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The use of eLearning to deliver a wide variety of training and education, via a range of mediums, to a diverse audience in a flexible, economical and collaborative manner is now a mainstream option for education delivery throughout the developed world. With advances in technology, connectivity and mobile computing, the digital divide is not what it once was making the virtual learning environment more available through a rise in the provision of open source software and complimentary hosting options.*
ELearning is looking increasingly attractive to developing countries, but there are still challenges, such as ICT use, cultural differences to western theories of andragogy (andragogy is the methods or techniques used to teach adults), and adoption of new training methods. With its prevalence in developed countries, eLearning developers have focused on technical and functional characteristics. In developing countries, eLearning developers must understand how these technological and functional tools can be contextualised to meet their needs.
It is important to understand the needs and background of the learner prior to developing training. This is no different for eLearning and more so in developing countries, largely because of the nature of the society to which they belong. The complexity around the socio-cultural context and the technological environment challenges eLearning implementers to step away from the one size fits all approach. However, it has been shown that with the decrease in the digital divide and the rise in the use of mobile computing and social networking applications, citizens of developing countries are increasingly connected and in a position to benefit from eLearning. This increased connectivity raises the question: can the challenges of eLearning in developing countries be overcome with course design, using current eLearning trends?
eLearning and its Evolution
The definition of eLearning varies between sources but the general theme is that eLearning is learning through instructional systems that are designed using andragogy and technology, to impart knowledge through the use of digital devices. Early examples of eLearning included systems as simple as CD-ROMs delivered in the mail with corresponding texts. Through ongoing development of andragogy and technology, the term eLearning now implies a more complex delivery method. ELearning is no longer unidirectional content delivery but is interactive, engaging and easy to use products delivered on digital devices.
Students view the learning material and interact with it, other users, and the instructional system itself. The trends in the use of eLearning now establish, at a minimum, an application or platform that provides multimedia content relevant to the learning objectives, delivered using instructional methods that are either instructor-led, self-paced or a combination of both, and through a digital device from a local drive, local server, or the Internet.
Groups like mooc.org, edX, moodle.com, and Google are working to support eLearning trends of more readily available eLearning facilities for course designers and students, through the use of open source platforms and hosting opportunities. Other current eLearning trends such as gamification and m-learning are starting to increase, taking advantage of the popular social media use in developed countries. These eLearning trends work by making learning motivating, engaging and accessible everywhere. These latest eLearning trends require more technical expertise in design and development, but ready to use Internet-based applications such as social media and video hosting can be viable alternatives, until more advanced gamification and m-learning design tools become more readily available.
eLearning for Developing Countries
eLearning has the potential to make a positive contribution to learning in the developing world by increasing the access to education, particularly for marginalised groups in rural or isolated areas, in spite of shortages in teachers and facilities. “eLearning has the potential to reach out to more people than hitherto possible with conventional learning methods, not only geographically, but demographically. eLearning is a valuable development tool that can reach out to the underprivileged and help build a culture of life-long learning into society at large” .
Studies have shown that some universities in developing countries have been early adopters of eLearning that has proven beneficial for students. However,
the vocational and workplace training establishments (non-tertiary training providers) in developing countries have not yet been sufficiently explored. In Australia, Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) range from public vocational training schools to private companies training their staff and even the government agencies such as the Australian Defence Force. These RTOs all use eLearning to deliver a variety of training to a diverse audience spread around the world. This adoption of eLearning is not as widely prevalent in similar organisations in developing countries.
Greater access to mobile computing and wireless connectivity has led to a greater uptake of technology. The increasing presence of the digital native or digital citizen is proving that global citizens from both developing or developed countries are increasing their use and skills in ICT and are expecting their commercial and government service providers to do the same. These factors show how the digital divide, not only on an individual level but at a national level, is now beginning to close. This reduction in the digital divide means that there is an expanding number of users able to access virtual learning environments. The increasing uptake and changing attitudes toward ICT are expected to provide an increase in acceptance of eLearning as a viable alternate form of training for developing countries.
ELearning is now a viable alternative to mainstream education and an equivalent and often preferred method of learning. Developing countries are following their developed counterparts in the adoption of eLearning. With some recent improvements in the ICT infrastructure, attitudes toward technology, and the falling prices for consumer computing goods, the digital divide may be on the mend. The notion of digital citizens and digital natives has meant that people are finding new ways to consume information. Creators of eLearning everywhere must now exploit how citizens currently use ICT, being digital entertainment, gaming and social media, as well as problem-solving through the use of search engines to discover answers. The trends can be implemented through the design of the course, its elements in the context of the user, using multimodal forms of content delivery to create eLearning products. Content and element design must consist of contextualised multimodal VAK content delivery to ensure the content is understood by as many users as possible, and delivered in a form that users are familiar and comfortable with. Element design paired with social and collaborative interactions means the user will be more accepting of the system and part of the community of learning.
References: Rattakul, R., and Morse, A.G. 2005. “An assessment of elearning market opportunities in the government sector in Thailand” In Proceedings of the Second International Conference on eLearning for Knowledge-Based Society
Lucubrate Magazine, Issue 48, November 23th, 2018
The photo on top: Daniel Ernst
* The article is a part of the document: “Designing an eLearning Portal for Developing Countries: An Action Design Approach” written by Jay Douglas, Dr Ahmed Imran, and Dr Tim Turner (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6dbb/4bfefbbd8f33efc2e5ae2bedab60b91e8b31.pdf). Australasian Conference on Information Systems, Adelaide, South Australia (2015)