Video Home System, analogue recording videotape-based cassette standard that went out of use by the early 2000s
Virtual learning environment
Online learning website
Enhancement of learning and teaching practices is a continuous process aimed at, along with other targets, the optimization of the amount of input required for achieving a certain goal, at the introduction of new knowledge building methods and at the increase of the acquired skills and knowledge value for the participants. The potential of modern computer technology, with regard to the facilitation of this process, is unquestionably immense. Since the introduction of computers as learning tools, the enthusiasm for the implementation of technology in education has been fuelled by further advancements, the major ones being the invention of bigger portable storage spaces such as CDs and, of course, by the commercialization of the Internet. Indeed, at the dawn of the personal computer era, one almost could not help being carried away by the futuristic visions of knowledge being uploaded to human’s mind as quickly and easily as software is installed with just a few clicks on a keyboard. This assumption that human beings would be able to learn quickly, and efficiently by simply completing a predetermined set of tasks on a computer is, however, inherently flawed in that it equates positive outcomes with the presence of technology in the learning process and completely disregards the social side of learning. Not surprisingly, participation in these inflexible and isolated courses did not produce the desired results, not in the least because, at that time, the means of online communication were far more scarce than today and the theoretical basis of online learning lagged behind its technological capacity. Thus, concerns were voiced about the effectiveness of online learning as such.
The Internet brought a variety of synchronous and asynchronous communication solutions into the learning process, the recent and most important ones being voiceover the Internet protocol (VoIP) and Web 2.0. What is more, the worldwide endorsement of the Internet as a data storage and communication space was one of the triggers of the shift in the perception of knowledge and its acquisition. The idea of knowledge building began to be used to emphasize the process of knowledge construction individual to each learner rather than the rigid end product. The efficiency of the process became to be recognized as one of the educational goals along with material retention because of the wider application that the skills obtained in the process had in and outside of formal education. To accommodate for the new objectives, educational theories had to suggest the ways in which the learning and teaching approaches needed to be further transformed; promotion of autonomy for learners and some relaxing of control over the learning process for teachers were identified among the central changes that needed to take place.
The debate over whether a fully online mode of delivery can match a face-to-face blended approach in effectiveness of fulfilment of the aforementioned objectives has been an on-going one for the past few decades and, although the answer is affirmative, special attention is needed to ensure that the limitations and advantages of the online only approach are duly taken into account. In terms of the aforementioned enhancement of learning, e-learning and m-learning offer spatial and temporal freedom to the participants along with a wide choice of media for the delivery of information and a high degree of interactivity. Moreover, the skills and knowledge acquired by learning in the online environment are transferable to the broad range of situations in and outside the classroom. However, the implementation of the e-learning mode presents a number of challenges for all stakeholders in formal education. Certain obstacles can be allocated on all levels from intergovernmental to individual, and range from insufficient financing to inadequate methodology, to the lack of training and anxieties connected with the use of technology. In this, particular pressure is put on teachers to deliver high quality interactive content using cutting-edge technology within a limited period of time to keep students’ motivation and engagement high and to fulfil the requirements set by higher educational bodies.
The aim of this thesis is to
first, define the concept of e-learning, place it in the wider context of educational approaches and explore its relationship with related concepts of distance learning and blended learning.
Second, to outline and discuss practical challenges of creation, management and participation in online courses within higher education institutions with the main focus on the European context from the teacher and student perspective and, where possible, suggest feasible solutions.
Third, to define the concept of autonomy, underline its significance as of one of the prerequisites for the successful knowledge building in the 21st century and identify the role that student support plays in its development.
Fourth, to observe the latest innovations in the field of e-learning and indicate possible future trends of its development.
And finally, the aim of this thesis is to explore educational concepts and deepen the understanding of the process of online course creation in practice.
Chapter 1 provides historical perspective on the emergence of the distance learning approach and technological contributions to this process that eventually led to the theoretical recognition and practical incorporation of blended learning and e-learning practices into the educational framework. In addition, a number of definitions of the concept of e-learning are presented in an attempt to establish its main features in the most comprehensive manner. The relationship between the three educational approaches is defined and analysed in order to gain deeper understanding of the one central to this work, e-learning.
Chapter 2 lays out potential technology-related challenges that can prevent participants from effective use of e-learning tools. Namely, that students, although familiar with ICT prior to the enrolment in universities, often experience difficulties handling large amounts of information both study-related and not found on the Internet and struggle to appropriately incorporate it in their academic work. The nature of some of potential difficulties teachers can face when teaching through technology is in some ways similar to that of their students: teacher training today often falls behind in the matters of technology use specifically for educational purposes. Thus, although familiar with ICT through personal experience, both students and teachers may lack specific professional skills and methodological knowledge required for the participation, creation and management of e-learning courses. The issue is further complicated by the fact that ICT skills come as additional requirement to an already vast range of professional expertise that have to be acquired by future teachers.
Chapter 3 attempts to describe other than technology-related challenges that can potentially affect participants in e-learning. For teachers, working in the online environment entails a certain shift from the traditional teaching paradigm: most extensive preparation and continuous management of the course are needed for it to effectively help students achieve educational goals. In addition a number of students enrolled in an online course can be much bigger than that of students in a face-to-face class, which also requires readjusting on the part of the teacher. For students, the variables that can influence their performance are numerous. In the chapter, they are classified according to whether they are individual or shared by a group of learners; additionally, personal variables are divided into predetermined and changing over time.
Chapter 4 identifies the elements of student support that contribute to the development of autonomy skills and explores the complexity of the concept of learner autonomy, including a wide range of skills that it entails. The chapter analyses three main elements of student support identified in accordance with the constructivist approach – student-teacher relationship, motivation and feedback – and suggests ways of their implementation in the online environment. One of the main goals of this approach to student support, apart from material retention, is the fostering of student autonomy by guiding students, motivating them and by showing that autonomy allows for better performance in academic and professional spheres.
Chapter 5 traces the latest developments in online education, the most prominent of which are online degree programmes and MOOCs, and tentatively suggests the paths technology in education may follow in the future. One of the paths, provision of educational content on YouTube, is explored in more detail due to the latest developments on that platform. The amount of educational content uploaded to YouTube has been confidently rising for the past few years. Interestingly, content providers are both institutions (universities and research centres) and individuals (scientist and scholars) not sponsored by institutions who usually collaborate with production teams to ensure the high level of content quality. The kind of educational content uploaded also seems to differ according to the provider, while institutions mostly upload videos related to their activities, such as lectures, guest talks and scientific experiments on site, the individual providers tend to comment on scientific concepts and the latest scientific discoveries, providing a general overview of interesting topics. Regardless of the provider, the trustworthiness of the sources for the videos is in most cases carefully monitored, which makes YouTube a potentially interesting platform for online learning.
Finally, Chapter 6 describes the layout and proposed administration of the BA Academic English Practice course, created on the Moodle-based course management system Elf, managed by the Faculty of Arts at Masaryk University, in order to first-hand observe practical challenges of course creation and management.