If I was to say to you ‘E-Learning’, ‘Computer-Based Training’, or ‘Computer-Assisted Learning’, what would you think of? Maybe you’d think about people in a classroom, learning about computers. Perhaps you’d think of people in front of a computer learning using computer software. Or maybe it conjures up something completely different.
At Glamorgan Blended Learning Ltd, we see e-learning as any form of learning or instruction, enhanced by technology. So, yes, the examples I just mentioned are e-learning, as is something as simple as a lecture supported by a Powerpoint presentation for instance.
The basic enabler of e-learning is therefore, Internet and multimedia technologies. My research has found that the e-learning industry has five key sectors; consulting, content, technology, services and support.
If I was to mention the 1930s to you, you’d probably think of troubled times. Does the rise of fascism come to mind? Perhaps the Great Depression? Well, despite the negative occurrences around this time, the 1930s signalled the start of the post-industrial era. It was the dawn of technological changes that would form the post-modern learning movement leading to the eventual realisation of the e-learning industry in the twenty first century.
This post-industrial era has also encompassed the birth and realisation of three distinct global generations. These are the Baby Boom Generation, born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976 and The ‘Net’ Generation, born between 1977 and 1997.
These generations’ existence globally could be put down to the impact of the Second World War, which began in 1939 and ended in 1945, the year previous to the one in which the first Baby Boomers were born. It was in 1945 that science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clark, predicted the future of satellites into space and with the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and Telstar in 1962 the first revolution in the e-learning industry occurred.
The television began to be seen as the technology that would transform learning. I remember when I was at school taking VHSs in to watch with the other pupils, and at secondary level watching the schools programmes on BBC2. Some of you may have been at school when all the politicians and academics were talking about how television was going to replace teachers and how learners would become happy absorbing all manner of
knowledge through a television set.
While it didn’t happen, this independence from authority was a key value of Generation X, which grew up with television. The television saw a surge in its usage in the United Kingdom after the creation of the Open University, which was first proposed by the British Labour Party in 1963, as a ‘University of the Air’. Coupled with the view that this form of e-learning could lead to greater social justice, the Open University meant lower income groups could access higher education through television and radio, and came into being through Harold Wilson’s Government establishing a committee after winning the election in 1964. This led to a manifesto commitment at the 1966 election to create it.
Years later, after the 1997 UK General Election, the new Labour Government, perhaps hoping to build on the success of the Open University, proposed decades earlier, commissioned a mass computer-based learning programme called, UKeU – the United Kingdom e-University. This programme used up millions of pounds of resources to produce university-level programmes, for which there ended up being only a handful of subscribers. This difficulty is common for e-learning system developers, where the amount of resources that can be used to produce the content for these information systems may be more than is feasible.
This State-imposed learning programme was conceived by the Baby Boom generation of politicians, who were unprepared for the market and consumer-led Web-based revolution. This was not so much about the delivery of e-learning, as they envisaged, but the collaborative and social aspects of learning that was advocated by Soviet educationalist Lev Vygostky, in the 1930s as it happens. The Web has however been the key component for distributing e-learning materials, taking over from the CD-ROM. While the Web has revolutionised the e-learning industry, in that content is now delivered online more so than on CD, there is further change ahead with the drive for better provision of e-learning services.
The services sector of the e-learning industry, still reliant on broadcasted teaching, is growing significantly as the demand for blended learning increases. Blended learning, as the name suggests, involves blending e-learning with traditional methods of learning and development and it is argued that it is the most logical and natural evolution of the learning agenda.
According to the International Data Corporation the corporate training segment of the e-learning industry is estimated to have increased from about €234 million in the year 2000 to €11.4 billion in 2003. However, in the European Union only about 20% of e-learning products are produced within the common market. In keeping with tonight’s theme, you may wish to know that Ireland has over 60 firms dedicated to e-learning.
While the implementation of e-learning in organisations has required a shift in perspective for some staff, there has not been a significant change in training culture, as some organisations, such as the Army, still use e-learning in a way that mirrors the existing training culture. Some e-learning experts have argued that the various models for describing online courses show that some still essentially follow a transmission model, rather than constructionist models where the learner is able to construct their own version of truth of a subject.
Values have changed within each of the generations that have existed since the 1930, and with them the approaches to e-learning also have. Whether it is the technology changing the people, or the people changing the technology, e-learning seems to be growing in effectiveness with each generation that passes. The case for e-learning as a technology that enhances learning is clear, but the shape that it will take in the future is far from certain. Will compulsory education be delivered remotely to people’s homes, with only practical sessions such as sports and lab work happening in the community? Perhaps in the future we will all be able to access e-learning anywhere, on the bus, on the train, or on the plane. Whatever happens in the future, I’m sure e-learning will be with us, and I’m sure it will be different.