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International Journal of E-Learning,

Designing and Implementing


Vol. 5, No. 65, (2010) pp.
ISSN 5372-8942

E-Learning in Higher Education


C. Periasamy1

Abstract
Teaching and learning are no longer confined to class room or
school or college today. There are many technologies that can offer a
great deal of flexibility in, when, where and how education is distributed.
The e-Learning technologies are indented in implementing e-Learning
concepts. This study argued Why is e-learning important for Higher
Education, Technological Change and the Learning Experience and E-
Learning through Stakeholders. It is concluded that Stakeholder group
has an important role to play while working together towards the
common goal of enhancing the overall learning experience. Students and
Instructors should participate as proactively as possible; provide feedback
to improve future experiences, and communicate the learning
possibilities that e-learning creates. Institutions should provide the
technical infrastructure and support needed to enable comprehensive
solutions. Content and Technology Providers should provide high quality,
interoperable solutions that consider learning principles. Accreditation
Bodies should provide and enforce clear guidelines for this new form of
learning delivery. Employers need to recognize the validity of this form of
education and work with other stakeholders to ensure that graduates
meet the needs of the job market. Institutions of higher education could
utilize the stakeholders’ responsibility matrix presented in this paper as a
starting point when undertaking a new e-learning initiative. The
stakeholders involved and their associated responsibilities could then be
adapted to the nature of the particular initiative at hand.

Keywords: E-Learning, Higher Education

E-Learning in Higher Education

Introduction
Teaching and learning are no longer confined to class room or
school or college today. There are many technologies that can
offer a great deal of flexibility in, when, where and how education is
distributed. The e-Learning technologies are indented in
implementing e-Learning concepts. The first general purposes e-
Learning system was the PLATO system, developed at the
University of Illinois, USA. The PLATO system involves control data,

1
General Manager, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.

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which created the first authorizing software used to create e-


Learning content. The authoring software is called PLATO.
Subsequently, the same e-Learning system was introduced in
Singapore as a joint operation between WICAT and BAAL system. It
is from this design the entire computer learning centers globally
evolved which was pioneer of e-Learning. Organization such as
SKILLSOFT, EPIC and learning steps.com are leading innovators in
the design and development of e-Learning in the commercial world.
Of all these organizations, SKILLSOFT is the largest and most
experienced in the global e-Learning market.

Definition of e-Learning
Any learning that utilizes a network (LAN, WAN or INTERNET)
for delivering interaction or facilitation is called e-Learning. This
would include distributed Learning, e-Learning (Other than pure
correspondence), computer based training, delivered over network,
and web based training synchronous, asynchronous instructor lead,
or computer based or a combination. Distance education,
distributed learning or remote education are the synonymous,
conveying the same meaning as e-Learning and defined by the
following criteria:
1. The teacher and students are separated by distance (this
distance could make different class rooms in the same school
or different locations, thousands of miles apart).
2. The instruction is delivered by print, voice, video or computer
technologies.
3. The communication is interactive. In that the teacher
receives some feedback from students. The feedback may
be immediate or delayed.

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E-Learning in Higher Education

The classification of e-Learning is given in the following Table

1:

Technolo Synchronous Asynchronous


gy
Video Video conferencing 1) Videotape

2) Video
Broadcast
Audio Audio conferencing 1) Audiotape

2) Radio
Data 1) Internet Chat 1) E-mail

2) Desktop 2) CD-ROM

3) Video
conferencing

Why is e-learning important for Higher Education

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A student who is learning in a way that uses Information and


Communication Technologies (ICTs) is using e-learning. These
interactive technologies support many different types of capability:

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E-Learning in Higher Education

 internet access to digital versions of materials unavailable


locally
 internet access to search, and transactional services
 interactive diagnostic or adaptive tutorials
 interactive educational games
 remote control access to local physical devices
 personalised information and guidance for learning support
 simulations or models of scientific systems
 communications tools for collaboration with other students
and teachers
 tools for creativity and design
 virtual reality environments for development and
manipulation
 data analysis, modelling or organisation tools and
applications
 electronic devices to assist disabled learners
For each of these, there is a learning application that could
be exploited within Higher Education. Each one encompasses a
wide range of different types of interaction – internet access to
services, for example, includes news services, blogs, online
auctions, self-testing sites, etc. Moreover, the list above could be
extended further by considering combinations of applications.
Imagine, for example, a remotely controlled observatory webcam
embedded in an online conference environment for astronomy
students; or a computer-aided design device embedded in a role-
play environment for students of urban planning.
The range and scale of possible applications of new
technologies in Higher Education is almost beyond imagining
because, while we try to cope with what is possible now, another
technological application is becoming available that will extend

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those possibilities even further. Everything in this chapter will need


updating again when 3G mobile phones begin to have an impact on
our behaviour. Never mind; we keep the focus on principles and try
to maintain our equanimity in the face of these potentially seismic
changes.
E-learning is defined for our purpose here as the use of any of
the new technologies or applications in the service of learning or
learner support. It is important because e-learning can make a
significant difference: to how learners learn, how quickly they
master a skill, how easy it is to study; and, equally important, how
much they enjoy learning. Such a complex set of technologies will
make different kinds of impact on the experience of learning:
Cultural – students are comfortable with e-learning methods,
as they are similar to the forms of information search and
communications methods they use in other parts of their lives.
Intellectual – interactive technology offers a new mode of
engagement with ideas via both material and social interactivity
online
Social - the reduction in social difference afforded by online
networking fits with the idea that students should take greater
responsibility for their own learning
Practical – e-learning offers the ability to manage quality at
scale, and share resources across networks; its greater flexibility of
provision in time and place makes it good for widening participation
There is also a financial impact. Networks and access to
online materials offer an alternative to place-based education
which reduces the requirement for expensive buildings, and the
costs of delivery of distance learning materials.

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E-Learning in Higher Education

Technological Change and the Learning Experience


The information revolution is sometimes compared with the
Gutenberg revolution, when the printing press harnessed a mass
delivery system to the medium of the written word. It is a good
parallel to draw for the impact of the Internet, but it undervalues
the other key feature of the interactive computer - its ability to
adapt. The simple fact that it can adapt its behaviour according to a
person’s input means that we can engage with knowledge through
this medium in a radically different way.
A better analogy than the printing press, to give a sense of
the power of this revolution, is the invention of writing. When our
society had to represent its accumulated wisdom through oral
communication alone, the process of accretion of communal
knowledge was necessarily slow. Writing gave us the means to
record our knowledge, reflect on it, re-articulate it, and hence
critique it. The means by which the individual was able to engage
with the ideas of the society became radically different as we
developed a written culture. When a text is available in written
form, it becomes easier to cope with more information, to compare
one part with another, to re-read, re-analyse, reorganize and
retrieve. All these aspects of ‘knowledge management’ became
feasible in a way that had not been possible when knowledge could
only be remembered. The earliest surviving text - the Rosetta Stone
- shows that ‘information management’ was an important benefit of
the medium, recording the resources available, allowing a tally to
be kept, enabling better management of the way the society
operated.
The nature of the medium has a critical impact on the way we
engage with the knowledge being mediated. The oral medium has
the strength of having a greater emotional impact on us which
enables action through motivation; the written medium has the

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strength of enabling a more analytical approach to action. As we


create and generate knowledge and information we naturally use
different media, depending on the nature of the content and the
objective we want to achieve. It is impossible, for example, to use a
verbatim transcript of a lively lecture for a print version. The
spoken word written down usually reads badly. Medium and
message are interdependent; there is an internal relation between
them.
A spreadsheet holds a different kind of working model. It
holds not just data but also ways of calculating with the data to
represent different behaviours of a system. A common application
is for modelling cash flow for a business. The user can determine
the initial data about costs and pricing, for example, and the
spreadsheet calculates the profit. By changing the prices, the user
can experiment with the effects on profits. The cash flow model
embodies an assumption about the effect of prices on sales - for
example, that they will fall if the price goes above a certain limit.
But the user can also change that assumption, by changing the
formulae the spreadsheet uses for calculating profits. So there are
two ways in which the user can engage with this model of the cash
flow system: by changing the inputs to the model, and by changing
the model. The adaptive nature of the medium offers a creative
environment in which the user can inspect, critique, re-version,
customize, re-create, design, create, and articulate a model of the
world, wholly different from the kind of model that can be created
through the written word.
These two examples illustrate the power of the interactive
computer to do a lot more than simply provide access to
information. It makes the processing of that information possible,
so that the interaction becomes a knowledge-building exercise. Yet
the excitement about information technology has been focused

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much more on the access than on the processing it offers. And the
technology developments so far have reflected that. The focus has
been on the presentation of information to the user, not on tools for
the user to manipulate information.
The sequence of technological change in interactive
technologies has been a historical accident, driven by curiosity, the
market, luck, politics – never by the needs of learners. Learning
technologies have been developing haphazardly, and a little too
rapidly for those of us who wish to turn them to advantage in
learning. This becomes apparent if we compare these technological
developments with the historical development of other key
technologies for education. Table 1 shows some of the main
developments in information, communication, and delivery
technologies over the last three decades, and against each one
proposes a functional equivalent from the historic media and
delivery technologies. The story begins with interactive computers
because the move away from batch processing brought computing
to non-programmers. The user had access to a new medium which
responded immediately to the information they put in. As a medium
for information processing, it was radically different from the much
more attenuated relationship between reading and writing, thus
creating a new kind of medium for engaging with ideas.
There is one very striking point about Table 2. The
development in information and communication technologies over
the last three decades is comparable with the development in
information and communication technologies over the last three
millennia. No doubt there are alternative ways of drafting such a
table, but that point at least is likely to be common to any analysis
of ICT.
Attempting to construct these equivalences is instructive in
itself. It is difficult to represent the importance of computer-

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mediated conferencing, for example, as there is really no clear


historical equivalent to enabling large group discussion across huge
distances. Table 1 does not cover the full range of new technology
forms, but succeeds, nonetheless, in illustrating the extraordinary
capabilities of the technologies we are now struggling to exploit.
We have to be aware of the impact this fecund inventiveness is
having on our intellectual life. The chronological sequence of
discoveries obeys no user requirements analysis of learners’ needs
– electronic inventions are created by engineers and computer
scientists working in a spirit of enthusiastic co-operation, debugged
in the crucible of intensive peer-review (Naughton, 1999) - but the
sequence matters.
Table 2: New media and delivery technologies for information
processing and communications compared with their functional
equivalents for reading and writing

Date New Old technology Learning support


technology equivalent function
1970’ Interactive Writing New medium for
s computers articulating and
engaging with ideas
Local hard Paper Local storage with the
drives and user
floppy discs
1980’ WIMP interfaces Contents, Devices for ease of
s indexes, page access to content
numbers
Internet Printing Mass production and
distribution of content
Multimedia Photography, Elaborated forms of
sound, and film content presentation
1990’ Worldwide Web Libraries Wide access to
s extensive content
Laptops Published books Personal portable
access to the medium
Email Postal services Mass delivery of
communications
messages

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Search engines Bibliographic Easier access to


services extensive content
Broadband Broadcasting, Choice of elaborated
telephones content and
immediacy of
communication
2000’ 3G Mobiles Paperbacks Low-cost access to
s elaborate content
Blogs Pamphlets Personal mass
publishing

E-Learning through Stakeholders’


Students
Students are the consumers of e-learning. In the context of
higher education, they are under-graduate or graduate students
enrolled at a university or college. Students are motivated to use e-
learning to gain access to higher education. For some, it may be a
component of a traditional course; while for others entire courses
may be entirely online. Particularly for this second group, e-learning
may create access to higher education that they would not have
otherwise because of geographic or time constraints.
E-learning presents an entirely new learning environment for
students, thus requiring a different skill set to be successful. Critical
thinking, research, and evaluation skills are growing in importance
as students have increasing volumes of information from a variety
of sources to sort through. Also, particularly in courses that are
entirely electronic, students are much more independent than in
the traditional setting. This requires that they be highly motivated
and committed to learning, with less social interaction with peers or
an instructor. Students in online courses tend to do as well as those
in classrooms, but there is higher incidence of withdrawal or
incomplete grades

Instructors

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In e-learning, as in traditional classroom learning, instructors


guide the educational experiences of students. Depending on the
mode of e-learning delivery, instructors may or may not have face-
to-face interaction with their students. Instructors may be
motivated to use e-learning in their courses for a variety of reasons.
For example, they may be encouraged or pressured by their
institutions; they may wish to reach a broader audience of
students; or they may have an interest in the benefits of
technology mediated learning. E-learning technologies bring as
much change to instructors as they do to students, again requiring
a new set of skills for success. In the e-learning environment,
instructors shift from being the primary source of students’
knowledge to being the manager of the students’ knowledge
resources. For example, in a traditional classroom scenario, the
instructor delivers the content to the class and responds to their
questions. In contrast, in a technology only asynchronous e-
learning environment, the instructor is more of a coordinator of the
content, which students then peruse at their own pace. Thus, the
skills that are most important for an instructor to possess may
depend on the e-learning attributes of their course.

Educational Institutions
Educational institutions, in the context of higher education,
include colleges and universities. In addition to the traditional list of
postsecondary institutions, the rise in popularity of e-learning has
lead to the creation of new, online only educational institutions.
Educational institutions integrate technology into classrooms to
facilitate lecture delivery and create new technology mediated
learning opportunities for students. They provide distance learning,
including e-learning, to create access to a larger pool of students.
As e-learning becomes more widely accepted and more courses are

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offered online, geographic boundaries between institutions and


students are removed often, budgetary restriction is a primary
issue for institutions. Tight budgets make it difficult to implement
broad, campus-wide e-learning solutions. There is a tendency for
individual departments to implement their own solutions, which
may not be consistent with the rest of the institution. This reduces
the potential for cross-departmental efficiencies, and can make the
process more complicated for faculty, staff, and students,
particularly if they are involved with more than one department.
Depending on the technological infrastructure in place at an
institution, the implementation of e-learning courses can involve
very costly technology upgrades. E-learning systems require
several components including sufficient bandwidth, course
management systems, technology equipped classrooms, and
adequate computer facilities for student use. This increase in
technology generally requires a corresponding increase in support
staff as well.

Content Providers
In the higher education context, online course content may
be created by instructors or acquired from external sources. The
growth in e-learning has created a market for commercialized
educational content creators, particularly for more introductory
courses that are offered consistently at multiple institutions.
Whether the content provider is the instructor or an external
source, their motivation is to provide content modules that will
result in effective learning. Commercial content providers are
motivated by profit to develop content modules that are flexible
enough to be readily utilized across institutions with minimal
adaptation efforts. The main concern for content providers in e-
learning tends to be intellectual capital rights. Independent content

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providers in particular, need to ensure their retention of copy rights


in order to sell their product to multiple customers.

Technology Providers
Technology providers develop the technology that enables e-
learning delivery. This category consists of a broad range of
services, from the facilitation of individual distance learning
courses, to complete Learning Management Systems (LMS)
provided by companies such as Blackboard. Similar to content
providers, technology providers are motivated to provide learning
environments that will result in effective learning for students.
Technology standards are an important consideration for this
stakeholder group as well. Since educational institutions often have
different solutions implemented by various departments,
adherence to common standards facilitates interoperability.
Constant evolution in hardware and consumer expectations creates
pressure for technology providers to rush to market with new
product offerings. In order for these businesses to be sustainable,
the cost of pursuing this constant innovation must be controlled.

Accreditation Bodies
Accreditation bodies are organizations that assess the quality
of education institutions offerings. Those institutions meeting the
minimum requirements will be accredited, providing them a level of
credibility that non-accredited institutions will not possess. As the
proportion of education delivered by electronic means grows, it is
increasingly important for accreditation bodies to encompass e-
learning in their standards. Neglecting to do so will limit the
relevance of their accreditation since it will only be relevant to the
traditional education component of educational institutions’
offerings. The growth of e-learning presents new challenges for

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accreditation bodies. As the number of learning institution grows in


an attempt to capitalize on the excess demand for higher
education, accreditation bodies have an increasing number of
institutions seeking their approval. This increase in volume of work
is combined with a change in the
nature of the work that these bodies do. The Council for Higher
Education Accreditation (CHEA) in the United States defines
distance learning as educational or instructional activity that is
delivered electronically to students at a distance. By this definition,
all distance learning (including e-learning) is subject to the same
accreditation and securitization.

Employers
Employers, in this context, are those organizations that will
potentially hire graduates of higher education institutions. Often,
there is a tendency for employers to view online education from
reputable traditional institutions in a more positive light; however
the acceptance of online degrees in general is increasing (Chaney,
2002). This is a positive trend for e-learning in general and for
completely online educational institutions in particular. Employers
are increasingly motivated to consider e-learning as a higher
education alternative. Denying the value of e-learning will restrict
their pool of potential hires. It will also limit the availability of
courses and professional development activities that their
employees may participate in. Since many students pursue higher
education for the purpose of beginning or advancing their careers,
a lack of support for e-learning by employers could deter
employees from pursuing their coursework through electronic
means, thereby restricting their opportunities. One issue that
employers have with e-learning is the decreased interpersonal
interaction inherent in many of these courses. Employers typically

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rank technical skills and expertise from 6 to 8 on a scale of 10, and


rank interpersonal skills to be of higher importance. Some feel that
while e-learning may be suitable for delivering content, it may not
be capable of developing these interpersonal skills that employers
value so highly.

Conclusion
E-learning is a large and growing market with great potential
in higher education. In order to maximize this potential, e-learning
implementations should endeavor to satisfy the needs and
concerns of all stakeholder groups as much as possible. The
Stakeholders’ analysis undertaken in this paper and culminating in
the Stakeholders’ Responsibility Matrix is a step in that direction.
Stakeholder group has an important role to play while
working together towards the common goal of enhancing the
overall learning experience. Students and Instructors should
participate as proactively as possible; provide feedback to improve
future experiences, and communicate the learning possibilities that
e-learning creates. Institutions should provide the technical
infrastructure and support needed to enable comprehensive
solutions. Content and Technology Providers should provide high
quality, interoperable solutions that consider learning principles.
Accreditation Bodies should provide and enforce clear guidelines
for this new form of learning delivery. Employers need to recognize
the validity of this form of education and work with other
stakeholders to ensure that graduates meet the needs of the job
market.
Institutions of higher education could utilize the stakeholders’
responsibility matrix presented in this paper as a starting point
when undertaking a new e-learning initiative. The stakeholders
involved and their associated responsibilities could then be adapted

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to the nature of the particular initiative at hand. As such, the matrix


will help institutions to identify the appropriate stakeholders’ and
develop a set of expectations for each.

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International Journal of E-Learning, Designing and Implementing