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The history of E-Learning dates almost back to 1993, where William D. Graziadei, a Professor of Biology at Suny Plattsburgh described about an online computer-delivered lecture, tutorial and assessment project using emails, VAX notes conferences and Gopher/Lynx together with several software programs that allowed students and instructors to create a Virtual Instructional Classroom Environment in Science for the Research, Education, Service and Teaching. William published a paper on Building Asynchronous and Synchronous teaching- learning environments: Exploring a Course/Classroom management System Solution that presents a process of evaluating products and developing an overall strategy for technology based course development and management in the teaching-learning. In his papers, he stated that such products have to be easy to use and maintain, portable, replicable, scalable and immediately available. They have to have a high probability of success with long term cost effectiveness. We could almost recognise such characteristics in today's E-Learning solutions.
E-Learning today are built to provide increased access for both the organisation and the individual. It eliminates most if not all possible restrictions such as physical, political and economic boundaries. It has already begun to bridge such gaps between the offering organisation and the user. Such is already a great benefiting factor for this technology. Furthermore, it also provides convenience and flexibility to learners. In many contexts, E-Learning is self paced and a lot of such sessions are on 24 x 7 availability. Users are not bound to specific periods or even physically attend the classes. Most of these provide the basic necessity to enrich the learning experience such as internet access, audio and video capabilities. Thirdly, it helps to develop the skills and competencies need in the 21st century, in particular to make sure that learners have the digital literacy skills required, by embedding the use of information and communications technologies with the curriculum. This is highly essential especially when the world is advancing so rapidly in technology that one cannot avoid the former.
Today, we make use of few important approaches to E-Learning. We can refer to them as Computer-based learning or training. Of course we make use of technologies like computers, portable devices and of recent, even tablets like the iPad. Computers based learning/training can be seen in a few branches, such as CD-Rom based, or rather like courseware, where the curriculum is provided through a package, with media and manuals; delivered to the learner. Or we have what we called Web-based training where contents are delivered to learner via the internet. Computer based learning/training provided learning stimulus beyond what traditional learning methodology from textbook, manual or classroom based instruction can offer. For example, the former can provide conducive learning environment, which are specially catered or customised for the benefits of the learner, as well as offering a different ways of delivering content so much so that learners can easily grasp the main message of it. On the contrary, the latter could only provide static, mundane and monotonous rhythm of instruction to learners.
Next we see Computer supported collaborative learning, otherwise known as CSCL; one of the most promising innovation to improve teaching and learning with the aid of modern information and communication technology. CSCL have concepts of collaborative or group learning whereby instructional methods are designed to encourage or require learners to work together on learning tasks. We can see good examples of such like the BB - Blackboard and the Edulearn Learning Management system by askandlearn Singapore where MOE schools in Singapore can collaborate together to share resources and students can use it for E-Learning, off classroom experiences as well as sharing of knowledge online, even at the comfort of their home or the Computer labs.
To achieve the maximum benefits of E-Learning, we need to know how to create the best possible means of delivering the contents. As such, we look into the pedagogical elements of E-Learning. Pedagogy is the art or science of teaching; education, instructional methods. We attempt to define structures or units of educational materials by using pedagogical elements; we have to evaluate the pedagogical approaches. Simple pedagogical approaches make it easy to create content, but it lack flexibility, downstream and richness functionality. On the other hand, the complex pedagogical approaches can be difficult to set up and slow to develop, although they have the potential to provide more engaging learning experiences for learners. We can list down a few; instructional design, a traditional pedagogy of instruction which is curriculum focused. Social constructivist, where it makes use of discussion forums, blogs, wiki and online collaborative activities. Cognitive perspective focuses on the cognitive processes involved in learning and how the brain works. Emotional perspective focuses on the emotional aspects of learning, like motivation and fun. Behavioural perspective that focuses of the skills and behavioural outcomes of the learning process and contextual perspective that focuses on the environmental and social aspects which can stimulate learning such as interaction with other people, collaborative learning as well as peer support and peer pressure. However, usually we do see a combination of such approaches by simply summing up to the following; such as task analysis by determining the tasks to be taught, that's to identify the elements involved, the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to complete the tasks efficiently and effectively. We also perform training needs analysis to identify the target audience for the training, the shortfall in knowledge, skills and attitudes of this audience and determine what the target learners need to be equipped with. This is followed by reviewing the existing capabilities, if any, to discover what are the methods and infrastructures that may or may not work. After which, we have to determine the possible expectations that we can get out of these solutions, setting the goals and understand what the strategy can accomplish. Then we have the more important factors like reducing learning cost, which is the nailing factor for implementing E-Learning solutions, that E-Learning will and must reduce the need for expenses, time waste and material provided. Then we see a trace of emotional prospective, to motivate the employees or learners, where it helps to keep abreast with the technologies and also produce new ideas and keeping the workforce fresh and inspired. Of course we have to ensure that the solutions will improve the flexibility of course delivery as we have mentioned and last but not least, to expand the capabilities of the business.
E-Learning today have evolved tremendously. We have seen E-Learning from simple sharing of document and knowledge online, to web based collaborative learning and now we are entering into a complex immersion of virtual reality. Technology has brought about simulations of the learning process. We have seen the use of simulators to provide realistic training to many fields. Such, it provides an experience so close to reality that learners can know and absorb the necessary content at a massive manner, faster than any methods that came before. It brings learners to a whole new level of learning and experiences, providing the best environments. Then, in recent and upcoming, we even have contents delivered in 3 Dimensional worlds. E-Learning have probably tap into the senses of people, to engage learning using the sense of sight, hearing, and even touch, bringing about the whole reality of what they have to learn. Such method will definitely stimulate the mind at tremendous rate, therefore speeds up the rate of learning and information deliverance.
Also, we have our thanks to technology giants like Apple, who bring about the hype of it's mobile devices that users can access to curriculum anytime, anywhere and the touch of their finger tips, which gives a whole new meaning to ease of access. Organisations can also have the greatest opportunity of tapping into such means to deliver learning at the most intriguing manner.
In conclusion, technology is ever advancing. The most important lesson here is that, to be able to cater to learners, we have to tap into methods that most appeal to people at present, and at the same time catering to users with what was mentioned earlier, summing it up to what I called - "User Friendly".