Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Virtual Learning Worlds as a Bridge between Arts and Humanities and Science and Technology

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Virtual Learning Worlds as a Bridge between Arts and Humanities and Science and Technology

Article excerpt

Introduction

The use of technology in education has for the most part been plagued by unrealistic expectations and disappointing results. During the 1990s, teaching and learning were transformed by the increasing power of multimedia computers, broadband networks, and significant improvements in design and delivery of pedagogical content via electronic means. The industry went from CBT (Computer-Based Training) and rudimentary synchronous learning applications to sophisticated e-Learning platforms that combined the best of both. Many pundits argued that the days of traditional learning were numbered and that computers and the Internet would make teachers and classrooms obsolete. This did not happen. Though a variety of subjects can be effectively taught online, a computer model cannot qualitatively replicate the knowledge and experience of a great teacher.

However, as e-Learning matures, the many significant benefits of these technologies are beginning to be realized and find their place as an adjunct to traditional, pedagogical approaches. These first forays into network-delivered learning objects shattered the twin barriers of WHEN (Time) and WHERE (Space) students can access pedagogical experiences, thus effectively unchaining students from the requirement of being present in a specific location at a specific time in order to learn.

The necessities of our knowledge-based economy coupled with the exponential pace of change require us to constantly absorb new knowledge in order to remain competitive. Online learning provides a practical, cost-effective foundation for lifelong learning that is reshaping our notions of when and how we learn. "Learning on demand" provides education tailored to solve an immediate and specific need for learning that is time sensitive. Often used to refresh what one has learned or as a reference tool, instant access to learning has become both convenient and cost effective, allowing the student to minimize time away from work while simultaneously enhancing the skills, knowledge, and abilities required to adapt to the exigencies of our knowledge-based society.

One primary obstacle facing e-Learning is its inherent "one-size-fits-all" approach. Though we find similar problems within a classroom environment, the interaction with the teacher can help mitigate the effects of homogenized learning (often tailored to the lowest common denominator) by blending qualitative moments of one-on-one interaction during lessons or lectures. In order to fully reach its potential, e-Learning must begin addressing HOW individuals learn and adapt online instructional styles to the specific needs of the learner. Just as a good private teacher adapts his teaching methods to the individual student in question and over time gains understanding of which methods work for the specific individual, e-Learning technologies will need to become more "intelligent" by profiling students in real-time and delivering pedagogical content according to a series of fluid parameters that monitor student interaction with the learning content and present materials in a style that has the highest probability of success. By delivering learning in this way, content will be absorbed more quickly and retention of what was learned will be stronger, thereby enhancing the overall pedagogical outcome for the student.

Perhaps the most effective way to examine the role of technology in uniting the arts and humanities with science and technology is to focus on the high enrollment introductory courses known as "general education" courses in the U.S. These courses typically provide the foundations of knowledge for a variety of topic areas for students seeking degrees in all fields. The courses, for the most part, have high enrollments often exceeding 300 students, and low instructor-to-student ratios. The format is more transfer of content from instructor to student than traditional teaching, and the low levels of comprehension and satisfaction among the students in such courses reflect this. …

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