Friday, July 27, 2012

Global learning no too expensive

In "Global learning: still too expensive?" (The Guardian, 26 July 2012), Glyn Rimmington, Mara Alagic and Patrick Blessinger argue that costs of e-learning have dropped and it provides intangible long-term benefits. So I commented:
Local learning is not expensive, when weighed against the benefits provided. The technology is cheap and readily viable. What is still expensive and scarce is the expertise for using these for effective education.

I run online courses for the Australian National University (ANU) and the Australian Computer Society (ACS), using a $500 laptop and a wireless modem. Both institutions use the Australian developed Moodle free open source learning management system (LMS). With this I can have a class with a mix of students on the local campus and at their workplace, anywhere in the world. The student needs only a smart phone to participate in discussions (the need a bigger keyboard and screen to do their assignments).

Support for the LMS is provided by a mix of institution and specialised company support staff, online. But what is also needed is very good training in how to design such courses and that can require hands on support.

I teach ICT, which is a global discipline and so there is minimal localisation required. Science uses the metric system and I do occasionally have to remind my students that if they see something in a non-metric unit, they will need to convert. There are also some cultural issues with how to have a work discussion and to wrote a report. But these are more to do with corporate and discipline cultures: an ICT professional works much the same across the world.

One of the facilities of online learning is that it is about video and real time communication, it is not. While video is useful supplement, education at the tertiary level online is much like in the classroom: it is about students reading and writing by themselves and in small groups. It is not about "lecturers" droning on endlessly in front of a real or virtual class, it is about guiding students in their own learning.

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