Online learning as a concept has always fascinated me. Right from the days when I designed my first classroom website back in 2001, right up to 2018 when I help manage a fully functional LMS. The emergence of modern technology has allowed the idea of anytime anywhere learning to progress emphatically. As both a teacher and an IT admin, I have always believed that learning never stops even if class time does. Come what may, whether inside the school or elsewhere, a learner should be given opportunities and platforms to pursue his/her quest for knowledge. Be it unexpected or planned school closure, student’s inability to attend classes for a period of time, teacher’s inability to come on campus for personal/professional reasons … whatever the scenario. The idea of having an e-learning platform is a must for every school today since we owe it to our students to empower them with all possible ways to pursue their own learning.
While all this is noted, what I have always been curious about is whether or not such a space actually helps a student learn. If so, then how? If not, then why? The last decade has seen several companies bring various kinds of learning platforms to the education world. From Schoology to Powerschool Learning to Canvas to what have you. Websites like Khan Academy , EdX and Coursera have brought about a huge MOOC revolution in the concept of e-Learning. Anyone can sign up at anytime and pursue whatever field of study they wish at their own pace.
But, what does this look like in a school’s context? Does merely having a space like this automatically mean learning will take place? Of course not. Content posted on these platforms need to have elements conducive to the learning experience. But what does that content look like? How is it best organized? How can its true impact be measured, if at all?
In other words:
What does an online learning environment need to create a real, measurable, impact on student learning?
Replicating a real life classroom is challenging work. The humanity and the vagaries involved in making learning an unforgettable experience can’t possibly be cloned on any online platform. Add to that the heavy work loads teachers have to manage. When will they ever get the time and space to run and maintain such a replica of their classroom? And even if they do, how sustainable is it?
That said, I do believe the framework of an online classroom can be built around elements that not only support student learning, but also engage them in ways they are most familiar with through other networks like social media/community platforms.
Since the question is multi-tiered, I think the best place to start is outside the realm of schools. I am curious to know what other industries, disciplines, fields are doing with e-Learning so that, perhaps, a pattern can emerge so that I can construct some sort of baseline structure from it. Given the depth of this topic I will make this a multi-part blog series. As and when I find more in my research they will be posted.
Let us start with the medical field. In the March 2006 edition of Academic Medicine (Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges) a paper was published titled “The Impact of E-Learning in Medical Education“. One of the statements that caught my attention was the following:
Learning is a deeply personal experience: we learn because we want to learn. By enabling learners to be more active participants, a well-designed e-learning experience can motivate them to become more engaged with the content. Interactive learning shifts the focus from a passive, teacher-centered model to one that is active and learner centered, offering a stronger learning stimulus. Interactivity helps to maintain the learner’s interest and provides a means for individual practice and reinforcement. Evidence suggests that e-learning is more efficient because learners gain knowledge, skills, and attitudes faster than through traditional instructor-led methods.
The keywords for me here are active, well-designed, learner-centered and stronger learning stimulus. These include interactive elements such as videos, webinars (recorded), discussion forums, self-assessment quizzes etc. The idea here is that a traditional setting is recreated/updated to a 24/7 access format asynchronously.
Some more highlights from the research paper:
The Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) is designed primarily for faculty and students of higher education. The service collects links to online learning materials, along with annotations such as users’ reviews and assignments.
The Association of American Colleges’ (AAMC’s) MedEdPortal, a repository for curriculum and assessment materials organized around core competencies in medical education and populated with up-to-date, peer reviewed teaching and assessment materials.
Tracking and monitoring learners’ knowledge, attitudes, and skills via a learning-management system can greatly simplify the process of evaluating the gains made through e-learning.
The Health Education Assets Library (HEAL) provides high-quality digital materials for health sciences educators and promotes the preservation and exchange of useful
educational assets such as individual graphic, video, or audio elements, while respecting ownership and privacy.
In continuing medical education, physicians with daily clinical obligations can attend medical “e-conferences” using e-learning.
The paper also highlights SCORM standards which are established specifically for learning systems. While the technical aspects of its portability are noted, I am curious to find out more on how impact it has been to student learning. As far as its relevance to the medical field is concerned, the paper highlights these aspects:
- Three aspects of e-learning effectiveness studied: product utility, cost-effectiveness and learner satisfaction.
- Most studies indicate e-learning in medical fields is at least as good as traditional methods.
- Evaluation of e-learning effectiveness is measured using The Kirkpatrick model – satisfaction, learning, change in learner behavior and organizational change/patient outcome.
- Many medical schools are producing virtual patient activities which are available to students via asynchronous modes.
- The field of medicine is keenly observing technological progress to better facilitate adaptive learning, better learner interactions, and the shift in a teacher’s role “from disseminator to facilitator”.
And finally, a table that highlights which medical organizations are supporting e-Learning.
So based on this paper, and other reading to which I am providing links at the end of this post, a few pointers for me.
- Content is king. An e-Learning platform is only as effective as the content on it. But as much as there is focus on quantity, quality matters too. Content needs to be organized in a way that learners find it easy to access and intuitive to follow.
- Interactivity is a major element. Either via recorded webinars, videos, tutorials etc. teachers need to post interactive material that students find more beneficial than static content.
- Teachers should use methods to evaluate whether or not student behavior has changed as a result of the e-Learning presence.
- Virtual activities help engage the learner in ways that one would in a live classroom session. These may in the form of assigned tasks like self-assessment quizzes or a more collaborative activity like a discussion.
These are the other articles I browsed through regarding use of e-Learning platforms in the field of medicine.
- “Barriers and solutions to online learning in medical education – an integrative review”
- “The use of elearning in medical education: a review of the current situation”
- “The role of e-learning in medical education”
- “E-Learning and Smartphone Applications Use In Medical Education”