Friday, July 14, 2006

Learning 2.0

What do you think is the future of education?
ELearning?... Classroom Learning?... or Blended Learning?

All of the above have their supporters and detractors. Without taking any sides, I think each methodology has it's pros and cons. What is effective depends on the type of course, background of students, and access to technology infrastructure. However, there is a trend that points towards the growing popularity of eLearning, and not without reason. A professor in UK has abolished classroom lectures and has replaced them with podcasts, forums, email, and the like. Read more about it here.

Having taught technical courses from the last three years, I have some observations on the process of teaching & learning.

The process has various components:

  • Presentation of facts
  • Resolution of queries and doubts
  • Ensuring that the facts are retained (through questions and repitition)
  • Promoting a better understanding through discussions and thought provoking questions
  • Promoting even deeper understanding by encouraging reflection by the students (by writing )
  • Helping students understand practical applications of the concepts (through assignments and lab sessions)
  • Testing the student's understanding (through tests and quizzes)
  • Encouraging innovation in students
Maximum time in classroom sessions is taken by the first component; "presentation of facts". Is a classroom session really needed for just presenting facts? I do not think so. Granted that a classroom session helps students with their queries immediately, and it helps students stay focussed, but it is a very small advantage as compared with various other disadvantages.
  • In a classroom session the faculty has to go at a pace which is an average of the learning speeds of all the students. This is still too fast for those who need more time, and is frustratingly slow for the quick learners.
  • Not all queries can always be resolved immediately. If a course has to be taught over let's say 10 weeks, then every class has to have an agenda, because the faculty has to complete a certain portion of the course in the given time. Every class does have buffer time for answering questions, but it does not allow an unlimited number of questions. Very often while teaching I have had to stop a discussion and ask the students to meet me later to get their doubts answered, because we were running short of time.
  • Students usually do not get time to reflect over what is being taught immediately in class. The reflection has to happen later on, and questions that arise are usually answered electronically by the faculty anyways.
  • Because technology moves at such a rapid pace, the faculty may not have an answer to a particular question (the faculty's knowledge is slightly outdated). In such cases the discussion has to be deffered either to the next class or it has to be done electronically.

The primary use of real time sessions should not be to present facts, but to support the learning process of students. These sessions should focus on answering doubts, having discussions, exploring the nuances of the topic, various pros and cons, potential applications, and other similar efforts. This is an area where the faculty can contribute his experience and knowledge which will help students take their learning to the next level.

So to ask the question again. Is traditional classroom learning the best method of imparting education? Probably not. Asynchronous, collaborative, networked, experiential learning, using technological aid can be far more effective. Sorry for making that a bit complex, but I could not think of a word that correctly captures the essense of the previous sentance.

How do we go beyond traditional learning? Are there best practices? Do we have proven methodologies?

We probably don't because this is such a nascent area. Partly as a result of my observations but majorly from the observations and findings of instructors who have tried to go beyond traditional techniques, I have created a list of tools that can be used for learning.

  • Learning Management System
  • Podcasts
  • Blogs
  • VideoCasts
  • Screencasts
  • Video-conferencing
  • Online quizzes
  • Learning Journal
  • e-portfolio
I would love to hear real life experiences from educators who have used these tools.


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