Applying the Principles of Constructivism to a Quality E-Learning Environment
Almala, Abed H., Distance Learning
The work of constructivist theorists, notably Piaget and Vygotsky, identified two constructivist learning models: individual constructivism, which states that knowledge is constructed from personal experience by the individual, and social constructivism, which declares that knowledge is acquired through collaboration with meaning negotiated from multiple perspectives. Advanced new technology has provided constructivist educators with valuable tools to design, develop, and teach quality e-learning courses. Educators could use effective technology-based applications, such as microworlds, virtual realities, and case studies, along with a quality computer management system (CMS), to simulate active and quality e-learning environments that might otherwise be unavailable to the learner.
This article focuses on the practical aspects of applying durable constructivist pedagogical strategies to design, develop, and implement quality e-learning courses and programs in which students assume significant responsibility toward their own learning; effective collaboration and meaningful engagement between students and instructor to establish productive discourse, constructive solutions to real-life problems, projects, and learning activities; and diverse evaluation approaches to assess student learning.
E-learning is an Internet-based instructional program which is distributed to learners electronically using electronic resources, Web features, (e.g., synchronous, asynchronous, hypermedia, and esearching) and course management systems and technological interactive tools, such as WebCT, eCollege, or Blackboard. Elearning has taken center stage in higher education and is being developed by many national and international colleges, universities, and organizations. In a statement released in July, 2003, the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), a higher education umbrella of 23 community colleges, reported that "currently, at least half a dozen programs at about a dozen colleges can be completed completely online" (Virginia Community College System, 2003). According to the U.S. Department of Education (2003), the number of students taking distance learning classes doubled between 1997-1998 and 2000-2001. For instance, the University of Phoenix Online experienced 70% enrollment growth from 2001 to 2002 in its undergraduate and graduate e-learning degree programs (Shea, 2002).
These institutions of higher education, educational organizations, the business community, and learners that have embraced e-learning for a variety of reasons and needs refer to key factors such as flexibility, the use of mixed interactive multimedia, Internet research, archiving, electronic networks, telecommunications, and cost to support the idea that e-learning could serve as a viable and qualitative learning alternative. Some educators and learners, however, believe that e-learning cannot, and should not, replace classroom instruction, pointing out that the quality of face-to-face education must not be compromised by e-learning. Nevertheless, professional and scholastic individuals with such reservations often recognize that elearning can be a valuable supplement and effective learning tool for mature and responsible students, and should be pursued. Hence, quality of learning is a deciding factor as to whether e-learning should be considered as a total and effective learning environment.
Quality e-learning is a Web-based learning environment designed, developed, and delivered based on several dynamic principles, such as institutional support, course development, teaching/learning, course structure, student support, faculty support, and evaluation and assessment (Phipps & Merisotis, 2000). Community colleges and universities must offer highquality e-learning courses and programs in order to meet the needs of the "new learner" who insists on convenience. However, institutions of higher education must take a hard look at their mission in terms of the region they serve. …