Name:
Location: Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

I have completed a B.Ed in Technology education, currently doing M.Ed. in Computer Based Education at the University of Johannesburg South Africa.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Web-Based Leraning- Article

Web Based Learning
Chris.M. Grobler
University of Johannesburg
M.Ed – Computer based Education
Student Number: 909145131
Submission date: 20 September 2005
Program Mentor: Prof. Duan Van Der Westhuizen

Abstract

The objective with this article is to enhance perspective for educators desiring to use the World Wide Web as a platform to educate and facilitate leaning. The characteristics of the learning experiance can be illustrated by using an equilateral triangle as a symbol of strength and stability. Each side of the triangle representing an important entity, without witch education will collapse affecting the most essential centre, the learner. The sides of the triangle represent the instructor or teacher, outcomes and medium of delivery. Before exploring the World Wide Web as a platform or medium of delivery, we need to be reminded of some important entities within the educational situation, Instructor/Teacher, Outcomes of the educational situation and the



Instructor/ Teacher

The first leg of our learning experience triangle represents the instructor/teacher. The basic requirement for any teacher or instructor is to have a thorough understanding and experience in the Instructional sequence. Learners and instructors need to be mutually motivated to engage in a sequential educational experience. Instructors need to ensure that the objectives of the course or learning experience is clearly understood and specified to the learners. Once the objectives are clear the development of material needs to not only stimulate and prompt acquisition of new information, but encourage application of knowledge. Learners need guidance and continuous feedback to ensure that the objectives are still the focus of both parties in the learning process. A vital part of the instructional sequence is continuous assessment. Not only must the design of material be subject to continuous assessment, but the entire instructional process needs to be assessed. Learners need to be assessed to establish if application of knowledge has been achieved, and assessment can be conducted using formative and/or summative methods. Based on assessment results the instructor must be able to establish if remediation and enrichment programs need to be incorporated, in order to achieve the objectives of the educational experience. (Ritchie & Hoffman, 1993)

The main objective of every educational experience is to enhance application of knowledge. Delivery, therefore of learning material has to be carefully considered. The platform for the delivery will depend greatly on factors such as the physical and cognitive ability of the learners. Different learning styles need to be considered as well as the environment where learning needs to take place. Requirements for learning material development for ‘On-Site’ and ‘Distance” learning will differ, as long as basic educational principles are adhered to. Choice of medium of delivery must be conducive to learning. The instructor needs to be able to motivate the choice of medium based on course objectives and a learner needs analysis. The advantage of presenting any material in a traditional classroom situation is the creation of opportunities for interaction between learners and instructor. Sensual application such as communication forms a vital part of not only learning, but assessment of the application of knowledge. Incorporating any medium or platform could have a positive or negative impact on the learning experience; therefore the basic principles of education need to be considered when learners are exposed to any platform used for delivery of learning material.

Development of learning material for distance or ‘on-site’ education must be subject to basic design principles. Learning material designers must possess essential and appropriate skills for the development of any mode used for delivery. Traditional ‘classroom’ educators who desire to explore a new platform for delivery of learning materials are all subjected to a significant mind shift and learning of new skills. (Jones, 2005) Not only will the new platform require new skills, but educators need to be able to combine principles of both education and technology. The most important principle of education is that the learning objective needs to be the driving force and focus of every educational situation. With this principle as the foundation, the selection of any platform and the acquiring of new skills can be motivated.

Educators are not only responsible for the development of learning materials but learning management and administration, forms an essential part of the educational experience. The choice of administrative and assessment tools are always a creative challenge in the educator’s career. Due to the evolution in technology, educators have access to numerous tools that simplify administrative duties, such as enrolment of students and attendance control. Most educators will admit that administrative duties are often one of the main contributors to teaching load. Educators spend valuable time on the development of timetables and schedules, therefore they often neglect that whish needs to take priority in education, preparation and learning facilitation time. Depending on learner group size, educators often neglect the administration of submitted assignments and worse the assessment and feedback thereof. Although administration forms part of the educator’s career the focus needs to be on the instructional sequence, including the design of learning material based on clearly defined outcomes. Educators need to be encouraged to explore platforms and methods that will enhance the learning experience.


Outcomes of the educational situation

The second leg of our learning experience triangle represents the outcomes of the educational situation. Clearly defined outcomes form the bases of any educational situation. A learning needs analysis is essential to facilitate outcomes based education. Once the outcomes have been defined the selection of medium of instruction can commence. Medium functionality is a crucial element in education. It is essential for every educator to firstly know what needs to be achieved before selecting suitable technology or the mode of delivery. Successful education is therefore based on pre-analysis of learner needs and educator skills. (Zirkle, 2001) Educators must firstly possess the necessary skills in structuring of outcomes and objectives before they can structure content, assignments and assessment methods. Selection of technology therefore, depends greatly on the educator’s skills and the functionality of the medium used within the educational situation.

Every educational program needs to be based on an orientation session, where the outcomes of the program are clearly defined to the learners. Instructional sequence needs to be based on the outcomes and learners need to be aware of every form or medium available for reference. Assessment form part of the instructional sequence and learners need to be prepared for the methods of formative and summative assessment used to establish if outcomes have been successfully achieved. Without assessment there can be no motivation for remediation.


Learner / Student

In the centre of our learning experience triangle we focus on the learner/student. Without the learner there can be no learning experience. We need to analyze the needs of the learner, before attempting to create a learning experience. Learner needs analysis must incorporate the different learning styles. Each learning style has different forms of stimulus. To stimulate effective learning the mode selected for an educational situation must incorporate as many of the stimuli learners need. Depending on learning stiles, learners could have a preference for group or individual learning. Whatever the learning mode, learners need to be given the opportunity to apply their knowledge. This ‘application of knowledge’ experience is often initiated by social interactivity. The learner forms part of society, functions within society and ultimately uses knowledge and skills to function productively within a society. Learning Stiles and principles of holistic development will therefore be a critical consideration when selecting the medium of instruction. A difficult consideration when selecting the medium of instruction is the development of essential skills such as the skills of Self- and Peer-assessment. Learning will only be effective if the learner has acquired the necessary skills, not only for learning but for using the medium of choice, having access to the medium of choice is therefore considered essential. No expectation of blended learning can exist without firstly analyzing the learner’s skills in self study or group collaboration. We can therefore confidently state that learning is instructor led, based on needs analysis, as is the selection of the medium of instruction.

A Pre-course learner analysis needs to include issues that play an important part in the selection of the instructional medium. The learner analysis must also be suited for most learning stiles. (Zirkle, 2001). Should the Web be selected as a platform for instruction, the analysis needs to include skills related to the technology that the learner will be using. Learners need to have technical experience and skills that will enable them to ‘Navigate’ within the Web without getting lost ‘surfing’. The analysis needs to, for example, document learner skills in downloading, opening and saving appropriate documents. Without the skills to control documents and activities, learners could experience more frustration than learning. Developing computer skills and learning at the same time can become a hindrance in the learning experience.

Part of the needs analysis for Web-based learning, includes hardware and software availability. Not only must the technology be available but the learners need to be familiar with their technological surroundings and have access to the Web. Learners in general are quite familiar with the structure of the classroom environment. Should this structure be lacking, learners could experience confusion. Learner abilities and equipment is therefore essential when selecting the Web as a platform for instruction. The classroom environment encourages social interaction, and is conducive to learning. Creating a virtual classroom could be the key to eliminate the danger of the learner experiencing social isolation. Such an endeavor will fail without timeous feedback that enhances learning, and creates opportunities for two-way communication and learner collaboration. Another key to creating this classroom structure is to simulate activity time of between 15 and 20 minutes. Learners also need avenues for remediation, tutoring and one on one communication. This can be made possible on the Web by implementing telecoms and chat room technology. Although technology can be the platform used to create the classroom environment the opportunity to visit the instructor needs to be considered.

A successful learning environment has specific characteristics. Using the Web to create this environment has its challenges. Important characteristic of learning include group work, the challenge is to simulate it. Another characteristic is clear outcomes that are focused on learner needs and the subject matter. Exposing learners to subject matter could be done by using multimodal technology. Computer based assessment is an advantage in creating the classroom environment. Assessment tools are not only time saving for the instructors, but can produce immediate feedback to the learner. Most important is the focus on effective teaching and learning. Tools are available to create an educational environment for both teacher and learner, but without appropriate support, learner needs will not be satisfied.





Platform or Medium of Delivery

The third leg of our learning experience is the platform or medium of delivery. Education has evolved with technology. Technology such as the printing press has now become part of the distant history, and the use of the World Wide Web and computer technology has become part of the educational environment. The Web has become popular as a platform or medium of delivery, for educators all over the world. Educators and programmers have created a vast number of programs that stimulate learning in all the sciences imaginable. These programs are delivered using the Web or CD Rom applications. Educators and learners enjoy the availability of this technology, programs and hardware. Access to the Web has become increasingly affordable and accessible to educators and learners. The motivation for implementation of this technology for education has created extensive debate and research opportunities. Implementing technology does influence the delivery of instruction, but does it influence learning achievement? Media are mere vehicles that are used to deliver instruction. (Clark, (1983) – as quoted by Jones, (2005). Media selected inappropriately can affect learning; therefore we need to consider some features of sound Web-based learning applications.

Features of Web based learning needs to be supportive of educational and learning principles. The challenge is to capture every aspect needed to create a positive learning environment. We have discussed course objectives above, and compared it to one of the supportive legs of our learning experience triangle. The other leg, the instructor/teacher, is the key in the creation of the learning experience. The challenge is to use the Web as a mirror image of the instruction and learning environment, not only the medium of instruction. Features of a Web based learning environment will therefore include a number of educational principles. Any learning environment is based on course information, notices, announcements and notional hours for learning. A Curriculum map must be created and appropriate material selection needs to be done. The mode of delivery however becomes versatile when using the Web. Information can be presented on slides, notes, in articles or even by using Interactive tutorials and many other applications. Assessment can become computer based and results can be generated immediately, making feedback relevant and timeous. Student management and administration programs can produce records of work, statistics, tracking of progress and even links to supportive material. Web based learning is not limited to static material but can include interactive material.

David Jones (2005) uses an appropriate analogy of Natives and Immigrants to cyberspace. The Web is a support mechanism to education but natives and immigrants alike need a basic and appropriate understanding of this Cyberspace. Most of the Immigrants are educators that are aware that there is more to education than the medium used for delivery. Educators are faced with a growing student population and simultaneously reduction in educational budgets, and see Cyberspace as the answer to some Educational problems. The issue for debate is; does it improve learning? Natives and Immigrants to Cyberspace must address particular educational issues such as the absence of interaction between students and instructors in Web based learning. Educators who chose the Web as a platform for delivery quickly realize that they need help. They need to be part of a development team consisting of instructional designers, subject experts and multi media programmers.

Fortunately we are in a situation where educators have become natives to Web-based learning and we can start identifying the advantages of web based learning (Zirkle, 2001). Web-based learning is instructor led and encourages self paced learning. Due to the nature of the Web there are no time constraints, allowing learners and instructors to access and work according to their individual schedules. The Web provides Multi-modal capabilities to instructors and allows controllable access which assists in the administration of learning. Learner numbers can be scalable from 10 to 1000 or more students. Simultaneous training is made possible to any number of learners, providing they have the technology needed. The instructor has a further advantage of updating material and making the updates available on-line. Material can be presented in diverse modes due to a vast number of programs that can be used for the development of multimedia. Learners have the advantage of performing self assessments, use facilities such as generated computer marking, and receiving immediate feedback. Immediate feedback stimulates self remediation and problem solving.

Web Based Education does however present its own challenges. These challenges are based both in Technology and Pedagogy. Start up cost of the required technology for one learner alone could be breathtaking, let alone multiple learners. Considerations for costing include Servers, cabling, hardware and software. The running cost will include qualified Information Technologist support and maintenance. Upgrading and maintenance of course material and administration needs to be done by experts, adding to the cost analysis. Not only is the browser and technology availability a consideration for the training institution, but becomes a challenge for learners doing ‘on-line’ learning. One of the greatest challenges in the web is that of existing bandwidth and cost of increasing bandwidth. Limited interaction with instructors becomes a challenge not only to pedagogy but methodology used in designing course material. Learners could be subject to social isolation if no methods of interaction are utilized. Although Synchronous or ‘same time’, interactive modes can be implemented in on-line courses, it does present more challenges to the instructor. On the other hand Asynchronous, text base, non interactive or not ‘same time’, learning are no better than a traditional correspondence course. Students that are exposed to Asynchronous modes on the Web, often print material they need to study and that makes it no different to correspondence education. The development of psychomotor skills could be the greatest challenge in Web-based learning, but as technology is developed, I’m sure this challenge will be resolved. When it comes to design of material for Web based learning developers need to understand that it is not to impress, but to educate. Material needs to be designed, keeping in mind readily available technology that is browser neutral. Designers need to by diligent at the purging of dated material. Links to sites for reference needs to be checked periodically due to the dynamic nature of the web.

Developers of Web based learning need to pay attention to the evaluation of courses (Zirkle, 2001) Accountability of a course can be assessed by carefully considering weather the objectives of the course are clearly exposed in the material presented. Effectiveness of a course depends on the quality of the material as well as the attitudes and perceptions created. The impact of a course can be directly linked to student progress and enthusiasm to access and use the material. Planned organization of a site removes learning barriers and enhances effectiveness of material delivery. Unanticipated consequences such as linking to Web pages for the purpose of research, and being redirected to other sites may cause changes in student motivation and concentration.

Woodley + Kirkwood (1986) recommends additional criteria for the evaluation of courses developed for Web based learning. Analysis of the activities in the learning material will determine the numbers of students and courses that are accessed. Although web learning sites might claim to be efficient, they can only claim this description if learners actually complete courses successfully. Evaluation that determines weather the outcomes of an educational situation have been achieved can only be done by analyzing the performance of learners. Program aims should include reaching students, otherwise not reached. Web based learning designers should adhere to a developer’s policy, which ensures the web is utilized as a learner friendly platform. Organizations endeavoring to utilize web based learning should submit to criteria for development and control of learning sites. Developers of web based learning, need to be encouraged to conduct both quantitative and qualitative research in this field, or at least take not of research findings, in order to utilize this platform appropriately and effectively.

The only constant in the web is change and there are more methods of addressing learner needs than using the Web as delivery medium. Educators choosing to use the Web only, to aid learning, need to be aware that the Web can be seductive, enticing educators and learners to use the latest gadgets and software, but loosing focus of the ultimate objective, education.

Conclusion

In this article we have discussed the desire of educators to use the World Wide Web as a platform to educate and facilitate leaning. It is essential that those interested pay particular attention to all the aspects that constitutes a learning experience. As indicated by our illustration of a triangle, the instructor or teacher, outcomes and medium of delivery needs to be considered individually at first and then collectively as a unit. The entire learning experience needs to be understood and be kept under close observation during the design and implementation of any form of learning material. The application of knowledge, by learners, need to be the primary goal for every educator. Learning material designers, being traditional or Web-based, must gain skills for development. One such skill is the understanding of the instructional sequence. All learning material needs to be based on outcomes and learner needs. Learners will not experience learning unless their educational needs are satisfied. Essential needs for Web-based learning will include availability of hardware and software. Educational and learning principles have to be evident when using the Web as a platform or medium of delivery.

We are constantly reminded that there is more to education than the medium used for delivery. The Web poses its own challenges in Technology and Pedagogy. Some questions to ask include: Does the objectives of a course justifies the use of the Web? Are learners actually learning? Developers of Web-based learning sites could claim that this is an efficient medium of delivery, but they can only claim this accolade based on research finding indicating that learners complete courses successfully.

















References:

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McKimm, J., Jollie, C. & Cantillon, P. (2003). ABC of learning and teaching, Web Based Learning:
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Jones, D.(2005). Myths of Web-based Education:
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LdPride.net (2005): Learning Styles Explained:
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Leib, S. (1991): Principles of adult learning:
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