Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

The Role of E-Learning in the K-12 Space

Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

The Role of E-Learning in the K-12 Space

Article excerpt

The continuing strategic quandary in the K-12 world is that so many needs must be met--those of learners, teachers, administration, and parents. Ironically, we are in an ambiguous period where the need for face-to-face learning and support is increasing as students become more diverse economically, culturally, and in their learning styles and abilities. Added to this is society's drive to use technologies in ever-increasing ways and quantities, with an emphasis on virtual relationships in the potential absence of human contact. Yep--it is ambiguous.

Some think that technologies such as e-learning hold the potential to save money in a world where we're told that education spending is outpacing the public's ability to pay. Is this the case? Can e-learning be done more cost-effectively than traditional learning? I doubt it. It seems clear that the desired savings from electronic learning initiatives are a long way off. There is a ton of infrastructure and content to be built first and then a long curve to critical mass.

But can learning be achieved effectively by the standard measures, via e-learning, or through some blend of technological and classroom strategies? When added to the issues of the digital divide, you have a problem of gargantuan proportions. With effort, thought, and money, however, I believe that this is possible.

There is a gap between K-12 schools and higher education in the adoption of e-learning technologies. A recent estimate by a technology trend consultant noted that penetration of e-learning technology in the top-500 players in the K-12 space was about 5 to 10 percent, while higher education's top-500 was well-penetrated at 70-80 percent. Some jurisdictions are further along, such as Ohio, Florida, and West Virginia. Other jurisdictions have actively sought partnerships with the public library, such as in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ohio. These partnerships usually require a new model of political governance in order to develop common library cards and to solve issues such as the transportation of materials, sharing links, and buying, as well as collection development and acquisitions strategies.

What Is Blended E-Learning, and Where Are the Possibilities?

E-learning has been defined as "synchronous or asynchronous learning that is conducted over Internet, intranet, extranet or other Internet-based technologies." These are just big words that simply mean that learners can work online with or without others to learn things. In this definition, asynchronous learning could simply be "homework." However, it's undeniable that an experience-based, electronically enhanced, blended learning model can engage some learners far better and at higher levels than a simple textbook, paper, and pencil. It might even align with learning styles that, until now, have been difficult to teach using traditional means.

In the K-12 space, e-learning is generally comprised of a few technologies, such as Blackboard (http:// www.blackboard.com), WebCT (http:// www.webct.com), and Desire2Learn (http://www.desire21earn.com). The open source learning content management systems such as Merlot (http://www.merlot.org), Sakai (http:// www.sakaiproject.org), and MIT OpenCourseWare (http://ocu.mit. edu) have not penetrated the K-12 space as they have in academia, due to the need for fairly advanced and permanent development teams, which are not usually available at the school or district level. It is likely that some states and provinces will invest in these open source resources when teams are assigned to meet bigger e-learning goals. There are commercial systems, but they are generally aimed at adult learning and mostly focus on IT and management skills.

The K-12 space is estimated to be behind the higher education space on the e-learning curve by about 5 to 7 years. This is likely a good thing, as higher education will work through some of the hoarier technology and user-authentication issues and beat them into submission. …

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