A Holistic Improvement in the Elearning Infrastructure

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Sri Lanka is rated among the best performers in the education sector in the South Asian region as per the World Bank web site (2009). The government supervised education system in Sri Lanka, mainly, comprises of the Ordinary Level (primary) and the Advance Level (secondary) examinations. Grades at the Advanced Level examination determine student eligibility to enter the state sponsored local university system (tertiary) - which is highly competitive. It must be noted that aspiring students who wish to enter the state universities are deprived of an opportunity due to resource limitations within the university system in Sri Lanka. Limited resources such as class room space, number of qualified lecturers, number of universities, inter alia have contributed to this situation at the state universities of Sri Lanka.

Internet being the widely used source of information at present has exponentially penetrated within the last decade. This growth has not only provided business and commercial advantages but also has tremendously contributed towards education. Internet has brought about a change in traditional learning methods; E-learning is becoming more popular and is gradually progressing towards main stream education. Further, E-learning has been identified as the "new paradigm of modern education". A growth rate of 35.6% in the E-learning worldwide market can be seen (Sun et al, 2006). A stronger linkage can be constructed between the learners to teachers and learners to learners by means of technology. The mode of delivering content electronically viz: CD-ROM, Internet, Intranets, extranets, audio/video tapes, and television is considered to be the core aspect of E-learning (Urden and Weggen, 2000).

RESEARCH PROBLEM

The Sri Lankan post secondary education statistics in 2008 depict that 244,053 students faced the General Advanced Level Examination out of which 130,114 students (53.31%) were eligible to enter state universities. Of the eligible students only 20,069 (15.42%) were selected to state universities. (University Grants Commission Sri Lanka, 2008) These statistics depict a negative picture of the state run higher education system in Sri Lanka along with poor quality policy making at government level. To state 84.58% of eligible students had to find alternate options to proceed with their higher education does not compliment the government policy making strategy machine.

Further, the proposed university intake for 2008 was 20,270. Hence, approximately 85 % of all 'eligible' students who are interested in pursuing higher studies are compelled to look at alternate avenues. Due to these constrains many students enrol for External Degree Programmes (EDP) at state universities and private universities. Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT) which is an external degree programme offered at the University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC) uses a Learning Management System (LMS). In order to facilitate learning they deliver lecture material, assignments, blogs, chat rooms, a web portal and television programmes. The use of the LMS has been made a mandatory requirement for all BIT students in Sri Lanka. In the report 'The towers of learning performance peril and promise of higher education in Sri Lanka' (2009) it states "The BIT programme of the UCSC clearly demonstrates the possibility of introducing innovative changes to the EDP in Sri Lanka".

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

Can a holistic improvement of the E-learning Infrastructure (technology, content and pedagogy) in Sri Lanka positively contribute towards delivering selected state university degrees via E-learning?

What is the E-learner's perceived usefulness of E-learning?

What is the E-learner's perceived ease of use of E-learning?

What is the E-instructor's perceived usefulness of E-learning?

What is the E-instructor's perceived usefulness of E-learning?

What is the E-learner's perceived usefulness of the course content via E-learning?

What is the E-learner's perceived ease of use of the course content via E-learning?

What is the E-learner's perceived usefulness of the technology used in E-learning?

What is the E-learner's perceived ease of use of the technology used in E-learning?

RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

The main aim of the research would be to develop a model, consisting factors that need to be considered while implementing a state university degree to be delivered via E-learning. This model is expected to uniquely suit the Sri Lankan E-learner- E-instructor mindset. Further, it is proposed that a sample of the eligible students amongst the 85% as stated above, be tested and evaluated for the purpose of this study.

HYPOTHESES

Instructor characteristics positively affect learners' perceived usefulness in the e-leaning context.

Teaching materials positively affect learners' perceived usefulness in the e-leaning context.

Design of learning contents positively affects their perceived ease of use in the e-leaning context.

Learners' perceived ease of use positively affects their perceived usefulness.

Learners' perceived usefulness positively affects their intention to use e-learning.

Learners' perceived ease of use positively affects their intention to use e-learning services.

APPROACHES/THEORIES

Thorndike's laws of learning

Development Theory- Jean Piaget (nature vs. heredity in children's learning)

Behaviorist learning theories (Learning- Theories, 2009)

Cognitive learning theories (Learning- Theories, 2009)

Constructivist school of learning (Learning- Theories, 2009)

Theories of Intelligence ( Multiple intelligence - Howard Gardner)

Cognitive flexibility theory

Piaget's Child development theory

Social Learning theory- Albert Bandura

Flow theory (Lee et al, 2009)

Innovation Adoption Theory (Zhang et al, 2010)

Self determination theory (Sorebo et al, 2009)

Culture (Hofstede) - Individualism vs. Collectivism, uncertainty avoidance

Thorndike's Law of Learning

Thorndike is well known for his contribution to the field of psychology, especially in the study of education and it's peripheral. In the early part of the 19th century, Thorndike authored the book "Education: A first book"- This book was written in 1912, at the time the writer was attached to the Columbian University as a professor of Educational Psychology. Other books by Thorndike that has positively influenced learning and education are: Fundamentals of learning, Teachers work book, Psychology of arithmetic.

Laws of Learning by Thorndike

Thorndike's law of learning discusses the stimulus and response (S-R) frame work of behavioural psychology. (Thorndike, 1912) This theory is also known as the connectionism theory. The S-R framework was not only applicable to humans but also to animals. Thorndike's area of interest mainly focused around education and within education mathematics, spelling and reading, measurement of intelligence and adult learning (andragogy) were topics that were highly researched by this famous psychologist.

In a more simple digestible definition habits and behavior are formed depending on the response. Positive responses will more or less lead to reinforcement of the stimuli. Similarly, a negative reinforcement will lead to discontinuing of the given stimuli. The laws of learning as proposed by Thorndike can be divided in to three primary laws as detailed below:

Law of Effect

Law of readiness

Law of exercise

Law of Effect

In a situation where the response to a given stimuli is positive (rewarding state) then there would be a greater chance that the stimuli would be repeated. This in turn would be habit forming as the reinforcement leads to satisfaction.

Law of Readiness

The law proposes a series of outcomes (R) combined together to achieve a given objective (goal) that can lead to dissatisfaction if blocked. In elaborating law of readiness, the subject identifies the best sequence for the desired outcome. In the example of the cat and the "puzzle box" - a single optimal sequence was identified by the cat after many a combination.

Law of Exercise

The S and R correlation becomes stronger with practice and thereby lead to habit formation. Likewise, the connection becomes weaker in the absence of practice. In the example sited by Thorndike where the cat tries to escape from a "puzzle box" - after many combinations the cat identifies the connection between pressing the lever and opening of the door. The law of exercise is an outcome of "trial and error."

We have come to a day and age where people demand for goods and services and expect instant gratification (gestalt principle). Along with instantaneity comes convenience. The same can be applied for knowledge seekers. Student now demands convenience in learning. The andragogy principle is applied here. The student is not an empty vessel as earlier defined by pedagogy but a vessel with knowledge and experience. Individualized learning (IL) can be simply defined, as studying at owns pace.

History

In the early part of the century adult learning became more organized, pedagogy was the only known means to teach. A couple of books written in the 1920s began to change the term "adult learning" - Thorndike's Adult Learning and Lindeman's The Meaning of Adult Education. In the 1950s, Educators in Europe started using the term "andragogy," from the Greek word "anere" for adult, and "agogus," the art and science of helping students to learn. (www.edu.com).They wanted to be able to discuss the growing body of knowledge about adult learners in alongside pedagogy. In the present day context pedagogy does not really mean passive techniques.

Development Theory (nature vs. heredity in children's learning)

Jean Piaget and Vygotsky in this contemporary child development theory argue that environment and heredity are complimentary to one another. The individual's social environment and biological heredity influences growth and development of the child.

Behaviorist learning theories

In this learning theory the focus lies on observable behavior. Learning is defined by acquisition of new behavior based on environmental factors and conditions. There are three main categories or philosophical frameworks under which learning theories fall: 

Behaviorism

Cognitivism

Constructivism

Behaviorism

Behaviorism focuses only on the objectively and the observable aspects of learning. Cognitive theories look beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning. And constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts. B.F. Skinner developed this theory. Some argue that Edward Thorndike may have influenced Skinners work. There are 3 basic assumptions that composite this theory:

learning is manifested by change in behavior

Environment shapes behavior

Principles of Contiguity ( closeness of 2 events for a bond/connection to be formed)

For behaviorism, learning is the acquisition of new behavior through conditioning. 2 possible types of conditioning are:

Classical conditioning

Operant conditioning (Learning-Theories.com,2010)

Cognitive Theories

The underlining assumption in this theory advocates a step. As mentioned in the literature two key assumptions underlie this cognitive approach: (1) that the memory system is an active organized processor of information and (2) that prior knowledge plays an important role in learning. The dichotomy between behaviorist learning theories and cognitive theory is that cognitive theories go beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning. Cognitivism theory as a part of learning encapsulates: how to learn, social role acquisition, intelligence, learning, and memory as related to age.

Constructivism

In this theory the learner constructs ideas based on experience. The learner is not looked as an empty vessel. Experiences, current and past knowledge assist the learner construct and build new ideas. Social constructivism is also part and parcel of this theory. Social constructivism hypothesize that individuals knowledge is enhanced and constructed via social activity (shared problems/tasks) the learning process is seen as a introduction by skilled individuals to unskilled individuals through the social interaction process.

Social learning Theory

This theory focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context. It considers that people learn from one another, including such concepts as observational learning, imitation, and modeling. Among others Albert Bandura is considered the leading proponent of this theory.

METHODOLOGY

A structured process to achieve the end objective is demonstrated below.

Stage 1

Literature Review - A thorough reading on existing literature will be done during this stage. Existing frameworks, guidelines, barriers and constraints will be analyzed. Further, the success of E- learning systems will be analyzed.

Expected Outcome - A report on existing E-learning technological infrastructure and its relevance to Sri Lanka.

Stage 2

Data Gathering - Students enrolled for E-learning will be given questionnaires and university personnel will be interviewed. Structured and unstructured interviews will be carried out for this purpose.

Resources - This is expected to be done by means of interviews and questionnaires. Access to university personnel and students will be required at this stage.

Analysis - Thereafter an analysis will be conducted in order to identify the current situation of E-learning in Sri Lanka. A statistical analysis will be done in order to quantify responses for ease of derivation of the final strategic plan.

Expected Outcome - Students learning experiences, expectations from E-learning, and limitations of the E-learning.

Stage 3

Deliverable - Deriving at the model, consisting factors that need to be considered while implementing a state university degree to be delivered via E-learning.

Expected Outcome - The model, consisting factors that need to be considered while implementing a state university degree to be delivered via E-learning.

Stage 4

Testing and Evaluation - Post development of the model - testing will be conducted in order to identify the feasibility of the solution. University personnel will be given the plan for evaluation purposes.

Expected Outcome - The feasibility of the proposed solution.

Stage 5

Problem Rectification - Subsequent to the testing and evaluation, identified problems will be rectified accordingly.

Expected Outcome - An improved version of the initial solution

Stage 6

Documentation - All processes, findings, reports, issues and limitations will be documented. Additionally future expansion and recommendations for further research will be included in the final document.

Expected Outcome - The final document.

*Note: The proposed Technology Acceptance Model to be tested is attached in Annexure 1. Additionally, a literature review has been conducted on the technology aspect of E-learning. A presentation of same has been attached. Further research will be done on other angles such as content, pedagogy and technology acceptance in future.

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