[ IIMS 96 contents ]
Pathways to dynamic networked learning: Initiatives in flexible design and delivery of education and training
University of Technology, Sydney
The challenge for the application of interactive multimedia technology to education and training is providing the learner with engaging instructional transactions. The rapid introduction of communications networks has provided the opportunity for new techniques by which learning may not only become more flexible, but also take advantage of the links which can be established between students, practitioners and theorists. The potential for dynamic, networked learning environments through which providers and users of education and training operate in flexible modes is rapidly approaching. Creativity and initiative in the approach to the development and implementation of instructional materials to support these interactions is essential for meeting the needs of the cyber generation.
We are currently in a world of globalisation. As a consequence, and in the educational sector specifically, the needs and characteristics of the client groups - teachers and learners - are changing. For the teacher, there are new communications tools which can be used to augment and vary delivery and communications; for the student, these tools provide new means of access to education, to search for information, to link with other students and to operate independently. Are we, as participants in educational provision, in a position to adjust to and meet those needs?
This challenge is particularly significant with respect to distance education. While resources have historically been constrained to text based materials, it is clearly recognised that technology is (or will) play a critical role in both production and delivery:
The early 90s have spawned technological breakthroughs that will come of age by the mid-90s and will provide a virtually seamless world communications network capable of reaching every inhabitant on earth. The challenge facing distance educators during this decade is daunting, because a means must be found to create infrastructures that will harness this network's power to provide education, training, information and cultural programming in developed and developing countries. The concluding decade of the 20th century will be a time of change from the institutional based learning structures of the past few centuries to open architecture education that will occur at a time, place and in a configuration suitable to the learner rather than to the teacher or administrator. Distance education and its variants have potential to provide equity of access on a world basis by the millennium (Brown & Brown, 1994:3).
In fact, developments in technology continue to bring new promises for the effective provision and delivery of education. The recent growth and sophistication of electronic communications (such as the World Wide Web) and the increased number of individual subscribers has seen the potential for taking advantage of the technology grow. This paper examines the current state of new technology with the aim of provide a framework around which teachers and trainers can take advantage of the technology for educational delivery. In particular, the way in which new modes of teaching and learning can be integrated within traditional frameworks is considered critical:
The success of new media development or use of distance strategy in a previously face to face course situation will depend very much on whether the development is used in such a way that it "improves" the original course (Nicoll, 1995: 1).
The notion of dynamic networked learning (or "learning networks" as described by Harasim, Hiltz, Teles & Turoff, 1995) is a reflection on the need to focus on the specific requirements of the learner: "learning networks are groups of people who use CMC networks to learn together, at the time, place and pace that best suits them and is appropriate to the task" (Harasim et al, 1995:4). If we can take advantage of the technology in such a way that we actually improve the educational process, then effective learning may well be characterised by new levels of engagement through which dynamic, meaningful interchanges take place between all participants in the learning process.
One of the most important concepts of networked learning is that of flexibility - both from the teaching and the learner's perspective. But what is flexible learning? To some, it might mean the provision of courses which better fit the knowledge state of the student, where the "value of knowledge profiles becomes very obvious when considering individual students instead of groups" (Dochy, 1994:241), introducing the notion of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). If the learning is communications based, then the Internet can support packaged distribution and online browsing, suggesting that the learner either has the opportunity to access a particular instructional resource for delivery on their own computer, or to engage in a browsing activity whereby information chunks are accessed according to current knowledge or learning requirements (Andrews, Nedoumov & Scherbakov, 1995).
From another perspective, Harasim (1989, 1990) cited in Ellis, Debreceny & Hayden (1995) differentiated the characteristics of different educational modes:
Ellis et al (1995:212) extend this classification in noting that "recent advances in technology ... allow the amalgamation of Harasim's three distinct modes into a hybrid delivery mode (which) does not distinguish between on campus and off campus students". The importance of this is the removal of physical constraints for both the provision of and access to educational services.
- Face to Face: which is interactive, many to many, as well as time and place dependent
- Distance Education, which is mediated, one to many, and time and place independent
- Online Education, which is mediated, many to many, time and place independent as well as interactive.
However, it is also important to understand that changing the way in which education is delivered or accessed has new ramifications. For example, Wolf (1995) notes that an open learning environment useable at school, home and work has to be platform independent and scalable, multi-user capable, based on an open standard, able to support a hypermedia structure, work with free or inexpensive software, use client/server architecture, support communication via a network, integrate other interactive media and support working with real time applications. In summary, "to support self organised learning the computer mediated learning environment had to enable students to (1) create their own documents and construct links between documents (2) and communicate with each other to (3) cooperate and collaborate on their work/learning" (Wolf (1995:689).
Derycke, Smith & Hemery (1995:181) suggest that "networking the different educational agents (learners, tutors, teachers, advisers, academics) and linking the educational resources (documents, libraries) has become the new paradigm of advanced educational systems and projects". However, these authors also note some of the major issues confronting implementation, such as large scale use, accessibility, heterogeneity, support of novice users and malleability.
One of the major considerations in developing options for flexible learning is the support infrastructure, for which the following factors are critical:
- Funding: The costs required to establish an infrastructure to support new modes of teaching and learning are significant (equipment, staffing, printing), and often beyond the reach of faculties embarking on this mode for the first time.
- Production: Many operations are set up for the production and distribution of printed materials; however, the new options require facilities which enable the creation of both printed and electronic versions of the resources used within the teaching programs. This implies a new way of conceptualising the nature of support resources for teaching programs.
- Technology: The technology of flexible learning includes the hardware and software to support the creation of text based materials as well as the facilities to provide access to those materials online. This may involve a complete reconsideration of the network services supported by individual faculties or the whole institution.
- Administration: At the administrative level, coordination of production and materials organisation is essential.
- Dissemination: This factor refers to the means by which the materials can be distributed to the client base - either through die delivery of text resources or creation and maintenance of electronic resources.
- Staffing: The establishment of a support facility requires personnel with the skills such as instructional design, educational development, desktop publishing, interactive design, communications networks, software development and hardware support.
New articulated programs are being developed, with the underlying design philosophy omitting details of location of students or teaching staff - the assumption being that creative use of human and communications resources will make the program viable. As Laurillard (1993:1) suggests
University teachers must take the main responsibility for what and how their students learn. Students have only limited choices on how they learn: they can attend lectures or not; they can work hard or not: they can seek truth or better marks - but teachers create the choices open to them... It is the teacher's responsibility to create the conditions in which understanding is possible, and the student's responsibility to take advantage of that.
More than ever before, teaching involves a significant client focus, specifically in terms of access, attendance and delivery. If these factors are not addressed, institutions may face potential rebellion from their client base. For the learner, "flexible" means:
- Increased individualisation: This facility not only relates to providing each student with materials which can be browsed at an individual pace, but also the recognition that different students require varying amounts of information, have a range of motivation and may be undertaking the course of study for a variety of reasons. As much as possible, materials must be designed to cater for these differences.
- Variable attendance patterns: Traditionally, education has been provided by institutions using a classroom/timetable model. While variations of this have included the "residential" or "block attendance" mode, requirements to be at a particular location at a specific time are largely institutionally determined. With the new technology, the learner can have the option to select an attendance pattern to suit their own needs, and which may involve little or no physical attendance, but significant interaction with course participants.
- New learning resources: The technology of the 1990s now provides the learner with a new set of resources by which they can work on knowledge construction and skill acquisition. These resources are those which provide access to information and people from the learner's own environment.
- Enhanced student-student links: Flexibility in education also refers to the ability to expand the ways in which students learn from each other, including people studying at other institutions locally or overseas.
- Access to experts: More than ever before, all participants in educational programs have access to recognised experts in the field through electronic communications. The benefits of this can be seen not only in students interacting with experienced practitioners, but also in the ease with which such communications occur.
- Variety and choice: Ultimately, the value to the learner of the new flexibility is the access to variety and choice, especially important where motivation and employment are high on the learner's agenda.
Perhaps the most significant consideration for the teacher is their actual role in an educational system based on flexibility. The following factors have been identified as significant considerations for those involved in the delivery of educational programs:
More involvement with students: If an educational program moves from a traditional delivery model to an off campus model where students communicate electronically, the teacher will find that more specific links are built with individual students. rather than student groups. However, the implementation of this requires significant rethinking in terms of the amount of time allocated to student contact; individual consultations can take an extensive amount of time.
In addition to the considerations for the teacher and the learner, there are also a range of general issues which need to be considered.
- Complex assessment and evaluation: For the program delivered in a flexible mode, possibly with little or no attendance, the issue of assessment and evaluation becomes critical. One of the considerations is to focus on new measures which can be used as learning indicators; these may be quantitative, such as the number of times an individual student contributes to an electronic discussion or qualitative, where the depth of contribution is evaluated by both teacher (facilitator) and/or peers.
- New teaching philosophies: If there are new paradigms in the way educational programs are provided, then teachers must consider new philosophies. From one perspective, this means focusing on a move to constructivist models from the traditional instructivist models - placing more emphasis on independent learning, but a similar emphasis for the teacher on developing procedures by which students can operate independently.
- New instructional strategies: As the philosophies change, so will the way in which instruction moves towards a learner centred approach, with the corresponding demand on those responsible for the delivery of instruction to provide more individualised opportunities for learning.
- New development strategies: Similarly, teachers must consider different means by which materials are developed. Whereas in a traditional model an instructor could rely on lecture notes for the transmission of information. in the flexible model the student needs access to the materials in either written or electronic form, but independent of any formal dissemination of materials.
- New teaching schedules: Finally, the introduction of flexible learning initiatives also means that there will be new demands on a teacher's time. As students work more on individual study projects, so will the teacher be required to focus more on individual student requests rather than relying on a fixed lecture time to answer queries and disseminate administrative information.
- Equity of access: Computer technology, and the associated communication links, are not yet as common as the telephone or television. Consequently, any initiative with flexible learning which relies on technology must also take into account the student's access to the appropriate links. Where factors prevent a student being able to link to a specific program, means must be found by which the necessary equipment can be made available. From another perspective, providing a group of students with access to the Internet does give them the potential to access a much wider range of information than is normally available through traditional classroom means. In developing technology based programs to take advantage of networked learning, the effects on students must be considered, especially if lack of access will cause a disadvantage.
- Technology skills: It will also be critical for all participants to have skills in the use of technology, especially in terms of being able to search for information, being able to link to various groups and to create individual or program specific learning networks.
- Self reliance: Both teachers and students will also have to develop skills in self reliance, as there is the likelihood that many courses will not be supported by the traditional infrastructure of classrooms, timetables and weekly lectures.
- "Virtual" teacher: learner links: As a result of the potential changes which will occur in higher education due to the advantages provided by technology, the relationship between teacher and learner will move from physical to virtual. The issue will be to take advantage of this shift, rather than see it in terms of de-socialisation or loss of personal contact.
- The establishment: Finally, the establishments of education will also have to review their position, which at this stage is still based on physical location. The educational world based on technology will be one of collaboration, cooperation and student focused.
Taxonomy of technology based initiatives
The ability of the Internet to provide links, regardless of time and space, between the student and learning resources is clearly a reality. However, what is significant is the extent to which such links in fact enhance the educational and learning experience. For example, one could view distance education as being "primarily used in selective situations to overcome problems of scale (not enough students in a single location) and rarity (a specialised subject not locally available). Such instruction is often seen as 'half a loaf' pedagogy; better than nothing, but not as good as face to face teaching" (Dede, 1995:7). Therefore, if we use technology to enhance the distance education process, then perhaps we are only using technology to support a second rate educational system. If this is the case, then we need to examine ways in which the technology can in fact provide the students with learning opportunities previously unavailable through any learning environment.
The following classification provides details of a range of options which may be considered by educational providers, and which provide new learning opportunities. The classification is formed as a result of three dimensions, as illustrated in Figure 1. The first dimension refers to the mode of learning, which will range from an instructivist to a constructivist model. The second dimension refers to access, being either closed (available to a select group of students/teachers only) or open (available to anyone on the network). The final dimension refers to the network learning options, as summarised in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Dimensions of networked learning
- Real Time Dialogue: The real time dialogue option provides for logically or physically separated students and teachers to operate in a virtual classroom through an interconnected system. In this way, they will be communicating in real time, as represented by the MUDs and MUEs as well as the Avatars presented by Harasim (1995).
- Practitioner Forum: The practitioner forum option operates in much the same manner as real time dialogue, except that the communications am distributed to individuals for access at leisure. One of the major advantages of such a facility is the access to recognised experts in the field. One operational example of this is ITFORUM, sponsored by the Division of Learning and Performance Environments in AECT and the University of Georgia. The following is a short extract of a recent interchange (below).
|Date: Mon, 13 Nov 1995 18:22:20 -0500|
Subject: Some Comments on "Interactivity: A Forgotten Art"
|Excellent paper. I think that a classification scheme for interactivity is very necessary, and this paper goes a long way in this direction. A few questions/comments on the 11 categories used:|
|Do you think that Hyperlinked Interactivity as an example (or subset) of Object Interactivity?|
|I don't think Support Interactivity needs to be a separate category. I think it is likely to fit into the Hierarchical Interactivity or Object Interactivity category depending on the method of delivery.|
|Do you think Construct Interactivity, Simulation Interactivity and Non-Immersive Contextual Interactivity are actually a continuum, with system control over the goals at one end, and complete freedom to explore the environment at the other end?|
|A few comments on Harry's comments:|
|>I wish to offer a challenge to this group. We talk a good game, but can we produce a practical application for all this theorizing? I propose that we INTERACTIVELY construct what we're talking about to serve as a model for others. How to do this? There is a Website set up by Paolo Tosolini that allows a person to distribute an interactive PC application (using MM ToolBook).|
|Charles Padgett pointed out the problem for Mac users if a platform specific environment like Toolbook is used. In answer to his question, there are platform independent environments that allow similar things to be done, Director and Authorware to name a couple. The problem with all of these tools, however, is that it is difficult to use them to produce some of the "higher" levels of interactivity described.|
- Query Space: In this option, participants have the option to reflect on material which has been placed on the Internet for consideration by a study group. Users are able to add comments in a specific field, and others in the group are able to compare, contrast and analyse those comments with their own. This provides the opportunity for reflection and synthesis from the individual student's perspective, promoting more constructivist means to developing understanding on a topic or concept.
- Independent: A significant aspect of the networked learning environment is one in which the participants operate independently, making contacts with other groups or individuals, developing their own set of materials or even setting up personal networks. The important issue is to provide the participants with the opportunity to extend the ways in which they can interact with others working in the same field.
- Information Seeking: Finally, it is important in a learning network to have the facility and skills to access information, and be able to discern the relative quality of that information. Information is available from the traditional databases supported by libraries as well as that placed on the Internet by professional groups, institutions or individuals. The ability to seek out and retrieve relevant information will be a significant aspect of the networked learning environment.
The re-emergence of telecommunications as a means by which teaching and learning can be enhanced is manifested in the development of learning networks whereby both the traditional methods of teaching and learning are open to substantial change. The means by which successful flexible learning environments will be created are dependent on the realisation by all participants (institutions, teachers and learners) that new ways of thinking are required to take advantage of the educational benefits available through technology. By realising the ways in which technology based curricula might provide new opportunities for student:student and teacher:student interaction, a new generation of educational provision will emerge.
Andrews, K., Nedoumov, A. & Scherbakov, N. (1995). Embedding courseware into the Internet: problems and solutions. In H. Maurer (Ed), Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 1995. Proceedings of EdMedia 95. Charlottsville, VA: Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
Brown, F. B. & Brown, Y. (1994). Distance Education Around the World, in B. Willis (Ed), Distance Education: Strategies and Tools. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Dede, C. (1995). The transformation of distance education to distributed learning.
Derycke, A. C., Smith, C. & Hemery, L. (1995). Metaphors and interactions in virtual environments for open and distance education. In H. Maurer (Ed), Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 1995. Proceedings of EdMedia 95. Charlottsville, VA. Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
Dochy, F. (1994). Investigating the use of knowledge profiles in a flexible learning environment: Analysing students' prior knowledge states. In S. Vosniadou, E. de Corte & H. Mandl (Eds), Technology Based Learning Environments. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Edwards, R. (1994). From a distance? Globalisation, space-time compression and distance education. Open Learning, 9(3), 9-17.
Ellis, A., Debreceny, R. & Hayden, M. (1995). The management of change towards telecommunications based education - a student perspective. In H. Maurer (Ed), Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 1995. Proceedings of EdMedia 95. Charlottsville, VA: Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
Harasim, L. (1995). Keynote Address. Annual Conference of the Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education. Melbourne.
Harasim, L., Hiltz, S. R., Teles, L. & Turoff, M. (1995). Learning Networks: A Field Guide to Teaching and Learning Online. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Laurillard, D. (1993). Rethinking university teaching: A framework for the effective use of educational technology. London, UK: Routledge.
Nicoll, K. (1995). Some key considerations in adopting distance educational technologies or strategies. Project Report: School of Adult Education, UTS.
Olugbemero, J. J. & Kirkwood, J. (1994). Students' anxiety in learning through distance education. Distance Education, 15(2), 279-290.
Sims, R. (1995). Beyond the edge: Navigating the frontiers of educational technology. In M. Wilde & R. Oliver (Eds), Proceedings of the 1995 Australian Computer Education Conference. ACEC.
Wolf, K. D. (1995). The implementation of an open learning environment under world wide web. In H. Maurer (Ed), Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 1995. Proceedings of EdMedia 95. Charlottsville, VA: Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
|Author: Roderick Sims|
Senior Lecturer, Educational Multimedia
Faculty of Education, University of Technology, Sydney
PO Box 123, Broadway NSW 2007, Australia
Phone: (+61 2) 330 3872 Fax: (+61 2) 330 3939
Please cite as: Sims, R. (1996). Pathways to dynamic networked learning: Initiatives in flexible design and delivery of education and training. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 22-27. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions.
[ IIMS 96 contents ]
[ IIMS Main ]
[ ASET home ]
This URL: http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ry/sims.html
© 1996 Promaco Conventions. Reproduced by permission. Last revision: 14 Jan 2004. Editor: Roger Atkinson
Previous URL 20 Nov 2000 to 30 Sep 2002: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/gen/aset/confs/iims/96/ry/sims.html