E-learning and the benchmark Bangladesh has created

“Pola ta re diya gelam apner kachhe. Haddi amar ar chamra apner.” [My child from now on will be under your supervision. Bones are mine and the rest is yours.] Once upon a time in Bangladesh, our parents used to shoulder responsibilities of his/her sons/daughters to the teachers in these particular approaches. Recently approaches may have changed either in line with the changes in education systems or changes of approaches in other developed or developing countries but the scenario has not changed enough. Students are advancing and to step in line with them, parents are following the advanced path and initiating modern strategies with the help of technologies. Recent blessings are internet and its advancement in education sector. May be I’m wrong but still our parents are afraid of internet and the use of modern inventions.

But one thing must not be forgotten that each and every action has an opposite and equal reaction and the verdict goes with modern technologies as well such as internet. I must confess that the age i.e. 12-18 is not an ideal age for a boy/girl to enter into the world where one can ruin his/her life forever and diminish the dream of parents but one thing I have to say which I have learnt from different finance course instructors during my undergraduation tenure is “No risk, no gain.” And if parents could realise it, then I believe that the days are not so far when our upcoming generation will not be afraid of taking part in any competition where the champions of other developed countries will be participating.

In a longitudinal study spanning 4 years at Deakin University Palmer and Bray (2001) found that “Student computer usage was rising… Student access to the Internet was rising …Student usage of the Internet was rising … The proportion of students with access to the Internet at home was rising … Student usage of email was rising.” Then why we, the proud mass crowd of Bangladesh, will step behind. The government has already initiated e-learning as their target is to digitalise the country within 2021 but the real scenario is completely unexpected. And the government itself will be afraid of knowing that how alarmingly our parents or instructors are welcoming e-learning. I’ve worked in the field with a view to initiating e-learning in several schools in Dhaka City and elsewhere and it is a matter of surprise that parents are keen to purchase a burger or pastry to his/her child which costs Tk 100 but they are not showing their interest to purchase a software which will help their child to step ahead with the help of e-learning.

The phenomenon of globalisation has transformed world trade, communications and economic structure in the 21st century and consequently, the complexion of higher education sector too has undergone a sea change in the last two decades. Although higher education, science and technology have always been international endeavours, of late, they have acquired new dimensions and features. Internationally, a majority of the institutions offering higher education is making strenuous efforts to revise its academic orientations and the course delivery strategies in the light of the interplay of these global changes and emerging challenges.

E-learning, one of the tools emerged from information technology, has been integrated in many educational programmes. The rapidity with which children and young people are gaining access to online, convergent, mobile and networked media is unprecedented in the history of technological innovation. Recently, information technology has been viewed as a solution to educational institutions’ cost and quality problems. Information technology in teaching and learning has created a need to transform how students learn by using more modern, efficient, and effective alternative such as e-learning. E-learning has started to make way into developing countries and is believed to have huge potential for the government of Bangladesh struggling to meet a growing demand for education while facing an escalating shortage of teachers. It is seen as a tool for raising the number of students who have access to higher education, especially marginalised groups in rural areas, by being a cheaper and more flexible alternative. Challenges are however plentiful; in many developing countries like Bangladesh, there is a lack of vital e-learning components such as computers, electricity and skills and the active, participative student that is required for interactive learning is also very rare in countries where the tradition is to teach in a more didactic manner.

E-learning can be viewed as the delivery of course content via electronic media, such as Internet, Intranets, Extranets, satellite broadcast, audio/video tape, interactive TV, and CD-ROM. It is one of the new learning trends that challenge the traditional “bucket theory” or the banking concept of education. The banking concept of education assumes that the instructor owns the knowledge and deposits it into the passive students who attend the class. And by this way the whole process goes on.

In this context, online learning or e-learning mode has emerged as a major higher education option before the global student community in general. Higher education institutions operating in countries like the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, European Union (EU) and various other developed countries are making efforts to re-adjust in the light of the contemporary challenges and Bangladesh is no exception to this inevitable transformation. While advanced countries responded to these pressures of globalisation rather more successfully with their vast resources, Bangladesh is still in the process of designing strategies to re-adjust to the dynamic phase of global reforms in the higher education sector.

E-learning itself is a term that is complex, and that attracts a degree of controversy and disagreement. In developed countries, sophisticated computers and telecommunications are on the verge of reshaping the mission, objectives, content, and processes of schooling. In line with that, e-learning has emerged as one of the fastest moving trends in education today. Now ICT education incorporates the use of the computer, its peripherals and internet services within the student learning process and the teacher delivery process. Computer usage in schools has made many positive impacts and developments into learning. However the acceptance of ICT by schools, as with the current emergence of online learning has been slow. However, in reference to Computer Based Learning (CBL), it can be said that monitoring teacher and student attitudes is significant for structural usage, acceptance and success.

I have discussed a lot regarding e-learning. But now it is high time to realise what e-learning practices are? Activities that are distinctly different from real world learning practices for example special interest e-groups; subscription and access to e-journals; access to databases of information on research; digital archiving and access to those archives; access to institutional repositories; email exchanges with supervisors and fellow students; bulletin board access; online browsing and searching formal access to resources, reading lists etc. and completion of assignments using a virtual learning environment; and anytime/anywhere access to information and exchange. Learning is never an entirely passive activity in the real world or via e-learning.

Even the most instrumental of learning activities requires some accommodation of existing learning patterns and configurations to new learning. In e-learning, because the learner is often isolated physically from other learners in the network, he or she has to make an extra effort to contribute to the e-learning community. Learning is never a simple ‘read-off’ from the tissue of connections made by others; it requires some engagement and contribution. Even though some e-learners may contribute little, and simply feed off the contributions of others; but it still takes some awareness and engagement to benefit, even from such a seemingly parasitical position. Now it’s time to explore social informatics. Essentially, social informatics is an interdisciplinary body of theory that includes consideration of the design, uses and affordances of information and communication technologies, particularly in social, institutional and cultural contexts.

It is interested in the ways in which new information and communication technologies change the patterns and potentialities of social interaction. Borrowing from sociology, social interaction is conceived in terms of strong and weak ties and their initiation, maintenance and development. Information and communication technologies, and the online and offline communities that are made possible as a result, are seen to enable the maintenance of weaker ties and the possible strengthening of strong ties, partly through the increase in communication that takes place. This increase to a new dimension of social interaction makes for more than just a re-purposed version of offline learning. It creates a larger, more complex space for interaction, with multiple modes of communication, greater distances of potential interaction, and compressed/enhanced synchronous and asynchronous means of communication.

I must have to admit that e-learning is distinctively different from conventional face-to-face learning, or solitary learning by an individual in a library or a monastic cell. The digitisation of text makes for easier and more rapid transduction; the availability of an extended community of learners, with the teacher taking his/her place alongside learners, extends the possibilities of learning. When applied to e-learning, the freedom of the individual is clear. Within the confines of the course or programme and its requirements, the individual learner has the freedom to define his or her network of learning. Because the learner moves in and out of the electronic environment of learning, even in so called ‘100% online’ learning programmes, he or she builds a web of discourses and patterns for learning that becomes distinctive. E-learning, then, transforms the nature of learning for the contemporary learner; it does more than ‘enhance’ an existing state of affairs, and much more than provide a re-situated version of conventional learning. It creates a web of networked communities that in themselves are generative of learning, but in combination and association, provide a richer, more extensive opportunity for learning.

Engagement in e-learning makes for a different kind of learning. In conventional learning and scholarship, there is an authoritative, hierarchical power system at work. The teacher acts as mediator for the student between the body of knowledge, as enshrined in books, journals and other forms of print. Knowledge is seen to exist, to be added to by research, and to be guarded by editors of journals who, among others, protect and preserve the discourses of induction into that community. In e-learning, however, the canonical texts are themselves committed to digital format and thus become at once more malleable, and more open to critique that has the same status as the original text.

A digital electronic text can more easily be broken up, annotated, re-aligned, and incorporated as part of a dialectic or at least dialogical exchange. The digital spectrum of access and use is evident not only internationally, but also within societies. Access is distinguished from use in that it is one thing to have access to a networked computer, and another to use that privilege to good and full effect. But we know that many people in society, more specifically in Bangladesh, do not have access to a computer, and if they do, may not have access to fast broadband connectivity. There is thus a spectrum of access which means that some learners will be relatively disadvantaged. Such disadvantage may not affect the quality of learning, but it will most certainly affect the type of learning and the range of resources those are available.

Access is an issue of systemic economic inequality. Use is more a matter of individual engagement with the possibilities and affordances of new software and connectivity, and tends to manifest itself generationally rather than socio-economically. Successful preparation for online learning is not significantly different from classroom preparation. As with any new concept, however, it is important for an instructor to communicate how existing practices integrate with a new concept. High dropout rates are not a function of the online learning environment – they are a function of poor course design, lack of instructor familiarity of the environment, and learner preparation. Preparing learners to learn online is perhaps the greatest skill that e-learning can offer. In an era of lifelong learning, skills for acquiring knowledge play a greater role in success than do knowledge concepts.

For a country like Bangladesh where the government and even several social bodies are concerned with implementing e-learning, for them I think that in the preliminary stage, it is important to understand all challenges. Because e-learning most often is being transferred from the developed world we need to know not only what challenges that are already found and to some extent met in the developed countries, there is also a need to understand which additional challenges, if any, there may be in developing countries.

The most frequently mentioned challenges concern issues relating to the course given. Concerns are raised about the content of the course, the activities undertaken during the course, the support functions provided, and the delivery mode of the course. The first issue identified here is the curriculum which stipulates much of the course actions and content. There are discussions on the need to develop new curriculum specifically designed for an e-learning setting; thereby showing awareness that e-learning is different from traditional class-room based teaching. The choice of pedagogical model is also found to have effects on learning. There are discussions on which pedagogical methods are appropriate for e-learning and many discussions concern a shift from a more instructor-centred approach to a learner-oriented approach where the students take ownership of their learning.

Besides, the characteristics of the individual student, and in some cases the teacher, are much researched in developed countries, less so in developing ones. Student motivation is a factor and it must be signified deeply. Highly motivated students perform well in most cases whereas non-motivated students tend to drop out. The relation between motivation and other e-learning factors is rarely elaborated; the reasons for success or failure in the studies are simply referred to as personal motivation or lack of motivation. Technological challenges cannot be over looked. The use of ICT for distance education evidently makes access to the technology an enabling or disabling factor and in developing countries like Bangladesh, the issue of access is often discussed in terms of availability of so called tele-centres and internet cafes. Finally there is the issue of localisation; to what extent the technology and software should be adapted in order to fit local culture and languages. Localisation in this case is about embedding cultural and religious values and aesthetics into the design of the technology and software.

Let me point out some good things about e-learning at a glance:

* E-learning may result in cost savings.

* E-courses can be monitored more easily than the traditional classrooms.

* On-line learners can make use of the electronic mail to establish communication with faculty members.

* The advantages of student-centred teaching approach which provides round the clock accessibility to course materials and providing just-in-time methods to assess and evaluate students’ progress.

* Majority of the e-learners have stated that they never resort to any kind of malpractice and further reiterate that they always comply with the course requirements. This undoubtedly ensures the much-needed quality of the e-learning and also the commitment of the e-learners paving way for successful functioning of the concept of e-learning.

* Designing for learning explores the design of learning activities and programmers to make effective use of e-learning systems. Understanding my learning explores learner participation in and experience of e-learning, taking into account activities such as planning and reflection that cut across individual programmes, as well as participation in learning tasks and assessments.

* Learning is seen as internalising the representational and communicative means of the subject of discourse.

Development of educational systems and methods are driven by practical, political and technological agenda. These pressures cannot be ignored but need to be balanced by appropriate consideration of knowledge of methods and theories that enable education to meet its needs. A classification into researching effectiveness, representation, and knowledge sharing offers a way to progress many of the problems identified in the fields of organisation, technology and pedagogy in education. It helps the development of a roadmap by facilitating both the identification of dependencies in the communication of concepts within the roadmap by use of these simple vocabularies – effectiveness, representation, and knowledge sharing, to enable simple overviews to be generated.

I have attempted to argue that e-learning changes the nature of learning in a number of significant ways. If we accept the premise that learning is socially situated, and those e-communities are different from conventional learning communities in classrooms in schools and elsewhere, then it follows that e-learning is different from conventional learning. Crucially, e-learning extends the horizons of learning in space, resource and time. The notion of transactional distance is important to understanding how e-learning is different from conventional face-to-face learning. Such extension requires more from the learner in that he/she has to make selections from the possible available resources, as well as decide how and when to engage in the e-learning community.

The nature of knowledge itself is affected by digital technology, particularly in the levelling out of the relationship between existing knowledge, the teacher and the student. Rather than a hierarchical conception of knowledge, e-learning and its technologies promote a flatter, more democratic, more potentially dialogical relationship between the learner and knowledge. Furthermore, knowledge is seen to be in a state of perpetual development. Last but not the least, any new theory of e-learning needs to bear in mind that just as learning was always subject to a spectrum of access and use, according to socio-economic, geographic, cognitive and motivational factors, so too e-learning is actually stretching the spectrum of access and thus use still further.