Sunday, July 31, 2011

EduMOOC; Public, Private & Open - Online Learning.

Hi friends,

Fifth week at EduMOOC was a week for reviewing the business process  and their social implications relating to various business models of ODL systems - Public, Private & Open - Online Learning. I found the following two blogs written by Sir John Daniel, President and Chief Executive Officer of Commonwealth of Learning (http://www.col.org/BLOG) very much relevant to the fifth week’s EduMOOC topic.
  1. eLearning and for-profit provision of higher education
  2. Observing Private-Private and Public-Private Partnerships in Higher Education
In the first blog Sir John Daniel discusses three important findings in a report by Tony Bates titled “2011 Outlook for Online Learning and Distance Education”. This includes (1) 21% expansion of enrolment in fully online (distance) courses in the USA between 2009 and 2010 compared to a 2% expansion in campus-based enrolments,(2) the fact that despite this growth institutional goals for eLearning are unambitious (3) in the USA the for-profit sector has a much higher proportion of the total online market (32%) compared to its share of the overall higher education market (7%). He also refers to some interesting information available in Whitney's recent newsletter including an article by Howard Horton on the Online Imperative in Higher Education.In the second blog Sir John Daniel discusses the for-profit and public-private partnership systems in higher education.

Various reports say that, in the case of e-learning based ODL, for-profit institutions are far ahead of public /not-for-profits institutions. Majority of world’s (public) universities are yet to explore the possibilities of e-learning based ODL in its full ambit. For-profit/private institutions have recognized the magical economics of e-learning, that is, to be cost effective to the institution as well as the learners while making profit! To be time efficient to the institution even while offering flexible time schedule for the learners!

As we have discussed many times before, further expansion of conventional face2face setups to meet the ever increasing demand for higher education is almost impossible in most  parts of the world. Therefore Open Distance Learning (ODL) is the only workable solution. In the case of ODL also deviation from conventional methods are inevitable now. No more we can think about printing and mailing study materials for learners from all over the world - yes it is the era of transnational education. Hence it is seen that ‘e-Learning ready ODL’ is the ideal solution. Now we have yet another crucial factor to be considered along with the economics of e-learning - the global climate change factor. The influence of climate change factor on the e-learning economics is mainly because it can reduce travel and stationary requirements (including the use of paper) for studies - hence it reduce environment pollution.

Now coming to the Open Online Education, if your motive is just learning/facilitate learning and you do not need credential services of Universities, rich repositories of open course materials are available in www - you will get it in all forms - text, audio, video and live streaming. The free course materials of more than 13,000 courses in twenty languages published by around 250 universities and associated organizations in the OpenCourseWare Consortium is an ideal example in this respect.

Another noteworthy initiative in Open Online Education is the OER university (OERu) project which aims to build a consortium of Universities to provide Open Distance Learning courses using Open Educational Resources, credential services from member universities and online faculty support from' volunteers international'.

However my personal opinion is that policy makers and governments should come forward to ensure recognized study  and flawless credential system for e-learning based Open Distance Learning. The basic platform we require for this is a Transnational Qualifications Framework. The initiatives like European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and the Transnational Qualification Framework for the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) project of Commonwealth of Learning etc give us great expectations. Such efforts should be converged to build a truly Transnational Qualifications Framework.

Apart from regular e-learning based ODL courses, public universities can also think about customized courses for industrial houses. Nowaday, most industrial houses recruit employees through campus selection process. Bright undergraduate students are being selected during their final stages of the degree programme. For their continued lifelong learning needs Universities can offer customized e-learning based ODL courses in cooperation with the industries concerned. This is an area, comparatively unexplored by the public universities, that can bring in financial sustainability to a greater extent.  Moreover this is the ideal way for universities to effectively support the development process in any country.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

EduMOOC; Online Learning Apps and Mobile Learning

Hi friends, we had a challenging topic for the fourth week at EduMOOC - “Online Learning Apps and Mobile Learning”. Have the technologies once again changed the way we teach and learn? Is the Learning Management System dead - replaced by apps and mobile access?

If you google for apps - the short name we use to mention applications or  application programs, you will see that, in majority of the top search results,  apps is highlighted along with mobile, iPhone, iPad , iPod etc.

I take it as a strong indication of the current trend. Yes, the world is moving towards open distance learning systems that are well connected by mobile devices and wonderful applications that provide amazing learning  and networking experiences.

Though the image of mobile equipments come to our mind while talking about mobile learning, the basic concept in mobile- ie, the mobility - is already there in the LMS. The mobility concept has two factors viz, mobility of the learner and mobility of the equipment. In the case of LMS, mobility of the learner is possible without mobility of the equipment as the learning is facilitated through internet.  The second type, one we discuss mostly now,  is the mobility of the device along with the learner.

A little bit of confusion seems to be prevailing in the learning circles about the popular terminologies such as e-Learning, m-Learning etc. Are they different streams of education as we have conventional face2face leaning and open distance learning? Whether m-learning is an extension of e-Learning? What relation do they have? - numerous questions and of course, numerous answers as well :).

My thought is that we have to maintain the concepts and definitions relating to these systems simple and logical enough to be easily digested by distant learners, non-expert stakeholders, policy makers and administrators. Therefore we have to be very clear about the basic systems. Can’t we say ‘there are only two basic systems of education now - Traditional face2face system and Open Distance Learning System’ ?

The Open Distance Learning System has been seeing tremendous developments, especially after the advent of intenet. The major developments  are commonly represented by popular terms like Virtual Learning Environments, e-Learning, Learning Management Systems, Course Management Systems, and most recent m-Learning etc. While thinking about a system view for the ODL, I would like to put them all under the common category of ‘ICT enabled Virtual Learning Environments for ODL’.  We can also draw a rough hierarchy of this improvements within the category like:

Virtual Learning Environmnets -> e-Learning -> Learning/Course  Management Systems. I view m-Learning as an innovative technology solution for connectivity and course delivery in LMSs. We cannot use m-Learning as a replacement for LMS, becasue LMS is a base system and m-learning is a technology to support the base system.  Without a system for managing the learning - that include guidance, assessment and credential systems - mLearning will be just a system of content delivery and apps will provide just the advanced forms of text messaging, mms etc. Definitely, it is not what the world  is looking for an inclusive education.

We should also remember that the Virtual Learning Environments as discussed above are not exclusively for ODL. They can be made use of in formal face2face setups also for enhanced learning and teaching experiences. We call it blended learning.

When you talk about LMS, simply forget the brand names of popular LMS solutions that people tend to see synonymous to LMS, and consider it as a system embodying and relating pedagogic principles, content delivery and course management.  If you are able to do this, all your confusion over these different terminoligies will be gone.

writing in progress...

License CC-BY-SA

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

EduMOOC; Online Technologies Today and Tomorrow

During the first two weeks , because of the pressures of daily works, I was able to add my blogs on EduMOOC weekly topics only at the end of each weekly discussion. I believe that blogs are suggested to be added during the course of the weekly discussions itself. Therefore, in this week I prefer to be a good learner :) ...and hence this blog now.             

While thinking about the topic for the third week of our EduMOOC, that is, “Online Technologies Today and Tomorrow”, we cannot proceed without reviewing some basic information related to the earlier topics in the series. Virtual learning activities gained amazing pace in 1990s with the advent of Internet. Internet based online education originally began through various business houses using online training courses to prepare their newly recruited employees. Subsequently this method got popularity among universities and other academic bodies. Later with the advancements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Open Distance Learning has become a favourite choice of individuals, business houses and academic institutions alike through what is called Learning Management Systems (LMS) or Course Management Systems (CMS).

LMSs have got strengthened further with the adevent of Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), a collection of standards and specifications for web-based e-learning. SCORM defines communications between client side content and a host system called the run-time environment, which is commonly supported by a learning management system. SCORM also defines how content may be packaged into a transferable ZIP file called "Package Interchange Format".

Learning/Course Management Systems


Learning/Course Management Systems have bestowed the learners and trainers in the ODL system with amazing tools to dramatically enhance learning and teaching experiences far above the conventional face-to-face set up. These systems can facilitate formal and informal as well as synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning environments. They have features like web-based admission & approval system, Internet or Intranet Virtual web-based administration systems, assessment and competency modules, digital libraries, white boards, video/voice/text conferencing and chat, email etc. Thus Open Distance Learning, aided by C/LMSs, has expanded the scope/ and boosted the effectiveness of learning in Educational and Industrial sectors alike. It was further reinforced by free and open course management systems like Moodle. Moodle provides enormous freedom to individuals, institutions and organizations to design their own web based course management systems that can be hosted at their own facilities.

Moodle - Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment is one of the most popular Free and Open Source Course Management Systems with more than 50,000 registered installations across the world. Its features include course development, student registration and management, assignment submission, discussion forum, files download, grading, moodle instant messages, online calendar, online news and announcement online quiz, wiki etc It also permits the addition of more modules. The most important peculiarity of Moodle is its ability to run without modification on Unix, Linux, FreeBSD, Windows, Mac OS X, NetWare and any other systems that support PHP and a database. Moodle facilitates an outcomes-oriented learning environment (see http://www.moodle.org)

Similarly, the information revolution that the wiki websites  have triggered also deserves a a very loud mention here. Though we cannot see wiki as a perfect LMS, it can add enormous value to the e-learning ecosystem by way of facilitating collaborative content generation, collaborative development of assignments by learners etc. The success of L4C (Learning4content) programme started by Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and now being implemented by OER Foundation in connection with WikiEducator project is the best example for this. Other popular LMS solutions are Blackboard, Joomla LMS, Canvas LMS, WiZiQ, Foundation Elluninate Live! etc.

Unlike traditional setups, in e-Learning, revision of study materials is rather easy and low cost. Since the content is stored in digital repositories, revision, remix and redistribution of the content to the learners at different locations is no more a problem. Similarly each module can be used for different courses without any extra investment. For example let us consider the Meta Course concept of Moodle. In this arrangement a learning manager can link a course to any number of other courses. Suppose a Degree or Diploma program requires courses C1, C2, C3, and C4. In this case, we can create a "Diploma or Degree" course as a normal course (non-meta course). Thereafter we will designate courses C1 through C4 as meta courses and each would show the Diploma/Degree course as the "child" course. When a student enrolls in "Diploma or Degree", he or she will be automatically enrolled in courses C1 through C4.

The Meta Course concept as discussed above will be very much helpful for the partners at initiatives like Open Education Resources university (OERu) to share/adopt courses.

Innovative strategies for simpler and low-cost solutions

While we think aloud about LMS/CMS solutions, there are many simpler and cost effective ways. For example the free open source print & e-book titled ‘Learning Perspectives 2010’ published by the MASIE Centre and the Learning Consortium contains an article by Julie Clow of Google, which gives a picturesque narration of innovative staff Training and Development methods that are being implemented by Google. The learning teams at google have come to the conclusion that conventionally printed guides and other learning materials do not provide a significantly better learning experience. They have tested this hypothesis in creating a leadership programme for early-career Googlers. They did not have time, budget or resources to create a highly polished programme. They wanted to train a few thousand Googlers spread across the globe quickly. They have decided to tap into the freely available leadership resources on the web. For this purpose they have drafted a series of simple emails that contained some basic context of the leadership themes along with links to the free content as noted above. Each email required only a few minute’s learning activity such as read an article, watch a video or answer a few questions.

In the above learning initiative of four week duration, they have kept their participants on track by holding virtual synchronous brief sessions at the end of each week, which also built a sense of community. The programme received high feedback scores. Participation and completion scores fell in the 80% - 90% range; which was far higher than the typical eLearning completion rates. The demand for the programme is very strong now.

Learning Perspectives 2010 is available at

http://www.learning2010.com/images/stories/learning%20perspectives%20ebook.pdf

Support of social networking platforms

Pre-knowledge of learners is an unchallengeable condition for any higher education course to be successful. As I have pointed out in the previous blog, skills to use web applications is the most crucial pre-knowledge to pursue e-learning in its current forms. In this context, the service being rendered by online social networking applications are remarkable. They also contribute for implementing sustainable methodologies for e-learning by facilitating interaction and uninterrupted flow of communication. Therefore, I would say, social networking platforms are also an integral part of the e-learning ecosystems.

Connectivity


Connectivity is the lifeblood of any e-learning system. Nowaday, e-Learning systems primarily depend on Internet for establishing connectivity. At present the world Internet penetration is estimated at 30.2% (see http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm) It means a lot more has to be done to build connectivity infrastructure to present the world with an inclusive higher education system. Why?

In this context I would like to quote the words of Sir John Daniel, President and Chief Executive Officer, Commonwealth of Learning at the Meeting of Focal Points for Africa & the Mediterranean:

"...Today there are 165 million people enrolled in tertiary education. Projections suggest that that participation will peak at 263 million in 2025.

Accommodating the additional 98 million students would require more than four major universities (30,000 students) to open every week for the next fifteen years. What are our assets in facing up to this responsibility?”
Said that, it is very clear now that inclusiveness in higher education is possible only through networked (or ICT enabled) Open Distance Learning. As I have discussed in my first blog in this series, further expansion of the traditional class-room facilities to cater the ever increasing demand for higher education is almost impossible in most part of the world. It leads us to the hypothesis that inclusiveness in higher education is directly related to Internet penetration (to which spread of e-learning is directly related).

Fast and amazing developments in the mobile technology and the sinking hardware prices give us hope in this respect (though electricity remains to be a problem in some areas).

Community radio to bridge the connectivity gap


People cannot be kept waiting till the connectivity problems are fully solved. Alternative methods are to be used as intermediate solution to bridge the connectivity gap. In this context the community radio as being promoted by the Commonwelath Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) of Commonwealth of Learning (COL) emerges as a priority solution..

We know that two way communication is not possible using radio, still effective broadcast of lectures are possible. Where there is no Internet penetration and difficulty in providing printed study materials in sufficient quantities, the most feasible method to promote learning will definitely be repeated broadcasts of radio lectures and discussions. An asynchronous-kind of interactivity can be promoted by encouraging learner participation in radio programmes and synchronous-kind by phone-in programmes etc . Your thoughts?


To tackle low-bandwidth issues


Some parts of our glob has got yet another problem. Connectivity is there. But sufficient bandwidth is not available to implement innovative e-learning tools which require audio/video streaming. In this context also I would like to point out another solution from CEMCA - EasyNow.

EasyNow is a select set of easily available open source tools that can integrate fast delivery of text, audio, video, slides etc through internet, even in low bandwidth conditions. See http://www.cemca.org/easynow/

Future...

I firmly believe that Open Distance Learning (ODL) supported by Open Educational Resources (OER) would build the Inclusive Mainstream Education System in the immediate future. For that to happen we require more intelligent systems that can provide credential services and facilitate simulation for lab experiments,etc. Similarly we have to bridge the connectivity gap through innovative technologies and infrastructure development projects. 

In the case of infrastructure development projects, we have to converge the efforts being put in and funds being pumped into by various national and international agencies to facilitate a concerted effort, only that can ensure success and sustainability.



License: CC-BY-SA

Sunday, July 10, 2011

EduMOOC; What the research tells us

“Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university. The twin challenges of providing high-quality services and controlling costs continue to impel institutions to seek creative solutions” -  The Horizon Report 2011

Second week's topic for EduMOOC was- "What the Research Tells Us", which is really an interesting topic!  I think, we should start from the success as well as failure stories from corporate sector in this respect. Because the possibilities of ODL including its eLearning variants are being greatly made use by the Corporate Sector and hence most of the researches on the effectiveness of e-learning systems are greatly depending on the corporate experiences for data.

For example, when you go back by a decade as our weekly topic suggests, you may love to read "An Assessment of the Effectiveness of e-learning in Corporate Training Programs" - International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning by Judith Strother, Florida Institute of Technology published in 2002.  In her paper Judith Strother attempts a brief review of the ‘Assessment of the effectiveness of e-learning in Corporate Training Programmes’ using Kirkpatrick’s classic model (Kirkpatrick 1979) having four progressive levels along with the fifth level - Return on Investment (ROI) recommended by Phillips (1996) - that are applicable alike for traditional (class-room) as well as e-learning programmes viz

  1. Reaction - measure of learners’ reaction to the course
  2. Learning - measure of what they learnt
  3. Transfer - measure of change in behaviour when they return to work
  4. Results - measure of business outcomes that occur because they do the job differently after the training
  5. Return on Investment - the cost benefit ratio of training

Along with explaining each level Judith Strother cites relevant data as well.

(see http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/download/83/161 )

Another noteworthy thing is the 'No Significant Difference Phenomenon' revealed though hundreds of research reports during 90s - mostly from corporate sector - demonstrates that no significant difference occurs in learning while following traditional (class-room) method and e-learning. It may also be noted that these studies were conducted before the advent of the interactive e-learning tools that we have now. Therefore, now, various studies reveal that the difference  occurs in favour of e-learning.

While answering the query embedded in the weekly topic (What the research tells us?) I would say researches tell us the promptness of the Corporate sector in making use of the possibilities of e-learning for training and development, struggles of innovative minds in the higher education to get through the rigidity of conservatism and the gradual triumph of e-learning over the traditional setups.

Of course, there are many institutions in the Higher Education Sector that have decades’ of experience with e-learning and the number of higher education institutions implementing e-learning solutions are increasing gradually. However the pace at which  effective e-learning solutions are being implementer in the HE Sector as a whole is substantially slower than that in the corporate sector.

Researches also tells us that In this era of Knowledge Economy, which reinforce the need for Lifelong Learning, we cannot completely segregate the interests of Higher Education sector  from Corporate Training and Development. Because HE sector has the responsibility to ensure the availability of excellent workforce and professionals by establishing efficient Lifelong Learning Systems for the nations to prosper. In order to establish efficient lifelong learning systems the academia in the HE Sector has to carefully follow the changes in the industry where the learners are expected to work. Only interactive e-learning systems can facilitate it by promoting knowledge exchange between teachers and professionals in the industry. Other wise, in a knowledge economy, teachers would require to work in the industry at regular intervals for exposure. Hence it is seen that we require e-learning systems for both teachers as well as students. Such systems are already in existence.

Moreover, with the advent and popularization of Trans-border or Transnational Education, the similarity of issues that are being faced by the course managers in higher education as well as the corporate sectors also have been increased. For example student/trainee registration, faculty deployment, development and contextualizing of learning materials, procurement and upkeep of technologies, funds for the same, other administrative as well as academic support services etc pose almost similar issues. Rise of knowledge economies is likely to increase the demand for transnational education tremendously. The Horizon Report 2011 lists "People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want" as a highly-ranked trend for 2011 (http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2011.pdf). Said that, the corporate and higher education sectors have to build collaborative platforms for exchange of technology, techniques and expertise in implementing and managing e-learning systems. This includes use of e-learning tools in classroom setups for better learning/teaching experience as well.

Similarly, many studies underline the fact that online readiness of the learners is the most crucial factor that makes elearning systems successful. In this context we are very fortunate to have a generation that has developed amazing online readiness through various online social networking activities. It is further substantiated by the high student satisfaction levels in e-learning. It means, the learners are ready, but what about the teachers?

License: CC-BY-SA

#oeru

Sunday, July 3, 2011

EduMOOC; Online Learning Today

EduMOOC is an eight week (starting from 27th June, 2011) Massive Online Open Course being conducted by the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service at the University of Illinois Springfield on “Online Learning Today... and Tomorrow”.The course is coordinated by Ray Schroeder, Professor Emeritus & Director, UOI. As a newbie to MOOC my initial impression is that MOOC is a self guided learning programme on given topics with the aid of a variety of ODL techniques and technology platforms wherein learners are free to chose their own choice of technology, say, google groups, twitter, facebook, blogging, live streaming etc. The academic support from the organizers will be mostly in the form of opening channels of communication, bookmarking resources related to the topics of the course, start discussion threads initially and conduct a live session in each week during the course time. Though new comers might feel a little bit confused initially because of the diverse platforms that are being used for communication, I consider the course worthy. 

The course structure is in such a way that, there will be a new topic for each week and the topic for the first week was “Online Learning Today”. Each participant in EduMOOC is supposed to make some sort of contribution on weekly topics - by way of group discussions, blogs etc - and to conduct further research/study on the proposed topics on their own interest. Hence this blog is actually my weekly assignment :).

Serious thoughts about virtual learning environments can be traced back to 19th century. However, interestingly, a clear imagination of audio/video communication network being used to deliver a lecture on Australian music to a remote audience can be seen in the short science fiction "The Machine Stops" written by E.M Forster published in 1909. In 1953 University of Houston offered the first televised college credit classes via KUHT, the first public television station in the US. These attempts were all part of the efforts to use modern technologies to meet the ever increasing need for education in a cost effective manner. Virtual learning activities got amazing pace in 1990s with the advent of Internet. Internet based online education originally began through various business houses using online training courses to prepare their newly recruited employees. Subsequently this method got popularity among universities and other academic bodies. 

Nowaday, since knowledge economies are becoming true, two principal responsibilities of the Education sector are: 

1. ensuring timely knowledge and skill sharing in accordance with the market demand and 

2. ensuring labour market acceptance of qualifications across the glob irrespective of the place form where it is acquired.

To fulfill the first responsibility the education sector and its industrial counterparts have brought out innovative learning methodologies and technologies for the intelligent use of eLearning tools in traditional learning setups as well as in ODL systems. In the case of the second responsibility, the education sector is triumphantly advancing towards a Transnational Qualifications Framework (TQF). Two promising initiatives in this respect are: 

1. The TQF concept that is being effectively propagated by Commonwealth of Learning though its Virtual University for Small States in the Commonwealth project and 

2. The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) initiative of EU 

Both of the responsibilities as stated above become instrumental for the amazing developments in Online Learning. Learning/Course Management Systems have bestowed the learners and trainers in the ODL system with amazing tools to dramatically enhance learning and teaching experiences far above the conventional face-to-face set up. These systems can facilitate formal and informal as well as synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning environments. They have features like web-based admission & approval system, Internet or Intranet Virtual web-based administration systems, assessment and competency modules, digital libraries, white boards, video/voice/text conferencing and chat, email etc. Thus Open Distance Learning, aided by C/LMSs, has expanded the scope/ and boosted the effectiveness of learning in Educational and Industrial sectors alike. It was further reinforced by free and open course management systems like Moodle. Moodle provides enormous freedom to individuals, institutions and organizations to design their own web based course management systems that can be hosted at their own facilities. Moodle is a strong technology that supports the ODL movement and is being nurtured every second by a devoted and open community of educators, education technology developers and practitioners. So far more than 42000 Moodle sites from 206 countries have registered their Moodle CMS sites with moodle.org! You can see a large numbers of industrial houses, universities and online open distance learning institutions in the list. Remember that these are the figures from just one technology. There are many other major technology platforms like Blackboard, Joomla!, Canvas etc 

World’s many leading Universities have now started to offer credible qualifications through online learning. Moreover preparations for establishing an OER university is also in progress. Still, I would say, majority in the Higher Education Sector are yet to thoroughly understand the benefits of Online Education and use of OER.

Creative Commons License
EduMOOC; Online Learning Today by Anil Prasad is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

#oeru