-learning. It provides an opportunity for staff to maintain skills, patrons to acquire skills and students to supplement their course work. The future of E-learning is bright.
Gell-Mason, M., Chesemore, S., & Van Noord, R. (2006, November 15). E-Learning's next wave. Library Journal, (18), 40-43. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6388312.html
Gravoso, R., Pasa, A., Labra, J., & Mori, T. (2008). Design and use of instructional materials for student-centered learning: a case in learning ecological concepts. Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 17(1), 109-120.
Robertson, M. J., & Jones, J. G. (Spring 2009). Exploring academic library users' preferences of delivery methods for library instruction: webpage, digital game, and other modalities. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 48(3), 259-270.
USDLA. (n.d.). Timeline & evolution of distance learning in the U.S. In United States distance learning association. Retrieved February 17, 2010, from http://www.usdla.org/timeline/start.html.
Daniel A. Sabol is a senior at Long Island Universities Palmer School of Library & Information Science. He works for the Ardsley Public Library (Ardsley, NY) as a Librarian and is married to his wife Amy.
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