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Facilitated learning over the internet


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More companies and institutions are looking for robust solutions to support their training programmes. They want to follow sustainable approaches that enhance learning and teaching over the internet.

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Facilitated learning over the internet

  1. 1. Facilitated Learning over the Internet By Shaun Lake 1© and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited
  2. 2. IntroductionThe success of an online education offering, like any education offering, is measured by the extent towhich actual learning takes place. Distance education has always been a challenge in that it isdifficult to provide adequate coaching to remote learners, and it is difficult to observe whether ornot learning is happening. It does have its positives however. It is a “learner centred” form oflearning, which means it’s an active learning process. There is greater flexibility in terms of time todo the course and from where. Online learning can help address the downside of distance educationby enhancing the tutoring component and bringing participants closer together throughcollaboration and communications technologies.When making a decision to offer online education it is important to understand that online learningis a very broad field with numerous technological approaches. Many of these tend to only emphasisea learning experience that involves interactivity with online (digital) learning materials (ComputerBased Training (CBT). This usually takes the form of various activities designed to get the learner toengage with the content and receive automated responses. There is a focus on making the materialsgraphically attractive using multimedia to enhance the impact and enjoyment of the course. A livetutor or instructor is either absent or passive with this approach. Facilitated learning over theInternet is something different. The focus is not to enhance the content to create interactivitybetween the learner and the materials, but rather to create a learning path or structure to facilitateinteraction between the learner and the teacher. Facilitated learning involves a combination of waysto engage with the course materials and to interact with the tutor and other learners. The way inwhich this is pulled together may differ depending on the preferences of the training provider.Which approach to take should be based on which is going to be most effective for the specific skillsdevelopment objectives in mind, and the budgetary constraints. Computer based training has itsplace. It can be very effective for systems training. Airline pilots use CBT extensively. The bestexample of computer based training is the aircraft simulator. This produces excellent learning, andbecause it can simulate occurrences that would not normally happen, it provides the pilot withvaluable experience. There does however appear to be a correlation between the sophistication ofthe computer based training product and its ability to teach and to affect learning. Unfortunatelysophistication comes with a heavy price tag. The facilitated learning approach is very effective for most learning programmes, and in particular, itis effective in enhancing distance education but can also be just as useful in supporting face to faceprogrammes. It is a low risk and cost effective approach if done correctly. A US Department ofEducation study (2009) investigated the impact of online learning on education and found thatstudents participating in facilitated learning over the Internet performed better than their face- to-face compatriots, and a combination of online learning and face-to-face produced the besteducation results. 1 in 6 K12 students are currently engaged in online learning and this is expected togrow as schools move toward the use of technology. Certain States have decided to issue all theirstudents with iPads with a view to taking as much of the education process online as possible.There are two main types of facilitated learning over the Internet which can be described as “thesynchronous approach” and “the asynchronous approach”. These can be used together in the sameprogramme or independently. The main purpose of this article is to focus on facilitated learning overthe Internet using the asynchronous approach but it is nevertheless important to raise some issuesaround the synchronous approach. 2 © and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited
  3. 3. The Synchronous ApproachThis approach is often referred to as a “webinar” or a “virtual classroom” and involves an online“live” meeting between a teacher and a group of learners at a set time over the Internet. There arespecialised software applications that facilitate this instantaneous form of interaction between theparticipants. Materials can be presented by the teacher and various tools are used to manage andsolicit participation. Interaction is usually by voice or live chat (instant messaging), and whereconnectivity is good and reliable, video conferencing can be used.There are a number of limiting factors around this approach which make it not ideal for facilitatedlearning over the Internet. It is generally not effective with large groups as interaction becomesdifficult to manage and the value of the synchronicity reduces with a greater number of participants.Opinions may vary on this but a session with more than five people does become more challengingto manage. There are also organisational challenges around this approach. People need to be onlineat a set time. Getting people who are in different locations and time zones together can beproblematic. Variations in connection speeds, and the quality of equipment will impact on eachparticipant’s individual experience of the session. Synchronous teaching is particularly sensitive totechnological breakdown. For example, an event is easily disrupted if some of the participantsexperience connection problems. Often, because of these challenges, a virtual class becomes a one-way broadcast rather than an interactive session. Getting a virtual class to interact can bechallenging, as it is easier for remote participants to sit in silence. This is because the sense ofpresence and pressure to participate is not as strong as it would be in a face to face class.The Asynchronous ApproachThe asynchronous approach describes interactions which are not “live”. Email is a good example ofan asynchronous form of communication. A person prepares an email and sends it. The recipientreceives, reads, and responds to the email in their own time. An asynchronous approach comprisesof a variety of activities that a learner community must do as part of the course, in their own time.This could include self assessments, automated assessments, assignments, participation indiscussion forums and messaging. Course materials are made available in documents, videos, podcasts, websites etc which can be viewed anytime and as many times as necessary.A decision to follow a predominantly asynchronous approach to facilitate learning over the Internetintroduces massive leverage and can be very effective if done correctly. It can also be very costefficient and reliable. A well choreographed approach can even rival face to face teaching as aneffective means of skills development.Key to a successful asynchronous approach is the structure and how this is implemented. Thisrequires a predetermined path of sequenced compulsory and voluntary activities. The morestructured the better. Although an asynchronous approach involves “delayed” responses, these canstill be an effective form of communication provided there are rules of engagement and due datesaround activities. 3 © and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited
  4. 4. There are five mainstays to asynchronous learning over the Internet. These are: presetassignments/worksheets, discussions and polls, group messaging, private messaging and socialnetworking. a) Preset assignments/worksheetsThis forms the core and backbone of an online course. A teacher will construct a series ofworksheets developed according to distance learning instructional design principles.The example below shows a series of four worksheets that need to be completed by the learner forthe course “Introduction to Social Media”.Worksheets can include a combination of self study, auto assessment and tutored activities. Readingresources including files, links to websites, video and pod casts etc can be made available to thelearners. Corrections, improvements, or additions can be applied at any time to the course, evenwhile learners are active.Worksheets are submitted according to due dates and parts of a worksheet can be marked by theteacher. Because a teacher will mark the worksheets, it opens up a whole range of options in termsof types of questions that can be asked. This allows for the research based model which is a far morethorough teaching approach. The flexibility in the way worksheets and questions can be structuredallows the course developer to apply their learning models. 4 © and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited
  5. 5. The example below shows an open question that needs to be answered, and will be marked by atutor. Under the resources is a video lecture on the topic.Learners can send private messages to the tutor if assistance or clarification is needed. Tutors markthe worksheets, provide comments, and award marks. Students who fail to submit on time are sentreminders and alerts by the system, and if they fail to respond to the alerts, they receive an FTS(Failed to Submit) for that worksheet. Teachers can provide informative comments and request thelearners resubmit the worksheets should further improvements and teaching be required.The example below shows an activity feed for a teacher where they are alerted to a marking that isdue. Note also that there is a notification of a poll. The activity feed assists in keeping participantsinformed of activities.Because the worksheets are in a sequence according to due dates, the learner management systemcan provide regular progress and performance reports. All work carried out by the learner and theteacher is done online meaning that the system stores a record of this information automatically. Aseries of completed worksheets becomes a detailed Portfolio of Evidence of the course for referenceand reporting purposes. 5 © and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited
  6. 6. Below is an example of a report that shows progress and performance of a group.Worksheets can also be designed as group assignments. Learners are assigned to small groups andare expected to work together on a project. This has organisational challenges but can be done. b) Discussions and PollsDiscussions and polls can be used to debate important points around the topic/s. They supplementthe learning from the preset assignments/worksheets, and provide an asynchronous virtualclassroom or workshop. The discussions take place over days or even weeks, and all comments areavailable for all to see. The teacher is able to close the discussion once the topic has been exhausted,but the transcript remains as a reference for the class. Polls work in the same way as discussionsexcept that there is an added element of a vote allowing the participants to see the opinion of thegroup. Although the discussion does not provide all the benefits of the interaction enjoyed bylearners in a face to face session, it does provide for a useful dialogue between participants. Thecontributions of the participants tend to be more thoughtful and complete.Below is an example of a discussion. 6 © and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited
  7. 7. Below is an example of a poll. c) Group MessagingGroup messaging provides the teacher with a tool to communicate with the group as and whenrequired. This could be to encourage participation in the discussions and polls or to highlight theimportance of certain aspects in the worksheets, or to notify learners of changes, additions orimprovements.Below is an example of a group notification encouraging learner to participate in the polls. In thiscase group messaging is being used as a prodder to get learners to interact. 7 © and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited
  8. 8. d) Private MessagingPrivate messaging provides a means for a learner to contact the teacher or contact otherparticipants on a one-to-one basis. They may need clarification on content or questions, or othercourse related questions. If a teacher sees that a particular learner is not participating in thediscussions, or has done poorly, or well in the worksheets, the private message can be use tocommunicate about these matters.Below is an example of a private message between learner and tutor. e) Social NetworkingThere are a number of tools that fall under the social networking umbrella that can be incorporatedinto a course. Twitter is a very effective tool for a teacher who wishes to link the course with dailylife. All participants are registered as followers of the teacher. Clever use of regular tweets could linkdaily experiences or current news with the course. This serves to liven up the course and keep thelearning ongoing.Ideas around social networking and learning are still in their infancy. By seeing learners as co-creators of learning material, and the learning process as a community activity, a course takes on aninformal feel that tends to be driven by a genuine thirst for knowledge and sharing. Socialnetworking features could include “what’s on your mind” (course wall), “who is online” (live chat),group pages etc which all serve to create the feeling of community and provide a platform for peersto teach one another (considered to be a very effective way of learning). Other features include theidea of co creation of documents (wikis), and the ability to follow a particular document. Forexample, a student is notified each time that document is enhanced. This stimulates debate andpurpose around topics and leaves a trail of interactions which can be picked up by future students. 8 © and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited
  9. 9. Below is an example of Twitter feed coming into the course around social media.ConclusionPeople teaching people, combined with a research based approach, is in most cases, the best way toeducate as opposed to computer based training (with the exception of computer simulations forcertain types of skills training). Facilitated learning over the Internet using the asynchronousapproach is a very powerful and robust way to teach and learn. The people focus allows for anemphasis on structuring courses around human interaction. This takes the pressure off having tobuild elaborate multimedia productions that try to squeeze complex subject matter into rigidcomputer driven responses. Open questions facilitate the powerful research based model andlearners receive feedback from a teacher who can calibrate their understanding of a subject, andprovide the necessary coaching and attention as required. Even the best in artificial intelligencecannot detect nuances around an individual’s understanding.The leverage of the asynchronous approach is enormous. A teacher could provide effective andefficient tuition for hundreds of learners located anywhere in the world over a period of time. Theself paced nature of asynchronous learning accommodates most learning styles and needs providedit is well structured and well managed. 9 © and PaperBase Internet Based Learning Systems - All Rights Reserved Unauthorised copying or distribution in whole or part is strictly prohibited