E-learning: interactive and fun
Like so many things, digitalisation, driven by the internet, has also changed the way we learn – e-learning is a pivotal keyword in this context. Some interesting, interactive and innovative formats are now evolving for school pupils, students or people undergoing further training. All of these formats aim to make learning more practice oriented, entertaining, individual and easier too. Below we focus on the aspects of online tutorials and game-based learning in particular.
The term e-learning essentially applies to all learning processes that make use of digital media, i.e. learning applications on smart phones and educational videos to name just two. Universities and other tertiary-level educational institutions mostly offer their students what is known as blended learning – i.e. a combination of actual physical attendance and phases of online learning. E-learning employs electronic – in other words, digital – media such as videos, with a view to making teaching and learning more individualised, varied and interesting. This is achieved, for example, by enabling discussions on topics to take place at any given time and not just during teaching sessions. Furthermore, subjects can be expanded on or dealt with in greater depth thanks to online learning modules. Students determine the rate at which they learn, they can repeat things as often as they want and they get answers to their questions by engaging in online dialogues with their lecturers.
Large outreach, but difficult to build up a network
We launched a survey on the topic of e-learning amongst the members of Alumniportal Deutschland. Ilse de la Cruz Gomez from Mexico has spent the past four years working in the Human Resources Department and in 2012 she oversaw an e-learning project. She is thus writing from the perspective of someone who teaches. The advantage of this very demanding project was that all of the company-specific contents were integrated; nonetheless, it took several months to develop it. Ilse is in two minds about e-learning: On the one hand, this gives you a chance to reach more people, but on the other it can make it more difficult to build up a relationship with your students.
When a student herself, Ilse also encountered MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). In her opinion, having the opportunity to exchange your views and experience with participants from around the world is enriching. In her project, she uses both synchronous and asynchronous learning and teaching methods, both of which are also interactive. The course contents were all at an advanced level and participants were given a management-approved certificate. ‘This global project proved quite a challenge to coordinate in terms of ensuring everyone taking part got the right equipment. But we managed it and the results of both kinds of e-learning were successful, writes Ilse.
John O'Byrne is an e-learning trainer for Business English: ‘The company uses a specially designed interface to communicate with the students. It is a mix of PowerPoint, skype and MS paint in that you have slides that you can write on, while the student can write messages to me if necessary.’
E-learning and e-teaching: Pros and cons
Basically, almost everyone who has commented on this topic sees e-learning positively. ‘On the one hand, I thought it was great that the learning contents were always available online, but on the other hand I missed the personal contact with other students,’ writes Fedor Smirnov, who is responsible for marketing a Russian company.
Fernando Salazar however believes there are risks for Latin America: ‘People here aren’t just interested in the contents but in experience. And online experience is limited compared to the real thing. You just can’t compare a trip to Macchu Picchu in all its glory with a YouTube video.’
Marieke Gillessen is now in charge of online tutoring for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as part of the project ‘Education for Sustainable Development’. Around 15 Germans, Indians, Mexicans and South Africans put their names down for leadership training. Via a GIZ platform, participants were able to prepare for the one-year training course. They were able to get to know each other, received some useful tips prior to departure and were therefore able to develop a group identity early on. In terms of contents, course work was supported by inputs from GIZ and a thematically related network.
‘For me, the challenge was not so much the technology (you can learn all of that stuff), but the fact that communication was exclusively based online – via the platform and email – with participants from many different cultural backgrounds. For example, afterwards, I was told that, for the non-German speaking participants, my emails sometimes seemed quite demanding, strict and direct. I already knew about intercultural communication but this experience has really taught me a lot more about it.’
In China online tutorials are ‘in’, writes Zhuoyi Ji. ‘If you want to learn another language, it’s best to do it with a native speaker.’ And with an online course, you can practice with native speakers all over the world. That’s really practical and helpful.’
Learning through play – game-based learning has a lot of potential
When e-learning and computer games are combined, then we talk of game-based learning or serious games. The idea behind this is that most students today have grown up with computers and computer games and, depending on the subject being taught, are not necessarily motivated to any great extent by standard learning media and methods. These ‘digital natives’ prefer ‘a networked and explorative approach to learning’, as described by the US-American manager and author Marc Prensky).
Playing and learning at the same time makes the learning process easier and, if motivation is good, links up directly with the practical side of things. Several games of this kind are used at RWTH Aachen University. One is for chemistry students: namely the virtual chemical factory Zink & Co. The aim is to get students to immediately pro-actively apply what they have learned in the lectures. And this is where the virtual chemical factory comes in, as here problems are to be solved using the material taught in the lectures. In this game, students take on the role of interns and have to complete application-oriented tasks. Particularly encouraging: The students rate it well and there is a positive correlation between good results in the game and good marks in tests.
The EU-backed project ‘SeCom2.0 – Serious Community 2.0 prevent flooding’ is a web-based knowledge platform combined with a serious game component. Co-devised by the teaching and research Institute of Hydrogeology at the RWTH Aachen University, it is used for training in the field of flood management and is targeted for use by flood experts and civil engineering students.
E-learning: disseminating knowledge worldwide
Computers and the internet have changed the way we learn – and e-learning is constantly evolving. The German Federal Association for Information Technology BITKOM regards it as the most important trend in the education sector. Conventional training formats are being replaced, and interaction and communication between teachers and students promoted. In virtual learning worlds, the sometimes ‘less inspiring’ aspects of a subject can be experienced and applied through the medium of game and tasks with a practical relevance can be resolved or tried out. The alumni that took part in this survey are essentially positive about these learning formats, too. They consider e-learning to be a great possibility for disseminating knowledge worldwide. Nearly all of them have already taken part in online tutorials, but still advocate traditional classroom-based learning.
Which e-learning formats are you familiar with?
Which ones do you like, and which ones would you recommend to the Community? What about game-based learning – do you have any experience of this and have you learned successfully as a result? Take a look at what the alumni wrote about this in the survey and discuss e-learning with them and others in the Community group ‘Digital Society’.
You can study e-learning too, e.g. at the university in the German city of Chemnitz which has a chair for e-learning and new media. Another example is the Heidelberg University of Education: The Master’s degree in E-learning and Media Literacy is mostly taught in the Arts Faculty. The focus here is on the theories and concepts that underlie media didactics and media literacy.