Learning is a process that is influenced significantly by the combination and interactions of three main areas of influence: agent, activity and world. A number of writers have used other descriptions for these influencing factors. In the succeeding discussion of computer-based learning environments, we have found it useful to describe learning using a framework of three mutually constitutive elements based on these factors which represent the actions and activities of the different elements in the learning process: the learner, the teacher and the learning materials [Herrington & Oliver, 1996].
This framework of three elements provides a useful form for considering factors influencing instruction and learning in computer-based environments. It recognizes that in any learning setting, the principal factors in determining the scope and extent of learning are the actions and interactions of the learners, the teachers and the nature of instructional episodes. It appears in many settings where WWW-based learning materials are used for teaching and learning that the most consideration and thought is given to materials design and the least consideration and thought is given to the ways in which the materials will be implemented.
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The roles of the teacher and students are often considered less important than the materials themselves. Many of the computer-based environments developed for students today, are designed for individual students working on individual computers. There has been a tendency in recent years for software developers to create learning materials that provide instruction and direction to independent learners and much of this development has led us away from conventional and effective teaching practices which frequently include group and cooperative learning as design elements.
PURPOSE OF THE REPORT The purpose of this research is to explore the applications of Computer Based Learning (CBL) within the boundaries of professional and educational spheres. Differences of opinions as to the positive and negative implications of CBL will also be discussed. The various impacts of CBL in terms of excellence in academics and the productivity of the different professions in the corporate world are also evaluated as part of the discussion. The report would also touch on CBL applications used in both the university and corporate fields.
Finally, the emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web and the implications of it as it shapes the future of CBL in both professional and academic applications. BACKGROUND OF THE TOPIC The level of development of computer-based learning materials has risen dramatically in recent years as a consequence of the new and exciting opportunities presented by the World Wide Web (WWW). Much of the popularity of the WWW has come from the relative ease with which materials can be developed which support open and student-centered learning.
The WWW enables the development of powerful sources of information which can support learning through organization and access strategies based on hypertext and hypermedia linking. The WWW facilitates student-centered instructional settings creating a motivating and active learning environment. It supports and encourages browsing and exploration, learner behaviors that are frequently associated with higher-order learning [Becker and Dwyer, 1994]. Overnight, many teachers have become software developers using the simple and powerful authoring tools supported by WWW-based technologies.
But the nature of WWW and associated instructional materials is often one of information delivery and presentation and many writers are beginning to question the effectiveness of the WWW-based learning environments to which students are exposed. With any form of information or knowledge, providing students with access to meaningful content does not guarantee learning, a factor frequently overlooked by developers of WWW-based learning materials. What is also important to learning are the levels of learner engagement and often these are influenced by factors outside the domain of materials design. Herrington & Oliver, 1996] The evolution of the World Wide Web, recent developments in interactive software, and the emergence of systems thinking provide a unique opportunity to create interactive, web-based simulations that address student learning. This topic explores current theory of mental model formation and its role in student understanding. It describes the potential of computer simulation to enhance student learning, defined as a change in a student’s mental model. As web-based simulations are newly emerging, further discussion is provided in hopes of exploring the opportunities.
DISCUSSION OF CURRENT ISSUES Computer based learning, as it stands, has plenty of disadvantages, but many in business and educational arenas remain optimistic about its future. There are two indisputable truths about computer-based learning, or e-learning. First, it will revolutionize education and second, such a future is just around the block. Educational experts agree that most types of study are not yet effective when delivered purely online, mainly because of bandwidth limitations, expensive set-up costs, continued resistance to the medium and a shortage of quality course content.
Despite these problems, e-learning has already established a strong foothold, albeit as an adjunct to traditional, instructor-led teaching. The main success in e-learning, is the improved standard of support that students receive. [Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 2001] The big step forward has not been the actual delivery of learning materials, it has been enhancing student support through things like email, contact between students and lecturers and online, and real-time discussion forums.
E-learning advocates are quick to point out that there are many benefits for the employer too. Because course material is always available, it can be used after business hours – minimizing down-time on the job. Many of the hidden costs associated with work-sponsored study also disappear, such as accommodation and travel. However, the jury is still out on the key question of whether learning “sticks” as effectively when read from a screen. The answer seems to be no, as the vast majority of online courses still include time with a teacher.
The more appropriate view will always involve a blend of technology and human contact. If one looks at a training situation where one is trying to teach a manager how to coach and mentor staff, then it is trying to modify beliefs and attitudes. That is a long-term process in which technology alone has real limitations. [Isaacs and Senge, n. d. , online] Requiring manual expertise – from carpentry to surgery -are prime examples of where it is hard to imagine people learning effectively from a computer.
Even the “soft” skills wanted by today’s employers -such as team work, communication and leadership – appear unsuited to e-learning. One can learn the theories behind communicating, but it needs to go out and practice them and improve them in the workplace. The use of computers as instructional tools has been researched heavily and there tend to be well-known theories of instruction and learning to guide the development of learning environments in this domain. For example, constructivist learning philosophies now direct much of technology-based teaching and learning.
These philosophies contend that for students to learn through computer-based learning environments, the materials must engage the learners and support cognitive processing leading to knowledge construction [Reeves, 1993]. In any learning environment, the scope and extent of learning achieved is influenced significantly by the cognitive and metacognitive activity engendered in the learners. It is now widely accepted that learning is enhanced in instructional settings where students are engaged in processing personally relevant content and are reflective during the learning process.
Two aspects of student-centered and independent learning environments which have been found to significantly influence these important learner behaviors are collaborative activities between learners and levels of learner control supported by the activity [Jonassen, 1994]. One of the main criticisms of electronic learning materials is that they fail to exploit the advantages of being computer based and are often little more than colorful electronic books, with a strictly linear structure and no interactivity.
Interactive learning materials such as simulations and computer based assessments have the potential to bring about deeper learning than pre-programmed static content because the learner is forced to engage with the learning material, constructing their own understanding of concepts. In this context, “simulation” refers to the use of computer-based, dynamic modeling simulations. Other simulations, from “role-playing” to “virtual reality” have valid application but are not included in this discussion.
Other simulations can be done with anything from effective listening skills and reducing resistance to change, to how to run that store or department, operate that POS register, or get familiar with the new computer-assisted ordering system. Simulations give the student a chance to learn how to do something different in a safe environment by taking a ‘test drive’ on a computer with graphics, modeling, and video. [Costelo, 2001] A classroom or workshop simulation is a method of teaching/learning or evaluating learning of curricular content that is based on an actual situation.
The simulation, designed to replicate a real-life situation as closely as desired, has participants assume roles as they analyze data, make decisions, and solve the problems inherent in the situation. As the simulation proceeds, participants respond to the changes within the situation by studying the consequences of their decisions and subsequent actions and predicting future problems/solutions. During the simulation, participants perform tasks that enable them to learn or have their learning evaluated [Costelo, 2001]. A well-designed simulation simplifies a real world system while heightening awareness of the complexity of that system.
Participants can participate in the simplified system and learn how the real system operates without spending the days, weeks, or years it would take to undergo this experience in the real world [Chilcott, 1996]. Learners can use a simulation to modify key aspects or characteristics of the system they are examining (its parameters or inputs) and by doing so, measure the impact of these changes on the system, (its outputs). As the simulation behaves in a similar way to the process that it is modeling, we can develop our understanding of that process by exploring the model. By exploring a simulated environment, a student can ‘learn by doing’.
Simulations allow learners to hypothesize to test their understanding, learning by mistakes and making sense of the unexpected. [Isaacs and Senge, n. d. online]. Interactive simulation content can be important to the learning experience, but if interactive content is to become the norm rather than the exception, it should be as easy to produce, share and manipulate as other media. CORPORATE TRAINING The challenge in implementing e-learning is changing the mindset of the learners. With corporate money tight at present, companies could be forgiven for reining in training budgets.
After all, companies have to pay for courses and, at the same time, lose productivity due to employees being out of the office. Computer-based training and online learning is one answer to the problem because it enables people to train in the office or at home. Many people now draw a distinction between computer based training (CBT) – where users study at home – and online learning, where they train in a virtual classroom with other students. CBT is a suitable medium for basic subjects, such as learning programming languages, but for complex tasks it can be difficult to source the content you want if it is canned.
Content needs to change to suit the company involved. Although computer-based learning is already a popular way to train employees , it is expected to become even more widespread in the next few years as more and more companies recognize the value of new technologies, most especially in the retail sector. One of the hottest growth segments of applied technology for businesses that rely heavily on customer service and employee retention, e-learning is estimated to be at least a $2. 3 billion market.
There’s at least one projection that it will top $18 billion in 2005. [Progressive Grocer, Feb. 2002] Given their many scattered locations and high employee turnover, retail companies continue to make greater use of computer-based training (CBT) than any other retail segment. The initial uneasiness with online learning has all but disappeared, and CBT vendors no longer have to convince retailers that e-training provides a viable solution for training, noting that the benefits of consistent content and quality were quickly recognized by early adopters of CBT.
Many retail companies also liked what they saw with employees’ ready acceptance of computer-based training, which allows them to learn interactively, remain engaged, skip subject areas they’re competent in, and train on their own at their own pace. And when it comes to reaching repetitive and predictable tasks, ample research has found that e-learning cuts learning time and boosts retention. It is a fact that well-trained employees not only stay on the job longer but also improve customer service, both of which are very important in today’s competitive retail environment.
And many companies have turned to e-training as a major competitive weapon. As leading retailers build up their store bases through mergers and acquisitions, the need for properly trained associates has never been greater, because employee skills and knowledge can greatly impact the bottom line when multiplied over hundreds or thousands of stores. [Progressive Grocer, Feb. 2002] On the supermarket segment, nearly all of the nation’s grocery wholesalers, and many perishable suppliers, offer customers e-training programs to help combat turnover and maintain an acceptable level of performance in the stores.
Most of the large national trade associations–including the Food Marketing Institute the Produce Marketing Association, the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, the American Institute of Baking, the American Meat Institute, and the National Fisheries Institute–also offer members a menu of e-training options. [Progressive Grocer, Feb 2002]. The key points that must be considered when evaluating training programs are the unique needs of each company and the realization that there are many different ways of delivering training to associates.
It is also important to recognize that adult learning is different than children’s learning, and that different things must be taught in different ways, since different people have different needs. A critical element of e-learning is that it can’t just be a one-time event, but an ongoing process, that wraps around the basic tools training program by focusing on specifics and key reinforcement techniques to obtain desired results. The facilitator also acts as a performance coach to teach managers a number of other skills, such as goal-setting and follow-up action planning.
Many organizations switching to online training will learn the hard way that the process isn’t without risks. The most common mistake is for companies to select an Internet firm as a vendor for e-training. Streaming media is another emerging technology being used by large companies to improve the effectiveness of training and internal and external communications. [The Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 2001] SOME CONTRASTING VIEWS AND OPINIONS Below is an excerpt from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution regarding online learning in public schools.
Teachers can find lessons online, and students can take keyboards home in their backpacks, but experts say technology alone won’t make for a better classroom of the future. As the National Educational Computing Conference kicks off in Atlanta today, a partnership of educational and business leaders is releasing a report that says schools have not done enough to make computer-based learning effective. “We have placed so much focus on hardware, connectivity and rudimentary technology skills that our schools and students have not yet begun to realize the full potential of digital learning,” the CEO Forum on Education & Technology determined.
The report, the third of four the group will issue, recommends that schools keep better track of their electronic material and how it can be used in the classroom; spend money to keep technology and content up to date; press companies to provide higher quality material; and provide more technology training to teachers. Over the next three days at Atlanta’s World Congress Center, 12,000 educators from 40 countries will learn more about using technology during hundreds of conference workshops and presentations. They also will see the latest innovations offered by 1,200 vendors exhibiting high- tech gadgets and services at the conference.
As part of the conference, the congressional Web-based Education Commission will hear testimony today on Internet use in the classroom. The commission is holding a series of hearings and will report to lawmakers on the advantages of the Internet as well as concerns about access, affordability, content and privacy. Instructional technology specialists say new developments in technology are moving the learning process from the classroom to cyberspace and redefining the notion that students turn to their teachers as all-around experts. “This place they will be learning at will be a combination of the traditional, with face-to-face interaction . . to a community around the world using the Internet,” said Gordon Dahlby, a school district technology director in West Des Moines, Iowa. Web-based learning allows students to access the same lessons whether they’re at school, home or the neighborhood library. Riverdeep Interactive Learning, a company that provides computerized math, science and language arts lessons, is showing off the Web- based version of its animated curriculum in Atlanta. Already used by several area school systems on CD-ROM, the lessons are customized for each state’s requirements. The first wave of technology for schools was (computers). The next solution was to network all the computers. Now people say, ‘There’s the Internet, we need to tap into it,’ ” said Barry Berman, a vice president for Riverdeep. With the software program ClassWorks, teachers are networked with laptops computers on their pupils’ desks. The computer tracks the level of their work, and the teacher can modify assignments accordingly. Students can also work on simple, lightweight, space- saving keyboards that they can carry home in a backpack.
Student information services like PowerSchool use the Web to track everything from grades and attendance to lunch money accounts. Parents can log in with a password and see how their children did on their math test. But even with latest technology, classrooms depend on teachers’ involvement, said conference co-chair Lynne Schrum, an instructional technology professor at the University of Georgia. “This is just stuff,” Schrum said. “When we get hung up on the stuff, we forget the learning and the learner and the power of the curriculum. ” [Downloaded from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Sep 2005]
Another view of CBL will be in relation to the educational philosophy of Constructivsm, which is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences. [Gance, 2002] Stephen Gance, Ph. D, a researcher from the Oregon State University, published a paper on constructivism and the compatibility of CBL.
Below are some relative excerpts from that paper. “My own view is that technology can be used to support constructivism but is neither inherent in it nor necessary for it. My concern is to counter the much stronger claim that these new technologies will inherently transform learning and that transformation will be constructivist. Often this is extended to the claim that the better the underlying software technology the better the transformation of learning. I recently attended a talk by one of the participants in a major web-based course development project.
The project included interactive quizzes, video-based vignettes, and hyperlinked concepts intended to engage the learner in ways superior to earlier technologies. The speaker touted the benefits of a constructivist viewpoint as a guiding philosophy of the design. Yet when examples of the courseware were demonstrated it became clear that constructivist principles were little in evidence. First, the interactive quizzes used behaviorist principles of drill and practice. Second, the video-based vignettes were didactic in nature presenting their message in a somewhat patronizing tone characteristic of early instructional television.
And finally, the hyperlinked concepts were organized according to the concepts of the field as is customary in traditional instructional design, a reasonable and effective strategy, but not primarily constructivist in nature. ” [Gance, 2002] “All this said, it is important to point out that there are lots of ways that computer-based educational technology can be useful in education. But, if it is a constructivist learning environment we seek it is still out of reach to provide one using technology alone. My point is only that we must be careful to distinguish what is constructivist from what is not.
By claiming that technology is inherently constructivist and encouraging its use uncritically in classrooms or as a replacement for teachers we may actually be fostering educational retrograde motion. A typical approach common on many teacher support websites is simply to list a set of URL’s appropriate for certain lessons and a set of guiding questions that can be used to test kid’s knowledge of what they have found at those sites. I have seen teachers who, without the technology, implement rich constructivist environments, but when using these web-based lesson plans fall back on techniques little more than glorified look up tasks. [Gance, 2002] “That is not to say that these technologies are worthless, indeed they may provide much needed assistance and open new learning possibilities. The point is that one must be acutely aware that the use of these tools constrains the possible pedagogy that can used. It takes a very creative teacher to implement a constructivist pedagogy with technology rooted in behaviorist theories. Not many teachers have the time to be that creative (or the support). This means that increasing use of computer-based technologies will likely, at least in the short run, result in a movement away from constructivism in classrooms. [Gance, 2002] RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MANAGERS OF IT Electronic learning is gaining a foothold among local companies, with a number of them already deploying computer-based learning to deliver corporate training. Manufacturing companies has started to roll out their e-learning initiative to reinforce the technical classroom training of its employees. They’ve been making forays into E-learning by way of having participants do a lot of their workshop requirement online. Using E-learning to improve the product knowledge of employees, especially those in the Sales force are also being implemented.
However, no single electronic medium is the answer to all corporate training requirements. Rather, all components of e-learning, such as CD-ROMs, virtual classrooms, Web-based training, and desktop conferencing, must be integrated to obtain the best results. Some companies implemented e-learning to limit their training costs – including the travel costs and the investments in training materials and equipment to conduct several training sessions with many participants in the shortest time.
According to 2000 study done by research psychiatrists at the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, students may be learning more from using their computers than from attending lectures. Research psychiatrists at the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, compared students’ use of a computer based multimedia package with lecture based teaching on the subject of anxiety. They found that even though students felt they learned more in the lecture theatre, they gained more from using a computer package. Dr Chris Williams and his colleagues at the Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science carried out the research.
All 197 medical students in the fourth year at Leeds Medical School, undertaking their psychiatry attachment for the first time in the academic year 1998-99, were included in the study. The students were randomly allocated to either lecture or computer based teaching. The same video material on the subject of anxiety was included in the lecture and the computer package, and both sessions lasted 55 minutes. [ The researchers found a difference between objective and subjective ratings in the questionnaires – in other words, the students felt they learned more from the lecture but had actually gained more from the package.
Dr Williams said: "The study suggests that sometimes students don’t know what is good for them and may lead to cessation of innovative teaching approaches that might otherwise have led to gains in knowledge and skills. ” Certainly there are advantages to interactive training using a CD-ROM, which helps improve retention while allowing students to move at their own pace and spend more time in areas they’re not as adept in, and zoom through the parts they get. The real beauty of e-learning is that it provides a shift of control from the instructor to the student, as opposed to the other way around.
Many retailers are having great success using customized training programs via blended, or "b”-learning, a key trend in e-training, that best reflects the company’s unique identity and culture. In the supermarket industry, despite the trend toward e-learning, a majority of retailers believe classroom instruction will continue to be preferable for management-level training, which makes sense because much of what managers do relates to ensuring brand identity and developing effective interpersonal skills, which are best conveyed in a classroom setting. Progressive Grocer, Feb 2002] Although the field of e-learning providers is crowded, it is important for retailers to ensure that the training they select not only connects to their business strategy, but that it also produces measurable results. It is not cheap and it does take effort, but smart people are laser-focused on e-learning’s return on investment, which is huge. They get the connection to the bottom line, which is that e-training can be done faster and better for less money.
The costs associated with e-learning can get expensive, and it all depends on what equipment and facilities are available. But training should be seen more as an investment than as a cost, since it tells everyone within the organization: “We’re a progressive company that is committed to and cares about our associates; that we want to be competitive; and that we want our people to know they can advance and be an integral part of our team by training them to be best they can be. ” REFERENCES The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Computer learning no cure-all’. June 26, 2000. Becker, D. , & Dwyer, M. (1994). Using hypermedia to provide learner control. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 3(2), 155-172. Chilcott, M. J. D. (1996). Effective use of simulations in the classroom. [onl[online]ailable: ftp://sysdyn. mit. edu/ftp/cle/documents/system-ed/SE1996-01EffectiveUseOfSims. pdf. Costelo, Will (2001). Computer Based Simulations as Learning Tools: Changing Student Mental Modes of Real World Dynamical Systems. Creative Learning Exchange.
Gance, Stephen (2002). Are constructivism and computer-based learning environments incompatible? Journal of the Association for History and Computing. Vol 5, Number 1. Herrington, J. & Oliver, R. (1996). The effective use of multimedia in education: Design and implementation issues. In C. McBeath & R. Atkinson (Eds). The Learning Superhighway: Nezv World, New Worries. Proceedings of Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium (pp 169-176). Perth: Promaco Conventions. Isaacs, W. and Senge, P. (n. d. ).
Overcoming limits to learning in computer-based learning environments. [onl[online]ailable: sysdyn. mit. edu/sdg/publications. html. Johnson, L. (1997). From mechanistic to social systemic thinking: a digest of a talk by Russell Jonassen, D. , Mayes, T. , & McAleese, R. (1993). A manifesto for a constructivist approach to uses of technology in higher education. In T. Duffy, j. Lowyck, & D. Jonassen (Eds. ), Designing Environments for Constructivist Learning (pp. 231-247). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. Reeves, T. C. (1993).
Evaluating interactive multimedia. In D. M. Gayeski (Ed. ), Multimedia for learning: Development, application, evaluation (pp. 97-112). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. Sydney Morning Herald, February 28, 2001 Copyright of John Fairfax Group Pty Ltd The Progressive Grocer, February 1, 2002 Copyright 2002 Gale Group Inc. All rights reserved. COPYRIGHT 2002 VNU Business Media Williams, Chris (2001) Research on Computer based learning is more effective than lectures. University of Leeds School of Psychiatric Medicine.