E-Learning through Digital Libraries: The Case of National Open University of Nigeria

Article excerpt

Introduction

Electronic learning, or e-learning, refers to computer-enhanced learning. It also refers to research, learning, and teaching in the digital environment. Tripathi (2007) says that it encompasses courses offered online, courses with face-to-face and online access to course materials, and courses provide access to online discussion forums, notes, and other course materials. E-learning is suited to distant learning and independent study, but can also be used in conjunction with face-to-face teaching, which is referred to as "blended learning." E-learning can also refer to educational websites offering learning scenarios, worksheets, and interactive exercises for children.

The importance of e-learning is growing in higher education. Key advantages of e-learning are flexibility, convenience, and the ability to work at any place where an Internet connection is available and at one's own pace ("E-learning" 2011). E-learning is a viable option for those with commitments or conditions such as family or work, or who cannot participate easily for reasons including disability. The time and cost of commuting to and from campus are eliminated. E-learning provides students with the ability to communicate with classmates independent of distance and can be adapted to learners' needs. E-learning promotes individualized instruction or learner-centred education where students may set their own objectives and explore their own learning needs online.

Learning resources and services are very significant to research and teaching in higher education. The advent of ICTs has completely transformed libraries and information centres. They have emerged as early adopters of new technologies and act as service points for access to digital libraries. In Nigeria, the Information Gateway, the online library of the National Open University, is responding to the increasing importance of e-learning by developing their services accordingly. This paper highlights the status and importance of online resources, online services in e-libraries, online services in National Open University and the implications of National Open University experiences for e-learning in Nigeria.

Status and Importance of Online Resources

Information Technology (IT) infuses all aspects of modern life, and the growth of digital information continues at an unprecedented rate. Higher education institutions have invested heavily in campus IT infrastructure, and educational philosophy emphasizes learner-centred pedagogy, with learner-centred technology widely available in most of the campuses. Lyman and Varian in (2007) estimate that new stored information grew at a rate of approximately 30 percent annually between 1999 and 2002. Dealing with this expanding volume of information and information resources becomes an integral aspect of education policy.

The shift from teacher-centred education has increased the importance of online resources. Students can choose content based on their own learning needs. Perry (2007) says that learner-centred education acknowledges the value of active constructivist learning, including individual learning styles. The student is an active participant in the learning process. Course management systems can be learned to create this environment. Digital library technologies and web-based learning gateways are complementary developments, and include MERLOT (http://www.merlot.org/), EDNA (Education Network Australia) online (http://www.edu.au/edna/page%20l.html), National Virtual Library (http://:www.nou.edu.ng/), and the SMETE Digital Library (http://www.smete.org/smete/).

Digital resources range from archival documents to historical images to primary source materials from scientific field research. These collections may include specific learning activities or be used as resources for teachers to use. For online resources to be useful, reliable networks, universal access, and a sound IT infrastructure are also needed. …