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Dated: Aug. 11, 2004
Related CategoriesComputer Training Schools
By Marian Heddesheimer of Rent A Tutor Site
eLearning: Learning at your own pace and at low cost. This is the essential description of this concept in a few words. Anybody who deals with this topic in detail knows that it needs much more self-discipline to take a course at home than going to a seminar. While searching for appropriate courses on the Internet, there is one fact evident: Available offers mostly consist of static HTML-pages that may be spiced-up with some illustrations at best. Many presentations are more like a textbook or article than interactive Internet content.
Anybody who wants to put specialized content into a CBT or WBT program is faced with the challenge to constantly motivating the learner to work on the next chapter. Learners will often discontinue courses because they are boring, even if they cost a lot of money.
To offer all the technical advantages of eLearning to the user, shrink-wrapped packages of eLearning-software can be used but most of these do not provide all the features needed. To create a custom made solution without digging too deeply into technical details, a compromise between technique and content should be chosen. Some practical examples will show how in-house courses over the intranet, as well as distance courses over the Internet can be realized with a feasible effort. It is not necessary to squeeze out the last feature of the technology. Even a learner who has just a normal modem and an average multimedia PC can work with this technique. Every provider should check that all necessary components like browser and plug-ins are easily accessible for the user and that they are easy to install. If users are locked out because they don't use the right browser or operating system, a company can become very unpopular with these customers. Therefore, this article will emphasize on the specialties and availability of the tools and techniques that are mentioned here.
What motivates a company or educational facility to deal with distributed learning on the Internet? Cost alone cannot be the reason, because production of good learning material costs much more than the preparation of a traditional seminar. According to the appropriate literature the cost of an hour CBT or WBT ranges from about USD 15,000 to about USD 150,000.
The costs will not only be the working hours for production but also license costs for illustrations and sounds. A significant part of these costs is on the research for the owners of these licenses. Some commercialization companies, like the GEMA in Germany, can help here.
If insufficient money is available, the majority of the illustrations and sound will be created in-house. If the company has a graphic artist and a sound designer available, this is a good decision. Unfortunately, the product must be ready very soon and there are not enough resources available to do the work within regular business hours.
If someone has decided to do so, he must spend a lot of money or make a compromise on the multimedia creations. Therefore the company should check if the advantages are worth all the effort.
Each form of eLearning has more flexibility than normal classes. This applies on temporal and spatial flexibility. In class, the learner and the teacher must be present at the location and in time to attend. There have been some experiments with broadcasting a class session live over TV, so that teacher and learner are only bound to time. The teaching can be recorded, and sent live to special locations where the learner can watch the teacher on the screen.
If the commitment to time should be loosened, the session can be recorded on video, so that the learners can watch them whenever they like. Unfortunately, then they cannot ask questions directly.
Some eLearning on the Internet uses video too. This is possible, because web cams are very cheap, so a video contact in both directions is possible and the personal contact can be established over the Net. Chat is also often used for interaction between learner and teacher. These flavors of eLearning are called synchronous, because learner and teacher must be available at the same time.
Alternatively, asynchronous methods can be used, where learning is also independent of time. This leads to maximum flexibility. The sessions are not presented as live video, they are either recorded or they use no video at all. Interactive Software, where the learner can acquire the knowledge by himself, is often the better alternative to a pure video presentation. Feedback like questions and comments can be sent to the teacher by email.
A class has its physical borders if a group of more than 12 people will attend a course. If it is a pure informational talk, this can make sense even with about thousand people. But the emphasis is on the word "talk", because all listeners are in a passive role. Questions can only be answered very briefly at the end of the session, if there is time for them.
Intensive learning is done best with small groups of at most seven people. In such small groups, there is a good chance to do exercises, where the attendees can ask immediately and the teacher can help instantly if problems arise.
Obviously there is also a physical borderline for eLearning, but this lies much higher than for normal classes. So may a session on the Internet be prepared for 12, a hundred or a thousand users. If an asynchronous technique is used, the feedback and questions will arrive via email to the teacher, so that they can be answered sequentially. It is obvious that one teacher could not reply to a thousand questions per day. But the scalability is much better, especially if the teacher can assign one or two assistants to that task.
If the learning sequences are prepared properly, some typical questions will be asked frequently. Therefore it is possible to build a catalog of frequently asked questions (FAQ), that can be used to solve most problems beforehand. This catalog can be improved after each seminar, so that some questions will not be asked again.
After it is now clear, why somebody should offer a seminar on the Internet, it will be interesting why a person is motivated to attend to such a seminar. In most cases, it is not very easy to convince people to do eLearning.
Experience shows that many attendees will quit the course before it is ended. Some of the reasons are:
|In class ...||With eLearning ...|
|The seminar begins at a fixed time. The learners wander with their thoughts several times during the day. This is one of the reasons, why breaks are so important. The learner will be led to the main topic by the teacher.||The seminar begins after enrollment. The learners wander around, not just with their thoughts but physically and they leave their learning environment (computer). To continue, the learners must be initiative by themselves.|
|The topic will be finished after a decent time.||The learner can work on the topic for a longer or shorter time. If there are is special deadline, learners tend to postpone these tasks to do more "important" things.|
So there is a need for much self discipline on the learner side to finish an online seminar. The teacher can help, if he encourages the attendees. This is mostly done by exercises that are required for each learning section. The learner should solve these exercises until a deadline. If the solution does not arrive, the teacher can ask for the reason. If the solutions are posted in a forum, the motivation to provide good solutions will rise, especially if other learners are encouraged to make comments to the solutions. There is only one drawback for attendees who are shy and fear the critic of others. Those people should have the choice to send their solution to the teacher in private.
How the Brain Works
Who has already done some research on the topic "learning", has possibly found the works of some brain scientists, who examined the learning process from the view of brain research. On this topic, there have been found some great discoveries that are now used in management and language training classes worldwide.
For eLearning, these informations are interesting because the learner should be able to learn the material easy and permanent. After all, he or she should have fun while learning, because we have already seen that it costs some effort to sit at the computer for learning.
In the following, there will be no medical explanations on how the brain works, though a lot of the findings came from such research. This will explain the psychological side instead.
One of the most famous scientists in this domain is Tony Buzan from England. His books are known worldwide and his technique "Mind Mapping" is a method to take notes "brain-powered" and to remember associations between learned topics.
Tony Buzandescribes in his books as well his successful methods for working, reading and collecting ideas. You could say he was the first scientist who has written a manual for the human brain.
Experiments have shown that our brain can recall some things more easily, but will forget other things more quickly. Tony Buzan found that you can recall things better if you have heard or read them at the beginning of a learning session. The same is true for all things you hear and see at the end of a session. All the information that lies in between will normally be forgotten much more quickly, if the information is not outstanding.
So you can see that breaks must be a good idea, because a learning session will start and end between these breaks. Large learning sessions are counter-productive with regard to the ability of your brain to recall the learned material. That is one of the reasons, why breaks are so important even in regular classes, besides consuming coffee and cigarettes of course.
The halves of the brain
One aspect of learning is that the brain is divided into two halves. The specialists have found out that each half is specialized. The left part of the brain is responsible for logical things, like understanding text, formulas and logical contexts.
The right part of the brain is responsible for things like pictures, colors, music and pictorial imagination, as they might occur while daydreaming.
In most cases, the learning material is transported via a lot of text and some illustrations, even if it is presented on the Internet. Therefore, mostly the left brain is stimulated by the text. Experiments have shown that people will learn better and faster, if both sides of the brain are used during the learning process.
Based on the described understandings, you will find a basic system in the subsequent that will use as manyof these facts for sensible eLearning as possible. The list is not complete but should be seen as indication for own productions. It shall also show that not only expensive multimedia productions can guarantee an optimal learning success.
If you use color, this will be addressed to your right brain and therefore will support a balance for both sides of the brain. Nonetheless should color not be used thoughtless, just to have it colorful. Colors do have a psychological effect, for example red is normally used to indicate danger because of the special effect of the red color. When using color, it should be considered that some people can not distinguish between some colors correctly. Colors of the same brightness should be avoided it they should mark a difference. Another interesting point is that colors have different meanings in different cultures. In the Western world, black is a color for mourning, in Japan it is the color white.
Colors can be used to create connections between separate parts. They can be used well if another graphical assignment, maybe with arrows or spatial arrangements will not work or will be problematic. The same is true if several items should be grouped together to show a resemblance or belonging.
As well as for showing groups, color is also suitable for showing separation and to emphasize details.
Movement is normally associated with movies. On TV, it is evident that all news are supported by moving pictures. Getting those pictures is one of the first lessons for a reporter. At the TV stations, they know that movement attracts the attention of the viewers. Unfortunately, they do not use movement according to the news that are read, so that there is no positive learning effect at all. Nevertheless, you can learn from this that movement within an eLearning session will attract theattention of the learner.
With practical applications, movement can be used for explaining of time-sequences. If you want to convey a sequence of several events, this can be done very well with a moving sequence.
Also entertainment should not be neglected while learning. Therefore, movement is excellent for spicing up the learning material with humorous effects. Microsoft did this in their Office programs using animated help assistants. As long as this effect is new, it is humorous and motivating for the learners.
Also sound is affecting the right brain and contributes to "whole brain learning". Again it must be said, as well as with using colors, that sounds should not just be shrill and loud rather than having a reference to the learning material. A sound effect that does obviously make no sense will just have a disturbing effect and can demotivate the learner. The same is true for background music, if there is no reason for it. A good reason for background music can be a relaxing classical piece of music that plays during a relaxation between two learning sessions.
While language training uses mainly recorded voice, sequences of speech can also be used for other topics like giving an example for proper pronunciation on a technical term.
You can use sound as a special effect, for example by playing a pleasant melody after a correct answer. The use of a pleasant sound fosters in this case the motivation to learn. On the other hand, it is incorrect to conclude that an unpleasant sound should be played for wrong answers. This would rather discourage the learner. If so, one should avoid using a sound effect here.
Naturally, sounds can also be used for entertainment and therefore to motivate the student. Here is valid what has been stated for humorous effects.
Sound for warnings can be used very well. If a learner would make a severe mistake in a learning situation, maybe so severe that life would be in danger in reality, a warning signal can emphasize the error message and the signal color used. This effect should be used sparingly and only if there would be real danger. An example might be a machine control, where the attendee will select a setting that could cause a damage for the machine or the staff.
Examples on eLearning
Who is searching for examples on eLearning will be easily successful. If the provider offers free trials, the quality can be proved by checking these courses. Most of these providers offer their material as a great amount of text in HTML-format. Those who offer them in a special print format show that they have an eye on the necessities of the users, because these offers are not much different from book and can best be read after they have been printed on paper. Reading long texts is the most difficult task while doing an online training. Everybody who offers long texts that can only be read on the screen should not be surprised that the learner is not motivated very much.
Some of these texts are provided with illustrations if the textual context is not satisfactory to explain the topic. This is better than using pure text, but is not significantly different from a book. Really brain powered are such texts when they are decorated with graphical design and illustrations. These illustrations do not need to explain the context, it is enough, if they are used as eye-catcher to give an orientation within the text. But even such Internet-pages do not have advantages against a good designed book.
To find examples on eLearning that are outstanding, a longer search is necessary. A really good example are the courses at Sun Microsystems. They use the advantages of the computer, namely structured learning units with interactive elements.
The training on "Star Office" is divided in different modules. The module "Page formatting" offers a chapter where each text is just big enough to fill one screen. Within the text there are graphical emphasized buttons that can be used to bring up screenshots, if needed. A button named "practice" starts a simulation of the software that should be learned. The user is now able to use the recently learned skills. If he or she makes a mistake, it will be shown along with the correct solution. If the same error is made several times, the correct answer appears with an explanation. This avoids the frustration of sticking again and again with the same error.
Now that you've gotten free know-how on this topic, try to grow your skills even faster with online video training. Then finally, put these skills to the test and make a name for yourself by offering these skills to others by becoming a freelancer. There are literally 2000+ new projects that are posted every single freakin' day, no lie!