We asked two e-learning and blended learning experts to answer ten questions about the future and the practical implementation of blended learning, e-learning and mobile learning strategies in classrooms. Here is the conversation with Gi-Zen Liu, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dept. of Foreign Languages & Literature, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan and Gwo-Jen Hwang, Ph.D, Distinguished Professor, Department of Information and Learning Technology, National University of Tainan.

You both write research about the latest e-learning implementations in Taiwan, but in general, what makes for a good implementation when it comes to e-learning?

Gwo-Jen Hwang, Ph.D, Distinguished Professor, Department of Information and Learning Technology, National University of Tainan.

We have been working with e-learning studies in some aspects of education for more than ten years. I have some experiences about the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of e-learning systems in every level of educational settings in Taiwan. From my perspective, a good implementation of e-learning is composed of these critical components, including needs analysis, clear e-learning objectives, appropriate e-learning tools/technologies, identified roles for stakeholders (including instructors, students, system developers and managers, and policy makers), specific learning materials, well-arranged learning activities, and specified evaluation criteria for users’ performance. Nowadays, to successfully implement e-learning in a school or an organization, technical ability will not be a problem. Based on my personal experiences, a promised support from the leader of the school/learning organization and the awareness of the teachers about the roles they play are the key to the successful implementation of e-learning.

eD: What is a good blended learning model?

Hwang, Gwo-Jen & Liu, Gi-Zen: It mainly depends on the real needs and goals. Generally speaking, a good or effective blended learning model should foster the opportunities of supporting changing variables in every part of e-learning within a specified domain and with a clear boundary. The most important factors of such a model usually involves attributes of blended learning, needs and tasks analysis, learning material and activity design, professional development for the persona, systemic and systematic development of blended learning, applicable areas and domains (including when to use and not to use), evaluation or assessment strategies for the stakeholders’ outcomes, and most important of all, attractiveness to the user. For example, for the schools whose students come from a small area, the school might have those students studied mainly in a face-to-face manner, and the e-learning systems are used to support the learning activities, such as online discussions, homework uploading, the announcement of learning activities and the provision of supplementary materials. On the contrary, for the schools whose students are wide spread in a large area, e-learning systems could be the main platform of learning.

eD: What are the benefits of learning using e-technologies and immersive environments, and how can they contribute to the work being done in real time in classrooms and real life?

Gi-Zen Liu, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dept. of Foreign Languages & Literature, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan

There are too many benefits to name all of them. The use of those e-technologies, such as mobile devices, sensing devices and wireless communication networks, enables people to learn anywhere and anytime with personalized supports. The learning portfolios can be recorded and analyzed to help the teachers in adjusting their tutoring strategies. An example given in our paper entitled “A key step to understanding paradigm shifts in e-learning: Towards context-aware ubiquitous learning” published in the British Journal of Educational Technology in 2010, shows that the major benefits for users of learning using e-technologies and immersive environments include high-quality learning effectiveness and efficiency, authentic knowledge construction and skill development by interacting with people, objects and contexts, appropriate collaboration and competition at the same time, and questions can be answered and problems can be solved without delay by using sensor-motivated technologies with radio frequency identification (RFID) readers and tags.

eD: Is the mobile phone a good tool for education outcomes? Have you seen it being used as an effective instrument for curriculum enhancement?

Hwang, Gwo-Jen & Liu, Gi-Zen: A mobile phone or a smart phone provides many two-way communication opportunities and functions, but it should be used with some cautions. In terms of learning efficiency, the use of a mobile phone can allow users to get the instant answer or feedback, or provide the information or question to other users; however, in terms of learning effectiveness, the instructor should demand the learner not to use it for other purposes but focus on the arranged learning activities (e.g., practices of English conversations with a given topic in a language learning lesson by using a mobile phone). In this way, users of the mobile phone should develop themselves as autonomous learners in all kinds of learning situations, and they should be responsible for their learning seriously.

Liu Gi-Zen: Yes, I have seen the mobile phone being used as an effective instrument for curriculum enhancement in a language teaching with hypermedia course for adults. They are highly motivated learners.

eD: What do you think the iPhone can do for education technology and teacher-assisted learning?

Hwang, Gwo-Jen & Liu, Gi-Zen: An iPhone is like a PDA with telecommunication functions, so it can be used for the activities designed for guided learning with practices. When doing so, a teacher should identify the actual uses with an iPhone for users to better understand the so-called effective and efficient learning with attraction. A training period is needed for potential users to realize the complete functions of an iPhone.

Liu Gi-Zen: A good example of using iphones is to do practices for language learning anywhere and anytime. Another way of using iphones is to guide the students to learn in the real-world contexts with supports from the digital world. For example, the learning systems can guide individual students to make observations in an ecology area and collect data via the GPS system on the iphones, record the learning process of the students, and give hints or supplementary materials if necessary.

eD: Does a teacher have to have considerable digital literacy in order to be an effective teacher in an e-learning environment?
Hwang, Gwo-Jen & Liu, Gi-Zen: No, in most cases, the teachers should play the role of learning activity designers instead of learning content/system developers. Of course the teachers need to have proper knowledge about computers and networks, but they do not need to become a computer expert with considerable digital literacy.

eD: Most of the e-learning initiatives that we have seen seem to be in silos apart from the other fundamental parts of the school system environment. Where have you seen progress being made to make these systems more holistically interactive?

Hwang, Gwo-Jen: I think the system developed and used in the Athabasca University in Canada is one of the good answers to this question. As Athabasca University is an online school, all of their activities (including learning) are conducted online; therefore, the school system and the learning system have been well integrated.

eD: Do you think that the social media networks that are available right now are good places for education and learning to happen?

Hwang, Gwo-Jen & Liu, Gi-Zen: Yes, if the learning activities are well designed.

Some social media such as Facebook and Twitter foster infinite opportunities for totally online learning and blended learning, especially for informal learning. On the one hand, the education that we have in schools and at universities is formal learning, which provides limited time and opportunities for both teachers and students to explore the world. On the other hand, the social-media-fostered learning environments may provide infinite possibilities and opportunities for everyone to explore, collaborate, interact, and even compete with one another anytime, anywhere. And this kind of environment is exactly the context that we have been longing for in our human society. However, at the same time, individual privacy should be better protected if such a social medium will make a good impact on the educational and business markets. Moreover, a teachers’ manual and a students’ manual should be offered and applied.

eD: Do students learn more by working collaboratively in a “blended” environment? For example, is their learning more effective if they share time with online methods and with offline methods?

Hwang, Gwo-Jen: Yes, if good collaborative learning activities are given.

E-learning environments provide a good platform for collaborative learning. In this platform, the students can make discussions and search for materials for their learning tasks collaboratively. If the learning activity is well designed, the students will definitely learn more during the learning process.

eD: What will the next generation of e-learning modules look like? Can there be a global system that shares commonalities?

Liu, Gi-Zen: This is a good, but challenging question. We develop and promote context-aware ubiquitous learning (Liu & Hwang, 2010). In our ideal design of this kind of e-learning, a learner equipped with a PDA and a RFID reader can develop the needed knowledge by interacting with people and sensor- embedded learning objects with RFID tags in the authentic environment by using the wireless system-guided activities. Everything about learning will be naturally supported by the wireless communication with audio-, video- and text-based learning technologies.

The continuous development of context-aware ubiquitous learning will eventually result in a global system that commonalities share. However, nobody knows when it will actually happen. A peaceful world will possess this type of a global learning system.

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