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e-learning is b-learning

e-learning is b-learning

First, let me say that I do appreciate Daphne Koller's initiative, to the extent that there is a vision of providing academic education to people who coulkd not otherwize afford it.

However, thus far e-learning is not developed enough to being able to offering a good alternative to on-campus education. Most e-learning (also higher e-education) involves little, if any, true interaction. There is even a risk that an increased trust in e-learning is used as a rationale for universities to rationalize and, thus, providing worse quality.

The kind of e-learning that Daphne Koller describes might be a good solution for the kind of learning that implies learning facts and memorizing. However, for the kind of learning that I would call academic, in which the students interact with teachers and other students in order to train on critical thinking nd becoming independent learners, current ways of arranging e-learning are of little use.

In my own subject - management and leadership - experiential learning has lately been introduced as a way to make the education more useful. In combination with critical thinking, I dare to say that management and leadership education has grown into a true academic discipline.

This positive development runs the risk of being ruined by focusing too much on an e-learning model that is not yet developed enough to offer true interaction. Beause higher education is about maturing, questionning, developing and growing, rather than memorizing or replicating.

Dr. Anders Örtenblad
Associate Professor and Director of Teaching Development
Nottingham University Business School China

  • Sep 1 2012: More comments on comments 2

    No, I am not (always) able to tell apart those who have studied at higher education from those who haven't. My intention by sticking to higher education in my reasoning was to keep to something I know well. I don'¨t know that much about school education (i.e. pre-university education). But I agree that such education is sometimes as academic or even more so that "higher" education. I also agree that such education should become more academic, in the sense of involving more questionning, people-development, exploring, and seeing-from-different-perspectives.

    I am able, though, to tell those who see education as knowledge-filling from those who see education as mutual and continuous knowledge-creation. I wish all education was more like the latter. Since I am a university teacher and researcher, I mainly want to debate the education that universities and colleges provide. Such institutions are often called "higher educational institutions". I agree that the term "higher" might seem like it is something better thn other education. This was not my intention, sorry for that.

    My main argument is that e-learning could be made and arranged so much better if we stop expecting that it should be time-flexible and not involve much interaction. There are so many other ways than traditional one-way lectures that we are using - at least at my university (University of Nottingham Ningbo) - that we must try to make available at online education. I refer to such teaching methods as problem-based learning, experience-based learning, service learning, learning by interviewing people, group tutorials, action learning, student-centred learning, role-plays, etc. As long as e-learning initiatives do not provide the tools for such teaching methods, there is a clear risk that initiatives like Koller's is step backwards.
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    Gail .

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    Sep 1 2012: I'm a huge proponent of on-line education. That's primarily because I do not do well in a classroom setting. But give me a question, and I will immerse myself for hours in the joy of learning about the topic. Just tell me when to show up for the test. I learn MUCH more from the Internet about ANY given topic than I ever learned in a classroom. But that's because of MY learning style.

    this being said, the days of sitting around the student union solving the worlds problems is something that I dearly miss. Now-a-days, there are so few who want to talk about anything that is not superficial. It's downright frustrating. Thank goodness for the on-line communities of those who are engaged in life-long learning. Without them I would be totally isolated.

    Here is a vid that relates to my problems in the physical classroom. My larger questions are silenced and made irrelevant, and unless I understand the concept as part of a whole, it just doesn't make enough sense for me to feel like i have mastered a subject. So what good is a classroom if mastery is never achieved?
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    Sep 1 2012: I have to pose the question: "What is the goal of comparing e-learning to b-learning?"

    If it is to try to determine which one is "better"...better at what?

    The "class" is going to end up learning at different levels in any type of learning environment. At the end of the "course", we like to "rack and stack" each student as to where they finished in rank. Or whether they met a minimum set of standards to be considered "passing" in the subject. The old saying, "Every medical school graduates a doctor at the bottom of their class" indicates that some of the doctors who graduated are "better educated" than others at the end of the learning experience. But a minimum of learning is required to be considered "passing", so anyone meeting that minimum criteria is considered a graduate. Are we trying to make it mandatory that 100% minimum standard a requirement in order to be educated? We'd have a lot fewer doctors around practicing medicine.

    E-learning can arguably be said to be not as efficient as b-learning today. That doesn't mean in the future it won't be. And even if it does become as efficient, you would still be able to "rack and stack" the graduates of any e-learning environment.

    Even if e-learning isn't as efficient today in some disciplines, it is more accessable because of things like the Internet. I don't see anything wrong with making educational opportunities available to as many people as possible. How can any education received by a larger percentage of the uneducated be bad?
  • Sep 1 2012: "Beause higher education is about maturing, questionning, developing and growing, rather than memorizing or replicating. "

    But is this really true? The majority of students is just and only memorizing and replicating-and e-learning has not established yet. It is a bit like fearing all people run away once anyone can effort shoes. But the majority of people spends their lives in a very short radius round their birth place until they die, and they even got cars nowadays...

    And how mature is it exactly to seperate education in higher and lower education? Did you ever question what that means? Is this academic? No, that is not academic, that is thinking from the past. Think about how academic an university could be if there was no cut or barrier, like you got it when you talk about "higher" education.

    "Academics" have isolated themselves so much, that they did not notice how much the world outside the campus developed. The so called academic discourse is nothing special about academics, they just added academic without need. People teach, question, grow and so on even outside the university. And they do this without seperating each other.

    Look at this TED website. Could you say which one here is an academic, which one is not? And could you say which comment is from "higher" educated people, which from lower educated? I at least think it is very very difficult to find out.

    What i want to point at is, that science or education is not dependent on people or places. There have been and will be lots of inventions who have taken place in the absence of teachers, universities. As long as these scientists or inventors had access to information, they came forward. And e-learning is probably a better way to spread information. How people use the information is in their decision, while today most information is locked away and blocked by unneeded barriers like academic circles, what is the main reason for "lower education".
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    Aug 31 2012: It is the academic environment that makes a big difference in a learner. It is the interaction of students and then students and lecturers; and the discipline and administrative structure that makes learners and lecturers accountable, it is all these that sharpens the intellect in an academic environment.

    E-learning is so obviously inadequate that its inadequacy hardly needs to be stated.

    If I am to choose between a pilot who studied at a traditional aviation school and another who did his training by e-learning; I'd say, it's a no-brainer.
  • Aug 31 2012: Comments on comments

    I agree that traditional lectures are of little use in real academic education. No better, though, are the kind of video-recorded lectures that not seldom are offered at online-education. One-way communication and no real-time communication imply that knowledge is something that could be stored and that students' answers could be "correct" or "wrong". This doesn't really give any space for a perspective of knowledge as somthing that is created here and now, jointly by (actively knowledge-creating) students and teacher(s). While I do agree that geographical flexibility is one of the strong sides of e-education, the common expectation is, unfortunately, that it also should be flexible in time. It might be possible to arrange so that e-education can offer as much or even more authentic, real-time interaction between student and student as well as between student and teacher, as is possible in a non-virtual classroom. And space for the creation of common authentic experiences. However, the majority of existing higher e-education arrangements do hardly provide the necesary tools for successful interaction, neither do they expect true interaction from the participants. Thus, e-learning as it currently is arranged might be relevant for memorizing, but - unfortunately - not yet for true academic learning.
    See also
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      Sep 1 2012: "It might be possible to arrange so that e-education can offer as much or even more authentic, real-time interaction between student and student as well as between student and teacher, as is possible in a non-virtual classroom."

      So basically have a Skype conversation/room of like 20 people?

      The advantage of the lecture-videos is that the lecturer doesn't need to be present at the lecture, and the students can watch the lecture at any time they want. This format is capable of supporting thousands of people in a classroom technically, which is not something that can be accomplished with smaller and more personal classrooms.

      And the other thing is that less interaction can also be a good thing. With the sheer number of audience a lecturer needs to explain to online, the lack of interaction can force the lecturer to explain a concept in a way that a layman would understand. Students can also just comment on the videos and say, this concept was really confusing at 3:23 of the video or something like that. So it's not like it isn't feedbackless, it's just not feedback in real-time.

      Well point is, I wouldn't count all lecturing as simple memorization and replication. Some lecturers are so incredibly good at explaining concepts that you barely even need to ask questions.
  • Sep 24 2012: To say that e-learning is b-learning is laughable and highly offensive. Have you ever studied online? Have you ever talked with someone who has? What is it about e-learning that you think is lacking aside from the 'interaction' that you laud in the face to face world? Why do you think that there is so little or no interaction online?

    Traditional classroom education can be dead boring. I've been in so many situations where instructors/professors/presenters approach the classroom as their venue to 'share their fount of information' and they ramble on and on. Today's students have so much information at their fingertips that this is an antiquated and very egotistical view. We must do more than present information.

    Good education should ask the learner to think, to question, to analyze, to critique and to synthesize. What about e-learning makes you think that this cannot be accomplished? In e-learning there is no ability to hide in the back of the classroom, to avoid answering questions or participating. The entire focus of a good online course is that the onus is on each individual to participate. The use of tools like Ellluminate and others provide educators with many options that can bring topics alive. There is no shortage of technology to assist us with this task.

    As both an online learner and an online educator I think I can speak with some authority when I say that it is every bit as credible as face-to-face instruction. Is it appropriate for all topics and all learners? Probably not. However it can satisfy a broad range of topics for a broad range of students.

    I'm thankful to see many postings defending online education however I hope that there will come a day when it is no longer questioned. It's time to realize that it is here to stay. Like most new inventions, it only sticks around if it works. Guess what? It works.
  • Sep 24 2012: Perhaps one issue to clarify is whether the goal of education is certification, or whether it is to acquire knowledge. If the goal of education is the enrichment of the mind, as we would all (perhaps naively) like to suppose, then classes from something like Coursera are beneficial in that they do not cost anything, they fit around any schedule, and they reach people who might not normally be able to attend traditional university courses.

    However, an important thing to note is that because Coursera costs nothing and is attended by thousands of people, assignments are reviewed by peers rather than professors. A person could go through the entire course, complete all of the assignments and watch all of the lectures, and have no idea where their skill and knowledge level lies in relation to the accepted degree of "competency" for that discipline. Some might say that doing away with ranking students is a good thing, because it boosts self-esteem, or because the ranking system is faulty. However, if a person who has completed all the free literature courses in the world submits for a job as a professor, the hiring board will not give them a second look, even if all of their Coursera peers said their essays were "quite good" and "very insightful."

    I am taking several Coursera classes and, as someone who already completed a literature degree in a traditional institution, I have found them to be a wonderful chance to further my knowledge, to challenge myself, and to hear other people's perspectives. But as far preparing me for professional participation in my field, the free courses on Coursera are not nearly rigorous enough. Maybe Coursera should amend their webpage where they claim to "Advance your knowledge and career."
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      Sep 24 2012: I so appreciate your sharing your perspective. I am starting a Coursera course in October just for fun, and I have been very curious in advance how feedback is handled. This must be different for assessments of a subjective character, as in a literature class, than, say, a math class about calculation.

      The website for Coursera does say that they make no claim that the courses they offer are at the level of courses in that subject taught at Stanford or at the partner university associated with the course.
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    Sep 1 2012: Anders, the linked article I came upon is quite on the point of your thread. It is a case study, if you will, of how pedagogy that is highly typical now of secondary school classrooms in the way class time is used is making its way into the university.

    As the instructor in question offers both an on-site and an online version of his course, one can begin to consider the differences.

    (One difference from the typical pedagogy in secondary school is that the greater amount of class time secondary students have compared to university students means that the component of needing to watch lectures at home is not necessary or even useful much of the time in secondary school. One can rely heavily instead on guided inquiry).
  • Aug 31 2012: More comments on comments

    - I am not at all against e-learning or online education or whatever we call it; I want to improve it and I react when people like Koller present it as a universal solution, without dealing with risks or disadvantages,
    - Sure, e-learning is cost-effective, but generally of low quality,
    - I am not at all defending the low quality that on-campus education too often has,
    - The kind of knowledge that I refer to is neither skills nor canned-knowledge; rather, it is academic knowledge, in the sense of a continuous knowledge creation in which students are as participative as teachers,
    - I am not trying to say that skills traning or learning as memorizing/knowledge-canning is unnecessary or not as important as academic education - I'm just saying that academic education is what we should focus on within the academy (i.e. within higher education institutions),
    - Khan's suggestion, that lectures on video are better than actual ones, reduces education to memorizing/knowledge-canning. A lecture that does not take the participants (that is, the students) into account but is given in the exact same way no matter who the particiapnts are or what they say and do - and which, thus, successfully could be video-recorded - is rather a meaningless lecture.
    - By "e-learning" I have, in this debate, been referring to educational arrangements that only or mainly use virtual ways of communicating (such as computer networks, cell phones) and that very often (although not always) are arranged in a way so that the individual student is able to study on her/his own, e.g. by video-recorded lectures, individual compueter simulations, reading instructions and flexible deadlines for assessment submission. If there is any interaction, this is often arranged as non-simultaneous written communication,
    - To make a difference, academic education must involve true meetings between people.
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    Aug 31 2012: I'm curious then of your view of Khan Academy:

    I agree with points on both sides of this argument, but much of the value of e-learning, reading books, or interacting in classrooms depends on the subject matter, importance of interaction to learning the concepts, and the learning style of the student.
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    Aug 31 2012: I concur that you need to claify what you mean by e-learning. Most people would think that you are referring to teaching a student by replacing the Human teacher with just a computer or series of computers in tandam at the same time.

    I agree there are two different types of learning...Knowledge based and Skills based. Certain disciplines may only require one type (Knowledge based), and some will require both. Can a "computer" provide the Skills based portion?

    I submit "yes", as it is being done already in some disciplines. Pilots frequently use "computer based simulators" to learn and maintain skills needed to fly an actual airplane. In the medical community, surgeons often learn or practice surgical skills on a computer based learning system. The need for a Human teacher alongside these activities may or may not enhance the learning process, even today.

    I'm a Private Pilot. There are flight simulation applications that will run on my desktop home computer today that if I use them with additional hardware (flight yokes, rudder pedals, etc) to simulate the "real" environment sufficiently, the FAA will allow me to use that computer or "e-learning" (?) environment to become educated and trained as "certified". Flight schools are doing this already today in the training of new pilots. Consider how the 9/11 terrorists were educated to fly a Boeing 757/767 to conduct the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
  • Aug 31 2012: You need to clarify what e-learning is to or see this debate under a different light.

    1) Wider audience reach. It is about leveraging technology to reach a wider audience of people hence enhancing the experience and providing cost effective options for students.

    2) Interactivity. You are making the wrong assumption that e-learning is not truly interactive when in fact e-learning can challenge academic learning on that very same field. Interactivity on e-learning? Imagine something simple as a teacher asking "class, did you understand this?" and doing a real time anonymous poll and getting exactly what was not understood. Or students posting challenges as the teacher speaks. Or student doctors all operating via remote on a virtual setting, getting corrected and graded on the spot. Little open mind professor...

    3) Critical thinking. Please it depends on personality and skill. It is only then a matter of assigning the person with the right skills to lead such type of learning.

    And so on.
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    Aug 31 2012: On the contrary, you can say e-learning is better than traditional learning.

    "Most e-learning (also higher e-education) involves little, if any, true interaction."

    Most big lectures offer little to no interaction as well. It's just a one-way communication from a singular source (professor) to multiple receivers (students), and there's little to no feedback whatsoever. You can say that the students are encouraged to ask questions and whatnot, but this is also not particularly true either. The teacher is only given 1 hour to teach the lesson plan. He can't spend too much time on questions. There will also be a lot of professors who are just really hard to understand in general, like a Chinese mathematician who has a heavy Chinese accent when explaining things in English.

    In Coursera, each lecture is more 1 on 1, though you're right that there's little direct feedback while in lecture. If you missed something, you can replay the lecture, whereas you can't do that in a real lecture. You can also attend the lecture anywhere at anytime, so now this allows even people who are at work during the day, attend this class at night. There are also forums and comments, where professors will create an "Ask me Anything"-style post. You and other students can give feedback to help teachers improve the way they explain/present things too.

    And the other thing is, a lot of the e-learning sites like Khan Academy and Coursera is free. College tuition can be like $18,000 per semester.

    So point is, you can say that e-learning is b-learning, but comparatively traditional lectures is c-learning.
    • Sep 17 2012: Anders means you can adapt lesson flow in traditional class. Imagine adding that pertinent life experience one student had. Or adding a specific explanation. Or discussing another topic, maybe cause someone had a interest about a "unique field".
      While i don't like this mutually exclusive way of teaching, i can see reasons. It might be true for some areas where 6 months introduce great changes, or even between hours classes, in this situation, it could be class focus is at wrong subject?
      I mean for closed fields -if they exist, and there is no need to change- it's a good solution.
      Otherwise, people can productively argue on comments, imagine 4 thousand smart people crossing thoughts.