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Distance education is not a new concept in Pakistan as Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), when established in 1974, was the second Open University in world and first in Asia and Africa. Conventionally, a combination of radio, television, prints and face-to-face interaction has been the key mode of imparting distance education in Pakistan. The government has been at the forefront of major distance learning initiatives within Pakistan, the non-profit sector and civil society have also made their mark. Some examples include the College of Information and Management Sciences (CIMS), which was an initiative of WOL, UNIDO, Cybersoft Technologies, ICC, the World Bank and Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering (CASE) who are pioneer in introducing distance education in professional engineering degree courses in Pakistan. Trends in distance education are changing with introduction of new interactive methodologies leading to online education by using a combination of internet and mobile. The concept of online classes is emerging globally and putting requirement of change in distance learning environment and mechanism for a modification in the way distance learning is imparted in Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not been able to keep pace with advancements in distance learning as very few institutions are offering distance and online education in Pakistan. Pakistan has yet to go a long way in reaping the unique socio-economic benefits of online education.
This paper explains the prospects of transforming from distance education to online education, latest trends in online education and challenges of online education in Pakistan.
Distance education or distance learning, is a field of education that focuses on teaching methods and technology with the aim of delivering teaching, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional educational setting such as a classroom. It has been described as "a process to create and provide access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both".
Online education can be simply defined as "Online access to learning resources, anywhere and anytime". Online education is basically the use of new multimedia technologies and internet to improve the quality of education by facilitating access to resources as well as remote challenges and collaboration. The distance between instructor and student is minimised in online education with the assistance of online classes and interactions contrary to distance education in which mode of communication is restricted to conventional methods.
Distance Learning Peculiarities
Besides countless benefits of Distance learning, it had certain inbuilt criticalities which are discussed as under.
Distance learning requires advance planning. Both the instructors and students involved in distance learning will need to make sacrifices, at times, in order to get things done on time.
Distance learning does not offer immediate feedback. In a traditional classroom setting, a student's performance can be immediately assessed through questions and informal testing. With distance learning, a student has to wait for feedback until the instructor has reviewed his or her work and responded to it.
Distance learning does not always offer all the required coursework for every degree program. For example, you can study a history lesson completely as a distant learner; but you cannot perform nursing clinically as a distant learner. Thus need is felt to evolve more interactive instructional modes for improved student and teacher interaction.
Distance learning does not give students the opportunity to work on oral communication skills. Students in distance learning courses do not get the experience of practicing verbal interaction with professors and other students.
Another disadvantage of distance learning is social isolation. Most often, you'll be studying alone. Distance learners may feel isolated or miss the social-physical interaction that comes with attending a traditional classroom.
Instruction Modes for Online Education
Many online education programs are mainly text based, using HTML, PowerPoint, or PDF documents. Online programs transfer PowerPoint presentations onto their Whiteboards in order to allow a teacher to present the material to a live class. Using programs student and teacher are able to communicate live using the following methods; voice, text chat, and emoticons. The courses meet using a standard 50 minute schedule or a block schedule that is similar to a college or university. Multimedia technologies have been investigated for many years and eventually found their way into practice. Online animations, tutorials, videos, and labs are used to enhance and support the effectiveness of the online classroom. Today a wide spectrum of instruction modes is available, including the following:
Online Classroom: An online classroom is a learning environment created in the virtual space. The objectives of an online classrooms are to improve access to advanced educational experiences by allowing students and instructors to participate in remote learning communities using personal computers; and to improve the quality and effectiveness of education by using the computer to support a collaborative learning process. The explosion of the knowledge age has changed the context of what is learnt and how it is learnt - the concept of virtual classrooms is a manifestation of this knowledge revolution.
Hypertext courses. Structured course material is used as in a conventional distance education program. However, all material is provided electronically and can be viewed with a browser. Hyperlinks connect text, multimedia parts and exercises in a meaningful way.
Video-based courses. These are like face-to-face classroom courses, with a lecturer speaking and PowerPoint slides or online examples used for illustration. Video-streaming technologies are used. Students watch the video by means of freeware or plug-ins (e.g. Windows Media Player, RealPlayer).
Audio-based courses. These are similar but instead of moving pictures only the sound track of the lecturer is provided. Often the course pages are enhanced with a text transcription of the lecture.
Animated courses. Enriching text-oriented or audio-based course material by animations is generally a good way of making the content and its appearance more interesting. Animations are created using Macromedia Flash or similar technologies. These animations help understand key concepts and also allow for better retention of learning.
Web-supported textbook courses. These are based on specific textbooks. Students read and reflect on the chapters by themselves. Review questions, topics for discussion, exercises, case studies, etc. are given chapter wise on a website and discussed with the lecturer.
Latest Trends - Online Education
LAMS, the Learning Activity Management System, is an open source Learning Design system for designing, managing and delivering online collaborative learning activities. It provides teachers with an intuitive visual authoring environment for creating sequences of learning activities. These activities can include a range of individual tasks, small group work and whole class activities based on both content and collaboration. LAMS is "inspired" by the concept and principles of IMS Learning Design.
Software and Service Providers
Notable vendors are
Adobe Acrobat Connect
Genesys Meeting Center
IBM Lotus Sametime and IBM LotusLive
Microsoft Office Live Meeting
Premiere Global Services (PGi)
RHUB Communications Inc.
Virtual Learning Environments
Alphastudy - Learning and knowledge portals
Moodle - An open source (free) modular php virtual learning software
Blackboard - A family of virtual learning software
Democrasoft - Collaborize Classroom - A free online learning platform for teachers and students
CyberExtension - Virtual Managed Learning Environment
Desire2Learn - A suite of learning software
FirstClass - Messaging and communications solution
Heritage Key - Virtual historical environments, such as Tutankhamun's tomb.
itslearning - Norwegian Learning Environment, delivered as Software as a Service (SaaS), market leader in Norway, Sweden and UK.
Mingoville - Introduction to the English language. Age 8 to 12 (Virtual World and Language games)
RCampus A Learning and ePortfolio Management System with both personal and institutional access
Saba Centra - Part of a Human Capital Development System
SpicyNodes - Create and share radial maps (related to concept maps and mind maps)
WebCT - (Now a part of Blackboard) Software applications designed to enhance teaching and learning
WebTrain - Virtual live classes, enrollment, attendance, attention monitoring.
A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for assessment (particularly of types that can be marked automatically, such as multiple choice), communication, uploading of content, return of students' work, peer assessment, administration of student groups, collecting and organizing student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, etc. New features in these systems include wikis, blogs, RSS and 3D virtual learning spaces. VLE's are often used in schools and other educational establishments in order to make the learning experience more interactive.
While originally created for distance education, VLEs are now most often used to supplement traditional face to face classroom activities, commonly known as Blended Learning. These systems usually run on servers, to serve the course to students Multimedia and/or web pages.
In some programs, such as Elluminate, a virtual learning environment can be similar to a face-to-face classroom environment in that it allows direct communication with the teacher. Students can use emoticons to "raise their hand," show that they are confused, show that they understand what the teacher is saying, and even give applause for something that the teacher says. Students are also able to talk to the teacher when called on. In many of these virtual learning environments the students are able to write on the "virtual classroom chalkboard." This allows them to show their work for the rest of the class to see. Students can also be split up into groups in order to work with each other and discuss topics that the teacher introduces. Many virtual learning environments give teachers the ability to share multimedia files such as video and audio files as well as the ability to transfer important documents (Word, PDF,â€¦etc.) directly to students.
In 'Virtually There', a book and DVD pack distributed freely to schools by the Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning Foundation (YHGfL), Professor Stephen Heppell writes in the foreword:
"Learning is breaking out of the narrow boxes that it was trapped in during the 20th century; teachers' professionalism, reflection and ingenuity are leading learning to places that genuinely excite this new generation of connected young school students - and their teachers too. VLEs are helping to make sure that their learning is not confined to a particular building, or restricted to any single location or moment."
A VLE is a computer program that facilitates computerized learning or e-learning. Such e-learning systems are sometimes also called Learning Management System (LMS), Content Management System (CMS), Learning Content Management System (LCMS), Managed Learning Environment (MLE), Learning Support System (LSS), Online Learning Centre (OLC), OpenCourseWare (OCW), or Learning Platform (LP); it is education via computer-mediated communication (CMC) or Online Education.
A more correct term may be a virtual environment for learning, rather than virtual learning environment. This removes any ambiguities and identifies that it is the environment which is virtual and not the learning. The term virtual may also contribute to confusion, suggesting that the learning is not real or authentic.
In the United States, CMS and LMS are the more common terms, however LMS is more frequently associated with software for managing corporate training programs rather than courses in traditional education institutions.
In the United Kingdom and many European countries, the terms VLE and MLE are favored; however, it is important to realize that these are two very different things. A VLE can be considered a subsystem of an MLE, whereas MLE refers to the wider infrastructure of information systems in an organization that support and enable electronic learning on a wider scale. In fact a rather pedantic reading of the term MLE could be extended to encompass the physical environment in which learning takes place (i.e. a school). Also the use of VLE avoids confusion with the use of LMS to mean "Library Management System" (which is more commonly referred to as Integrated Library System, or ILS, in the United States).
Becta, in the UK, have coined the term learning platform to cover both MLE and VLE as used in the schools sector. 'The term learning platform describes a broad range of ICT systems used to deliver and support learning. Through a learning platform, hardware, software and supporting services are brought together to enable more effective ways of working within and outside the classroom. At the heart of any learning platform is the concept of a personalized online learning space for the pupil. This space should offer teachers and pupils access to stored work, e-learning resources, communication and collaboration with peers, and the facility to track progress.' 
A VLE should make it possible for a course designer to present to students, through a single, consistent, and intuitive interface, all the components required for a course of education or training. Although logically it is not a requirement, in practice VLEs always make extensive use of computers and the Internet.A VLE should implement all the following elements:
The syllabus for the course
Administrative information including the location of sessions, details of pre-requisites and co-requisites, credit information, and how to get help
A notice board for up-to-date course information
Student registration and tracking facilities, if necessary with payment options
Basic teaching materials. These may be the complete content of the course, if the VLE is being used in a distance learning context, or copies of visual aids used in lectures or other classes where it is being used to support a campus-based course.
Additional resources, including reading materials, and links to outside resources in libraries and on the Internet.
Self-assessment quizzes which can be scored automatically
Formal assessment procedures
Electronic communication support including e-mail, threaded discussions and a chat room, with or without a moderator
Differential access rights for instructors and students
Production of documentation and statistics on the course in the format required for institutional administration and quality control
All these facilities should be capable of being hyperlinked together
Easy authoring tools for creating the necessary documents including the insertion of hyperlinks - though it is acceptable (arguably, preferable) for the VLE to be designed allowing standard word processors or other office software to be used for authoring.
In addition, the VLE should be capable of supporting numerous courses, so that students and instructors in a given institution (and, indeed, across institutions) experience a consistent interface when moving from one course to another.
Open University Support System
Universities and other institutions of higher and further education are increasingly turning to VLEs in order to:
Economize on the time of teaching staff, especially when they are also involved in research and administration. The extent of the economy over traditional "talk-and-chalk" teaching is not yet clear, but for instructors without web development expertise, using a VLE absorbs less time and produces a more professional result.
Provide a service for students who increasingly look to the internet as the natural medium for finding information and resources.
Ensure that quality control requirements are met by providing a standard vehicle for collecting the required information
Facilitate the integration of distance and campus-based learning or of learning on different campuses.
For example, accredited institutions such as Chapman College University, Touro University, and Adams State College offer online, on-demand teacher training courses for educators to earn graduate credit and/or masters degrees. In the UK schools are being encouraged to make use of learning platforms. The DCSF in the UK government has published an eStrategy outlining priorities that include every learner in schools having access to an online learning space and e-portfolio.
Virtual learning environments also have become popular among younger students. Pennsylvania has a number of cyber charter schools available to offer students a choice in their education. PA Cyber Charter School is the largest one in Pennsylvania with an enrollment of 10,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Transferring course content
Most VLEs support Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) as a standard way to upload, launch and track courses. There are no commonly used standards that define how the learner's performance within a course should be transferred from one VLE to another.
Some institutions have attempted to combat this problem by agreeing to share content through open standards, such as those defined by the IMS Global Consortium. Local bodies such as in the schools sector in the UK the DCSF via Becta have additionall defined a learning platform "conformance framework" to encourage interoperability.
Virtual Learning Environments are not limited only to students and learners in graduate level studies. There are many virtual learning environments being created at all times, especially due to the increased popularity of online public education for students in grades k-12. One example of a virtual learning environment for some of the youngest learners is coined with the name: Little Lincoln. "Little Lincoln is an interactive and engaging standards-based curriculum that combines rich multimedia with comprehensive offline activities. Little Lincoln is currently offered for Early Kindergarten, Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade students. Little Lincoln Third Grade will be available for the 2011-2012 academic year." This online learning environment allows for the students to utilize innovative technology while progressing through standards based curriculum. It is just one of many virtual learning environments available at this time.
Online education Challenges - Pakistan
Some of the lessons learnt from Pakistan's experience in e-learning are as follows:
ô€‚ƒ Technological and institutional infrastructure lies at the heart of the challenges
confronted by Pakistan in promoting e-learning. With a dismal average of 7.5
individuals per 100 inhabitants using Internet, the pace of developing reliable and
speedy ICT infrastructure in the country needs to pick-up. Furthermore, additional
institutions offering e-learning on a national level must be instituted while existing
universities should be engaged in providing parallel e-learning programmes. The
HEC has taken commendable initiatives in this respect, which shall be discussed in
the next section.
ô€‚ƒ Computer literacy and access are yet another set of challenges for promoting elearning
in Pakistan (Reddi & Mishra, 2005). While the government is trying to make
ICT infrastructure more affordable, steps to promote OSS are noteworthy. The HEC
has also facilitated the obtaining of the International Computer Driving License
(ICDL), which will help pace up computer literacy in the country (HEC, 2006).
ô€‚ƒ English as a medium of imparting education is a serious hindrance in ensuring the
promotion of e-learning within Pakistan. This is because most of the population
accounted as literate is not familiar or fluent in English language. The content must
thus be converted into Urdu language for ensuring greater access, acceptability and
utility. The role of the Centre for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP),
which will be discussed in the next section, is crucial in this regard.
ô€‚ƒ Culture stands in the face of all strategies aimed at promoting e-learning in Pakistan.
Awareness campaigns regarding the utility of e-learning in the masses must be
initiated and renowned institutions should endorse or take-up e-learning distance
programmes, so that the credibility of this medium of education may be established.
ô€‚ƒ The inculcation of contemporary e-learning enabling techniques such as OSD and
learning skills such as SRL are absolutely critical in improving the learning
experience of e-learners. For instance, the method of IMPROVE, developed by
Mevarech and Kramarski (1997) and Kramarski and Mevarech (2003) 'supports
students SRL in mathematics by using four categories of self-metacognitive
o comprehending the problem
o constructing connections between previous and new knowledge
o using appropriate strategies for solving the problem, and
o reflecting on the processes and the solution (Kramarski & Gutman, 2006,
Research has shown that students using IMPROVE 'significantly outperformed other
students in problem-solving, procedural and transfer tasks regarding mathematical
explanations', and in using self-monitoring strategies during problem solving (op. cit.,
ô€‚ƒ E-tutors require proper training before they should be allowed to facilitate e-learners.
Special programmes for such trainings should be initiated at a national level, so that a
critical mass of e-tutors is made available with the proliferation of e-learning in
ô€‚ƒ Constant encouragement, virtual yet personal tutor-student interactions and adding an
element of enjoyment in e-learning programmes (Abdon & Raab, 2001) is the key to
adding value to the Pakistani e-learner's experience.
HEC e-learning Initiative
The HEC was set up to with the view of improving the quality of higher education in the
country and meeting the demand of trained human resource arising from development
challenges and opportunities presented by the rapid evolution in ICTs. In addition to its
core HR activities, HEC has also sponsored programs to establish world-class ICT
infrastructure in universities across the country. These initiatives laid the platform for the
delivery of a range of ICT-based educational services, which are inclusive of a worldclass
Digital Library and Video Conferencing Facilities.
Specific e-learning initiatives of the HEC include the development of 'Online Lecturing
and Net-Meeting using IP-based Video Conferencing System', which is expected to
provide for Video Conferencing facilities in all public sector universities and will allow
for the establishment of world class video conferencing lecture rooms. The main
objective of introducing this Video Conferencing facility is to enhance interaction
between the student and the teacher, meet the shortage of qualified faculty members at
the universities located in distant and remote areas, and ultimately uplift the standard of
education in Pakistan. In the initial phase, 18 universities/ degree awarding institutions
will be provided with this facility, while the second phase will include an additional 32
universities. The project involves supply, installation, integration, testing, commissioning
and maintenance/support of fully functional Video Conferencing System along with the
collaborative tools to enhance the Students-Teacher interaction through distance learning
(HEC, 2006; Masood et al, 2007).
These new and innovative technologies are not intended as replacements for traditional education, but rather as extensions that enhance, compliment and scale learning in deep and powerful ways. Moreover, technology tends to transcend ethnic quagmires undermining consensus in countries having diverse cultures, languages and governmental jurisdictions.
Although e-learning is yet to play a substantive part in Pakistan's education arena, the
government's impetus, policy drive, focused strategies and keen implementation plan are
encouraging. It is expected that Pakistan would join the league of Asian countries, such
as Malaysia, who have made considerable progress in the realm of e-learning and have
used this medium for the national-level social and economic benefits, in not too distant-afuture.
The first steps of elearning in agriculture are being taken in just about every country. The United
States, Europe, and Australia are leading the adoption of elearning in agriculture, and they are
also greatly assisting developing countries to do the same. While much of the available funding
and interest has been geared toward specialized programs in agribusiness, agroterrorism,
agricultural management, a large number of organizations have been producing agricultural
elearning training of varying quality. The challenge is to fully exploit electronic media, maximizing
its usefulness and the realm of possible resourcesÍ¾ elearning must not be Power Point
presentations modified into online modules, but rather welldesigned
training that draw on the
best electronic resources available. The recent online programs developed and made available
by the FAO and a few other organizations are instilling smaller organizations, which could
otherwise not afford the time or money to develop them, with highquality
resources. An effect similar to the cell phone epidemic that swept across most of the developing
world is helping to promote elearning. Many communities are skipping traditional training delivery
methods and are going straight to using elearning. Extension agents will continue to play a critical
role in agricultural extension, bridging the gap between elearning methods and implementation in
Kurbel, Karl: Virtuality on the Students' and on the Teachers' sides: A Multimedia and Internet based International Master Program; ICEF Berlin GmbH (Eds.), Proceedings on the 7th International Conference on Technology Supported Learning and Training - Online Educa; Berlin, Germany; November 2001, pp. 133-136
^ Loutchko, Iouri; Kurbel, Karl; Pakhomov, Alexei: Production and Delivery of Multimedia Courses for Internet Based Virtual Education; The World Congress "Networked Learning in a Global Environment: Challenges and Solutions for Virtual Education", Berlin, Germany, May 1 - 4, 2002
Honeyman, M.; Miller, G. (December 1993). "Agriculture distance education: A valid alternative for higher education?". Proceedings of the 20th Annual National Agricultural Education Research Meeting: 67-73.
HEC, 2006, 'E-Learning', Higher Education Commission, Government of Pakistan,
Available at http://www.hec.gov.pk/new/eReforms/e-Learning.htm, Accessed [January