Happy’s Essential Skills: Online Instruction and Long-Distance Learning
More and more learning and knowledge are now available over the Internet. For this to be effective there are specific requirements for a course taken or produced over the Internet (without a live instructor) in order for the instructed (user) to have a positive experience.
In today's fast-paced global, competitive environment, which requires constant innovation, skills improvements, and upskilling, personal learning is very important. Distance learning is the only efficient, scalable, sustainable way to build and protect the value of our workforces. Face-to-face learning is still the most effective, but time, money, geography, health and availability makes this tougher the older you get.
Why is this Important?
We are all aware of how globalized manufacturing has affected jobs in the USA. Were you aware that we have now globalized learning and that the rest of the world can get our best courses from Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech, Harvard, Princeton and many more!
As many as 12.2 million (as of 2007) people are taking online courses from various universities and technical companies. Nearly half are not from the USA, even though these courses are taught in English. Today, the estimate is more than 25 million with two-thirds of learners outside the U.S. There are 21,200 college-level programs designed to be completed totally through distance education; 66% of the 4,160 2-year and 4-year Title IV degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the nation offered college-level distance education courses with degrees or certificates.
Table 1 shows non-English speaking countries where the technical people all speak English
If you wonder why Taiwan is up front, it’s because I have firsthand knowledge about Taiwan, having lived there for many years. Every young student learns to read English. It costs more to learn to pronounce and speak English. The Taiwan government had to pass a law to keep English from being taught in kindergarten, English was perceived to be so important. For technical people, this is essential, as they use U.S. or UK textbooks printed in English. Even while doing something as mundane as bowling, the high-school student would compete to keep our score so they could practice their English with my two boys.
If you are concerned about your job and your future, but not motivated to accumulate additional knowledge and skills—remember, there are millions of foreigners that want your job! My motivation for this series of columns is to alert you to some of the skills that I value as an engineering manager and former CTO of the world’s biggest electronics manufacturer. But I am not teaching these skills, that is still something that you have to do.
In the document, “Distance Learning: Enabling the Race to the Top,” sent to members of Congress and the Office of Economics for the White House in November, 2009, the United States Distance Learning Association said, “In the current Knowledge Economy and Conceptual Age, distance learning arguably also presents our richest opportunities for new business and product innovation. Here is just a tiny sampling of how other nations are using distance learning to obtain competitive advantage.” Major non-English programs are from:
- China (the largest with millions enrolled)
- India (second largest with most in English)
- European Union
- Latin America
Most of us are the result of a traditional learning process because of all the years we spent in school. We are taught and lectured to by teachers, professors or other experts. Even if we have moved up to the Internet Age by viewing webinars, there still is a live instructor lecturing to us. The online learning and distance learning is the next evolutional step in learning, as seen in Figure 1. By using “learning theory” and “experimentation,” classes can now be created and stored for use anytime/anywhere. But this is a science that is more than just prerecorded webinars or audio track on PowerPoint slides. Sociology is applied to the user, on how to keep their attention and measure if they are actually learning anything.
The U.S. started all of this after the Vietnam conflict. The military realized the need for continuing education for solders, airmen and sailors. Today, more than 4.6 million hours of distributed learning takes place in the U.S. Military every year, whether on ships, foreign bases or in barracks. In 1987, the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) was formed as a nonprofit organization. They support research, development, and dissemination of best-practices across pre-K−12, higher and continuing education, corporate training, military, home schooling, telemedicine, government training and others. This is where the rest of the world is getting their knowledge.
Retooling (upscaling) will require high-tech new skills as well as help and collaboration from industry and universities. A priority is that distance learning must also lead to a meaningful credential, whether it is a certificate of completion, certification or degree. Employers must be active partners. Since 1998, some industries have made great strides in collaborating to develop and provide education and training to their entire industry through industry-based online learning initiatives. Each initiative:
- Targets both incumbent workers and those new to the industry
- Partners with carefully selected high-performing online education and training providers and led by a broad-based company coalition
- Provides curriculum content co-developed by industry and educational experts, and reaches participants nationally and internationally
- Manages digital resources using the Internet and new learning technologies
Managing Digital Resources
Management of digital resources is an important part of e-learning. Numerous open source and proprietary software tools are available to assist in the e-learning development process. A few to consider:
- Microsoft CMS
- Eedo Force Ten
Figure 1: Learning has evolved over time, and the Internet has enabled the emergence and rapid advancement of online learning.
These can be grouped by their action potential, into six categories as seen in Figure 2:
- Access resources
- Declare or state Presence (as currently online or in declaring physical proximity through GPS)
- Expression through tools such as Second Life, podcasting, video (YouTube), Elluminate, or profile features of most social networking site.
- Creation of new content and resources through blogs, Wikis and social bookmarking (Diigo, Stumble)
- Interaction with others through asynchronous and synchronous tools like discussion forums, Twitter, Skype, ELGG, etc.
- Aggregation of resources and relationships through Facebook, iGoogle, Google Reader or NetVibes.
Figure 2: Affordances of emerging technologies.
Planning Tools and Inter-team Communication
Developing online activities and resources requires consideration and planning. A complete online learning development team would consist of the six individuals in Figure 3.
Creating (and Finding) Content—Tools for creating content for online learning have improved significantly over the last few years. Articulate Presenter, Audacity, Engage, Flash, Jing and Camtasia are tools that new users can master easily and in a short time. Online learning resources are available from MIT’s Open Courseware initiative, Connexion, Open Learn and many more.
Planning for and Fostering Interaction—Supporting online learning, like development of online courses, requires a team-based approach, consisting of these six individuals seen in Figure 4.
Figure 3: Online learning development team.
Figure 4: Teaching online support team.
Self-Paced Online Courses (SPOC)
It seems every university has its courses available online. Many of these are available through commercial companies that specialize in distance learning. That isn’t quite true—there are some universities or departments that hold out that all courses have to be face-to-face. Unfortunately, that is not supported by research, but there is a portion of the population that does not have the discipline, disposition or electronic know-how to use the Internet. I have listed some additional criticisms of E-Learning here:
- Relying on user-generated content can create a chaotic learning environment.
- These courses have been criticized for a perceived lack of academic rigor as well as the monetization strategies adopted by providers.
- Digital literacy is necessary to make use of online materials.
- The time and effort required from participants may exceed what students are willing to commit to a free/low cost online course.
- Once the course is released, content will be reshaped and reinterpreted by the massive student body, making the course trajectory difficult for instructors to control.
- Participants must self-regulate and set their own goals.
- To create an online learning course requires more work than a face-to-face or webinar course. An additional 50 hours has to go into Internet platform software and features.
- Many academics are reluctant to contribute personal resources to publicly-available repositories.
- Only about 10% of the students who sign up typically complete the course: 30% attend partially for knowledge only; 20% were exploring the topic rather than wanting to complete the course; 20% dropped because the course required too much time, or was too difficult or too basic;10% dropped because of poor course design, clunky technology (software) or abuse on discussion boards; 5% cited hidden costs like expensive textbooks authored by the instructor; and 5% were ‘just shopping around.’
What is interesting about the research into online learning is the number of users who are not interested in getting a degree or even completing the course, as stated in the numbers above. If you are interested in the conditions for online courses, you can look at the Student Handbook for Self-Paced Online Courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
There is even a free college course on “Effective Online Instruction—Principles and Practice—HEO547” from the Open College of KAPLAN University." This self-paced online course consists of four modules:
- eLearning Design & Practices
- Web 2.0
- Bridging Theory and Practice
- Management & Design
To finish writing this column, I enrolled in this free course. I completed the course in 20 days, even though the live seminars are spaced over a 10-week span. Only two of the live seminars were conducted after I enrolled, but the series cycles again and I can join them any time I wish. I can also go back to any part of the lectures and courses to review materials in the future. What is interesting is the textbooks and other materials I received even though the course was free! Like any college course, there was a lot of reading involved; there were also assignments, discussions and quizzes. The courses ended with a “Project Assignment.” I could, if I elected to pay a fee, get university credits for the course. I encourage you to sign up for one of the many courses that are free to get a better idea on how distance learning works. It is clear that a distance learning course has a lot more up-front time for the instructor than a normal face-to-face course! But once accomplished, it is now available to anyone around the world.
Figure 5: Distance learning has existed with face-to-face learning and the Open Education programs. MOOCs have come along recently and continue to evolve.
Distributed Open Collaborative Courses (DOCC)
DOCC recognizes that the pursuit of knowledge may be achieved better by not using a centralized singular syllabus, that expertise is distributed throughout all the participants and does not just reside with one or two instructors.
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the Internet. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, quizzes, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants. MOOCs were first introduced in 2008 and emerged as a popular mode of learning by 2012 (Figure 5).
MOOCs are still evolving (Figure 6) and Table 2 shows a number of providers of MOOC courses.
Figure 6: MOOC is an evolving open-access method of distance learning and every letter is negotiable. It has two variants, x-MOOC and c-MOOC.
E-learning (another name for distance learning) has become so pervasive at universities and colleges that many now offer full graduate engineering degrees. If you want to develop your own e-learning course, most of the commercial sites in Table 2 have an “Affiliate Program” that will help you to create the course and then market it for you. Take for instance, Udemy—they have 20,000 instructors supplying 11 million students in 190 countries. The instructors average $8,000 USD income for their classes. If you want to learn more, there are three free E-books referenced at the end of this article[2, 5, 6].
We now have a generation in college, and more coming up through K−12 schooling, that have grown up with digital devices, video gaming, mobile phones and social networking. The effect of all of this has changed the nature of how they learn. To continue their education in electronics manufacturing (and specifically, printed circuit fabrication and surface mounted assembly), we will have to adjust our training and education to this new generation of learners. For someone as old as I am, the challenge is to adapt my style of teaching to this new digital learner.
I have a compendium of 45 Educational Research Reports, e-Books and statistics put together by the USDLA. E-mail me if you would like a copy.
- Flores, J.G., “Distance Learning: Enabling the Race to the Top”, distributed by the USDLA, Nov. 16, 2009.
- Siemens, G., Tittenberger, P., Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning, March 2009, University of Manitoba Press.
- HE547: Effective Online Instruction – Principle and Practice” OC@KU.
- Massive_open_online_course, Wikipedia.
- ”Emerging_Technologies_in_Distance_Education”, Veletsianos, G., ed., aupress.
- ”Theory_and_Practice_of_Online_Learning”, Anderson, T, ed., aupress.