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COMMENTS & ANALYSIS
THE IMPLICATIONS OF E-LEARNING IN THE WORLD TODAY

The Internet Revolution

The amazingly rapid expansion and growth of the World Wide Web in the past decade has been nothing less than a paradigm shift in the way humanity and society, as a whole, perceives reality. Boundaries of time and space have been expanded. People’s working and learning methods have changed dramatically, become more fast-paced and flexible, and some might even say more efficient. Communication as a whole has changed in its parameters; children growing up today take it for granted that before the Internet came along, it was not possible to talk to anyone from anywhere in the world at any time with a mere millisecond’s time delay.

Because of this revolution many societal issues are currently being debated, discussed, hypothesized, theorized, written about, talked about, etc. The issues all tend to revolve around the three main aspects of society: learning, working, and communicating.

The Digital Divide

The great thing about the Internet Revolution is that it is very cost-efficient and has the potential to level the playing field, giving privileged and underprivileged alike the same opportunities online. The Internet cannot discriminate against its users; it is not capable. This means that anything done online can be done without bias towards sex, race, religion, or socioeconomic condition.

But before people can reap the benefits of such an unbiased medium, they need access to the technology. Some people, such as Mark Smolenski who wrote an article entitled "The Digital Divide and American Society", worry that if we are not careful a "digital divide" could form between the rich and the poor, between developed and under-developed countries, between the haves and the have-nots, between those who can afford to have access to the rapidly changing technology and those who cannot. This will be an important issue to monitor in the coming years; to see how well-distributed Internet technology will be throughout the world. It is obvious that developed countries will continue to increase their technology capabilities, but how will this affect under-developed and developing countries? Although this new technology could benefit most the underprivileged sectors of societies, it may remain the same age-old Catch 22: the higher your socioeconomic status, the easier it is to have access to the tools you need to change your socioeconomic status.

Autonomy, Individualization, Socialization

As our culture becomes more and more dependent on the Internet, the individual’s relationship with society is changing dramatically. The notion of autonomy is quickly becoming a social norm that is changing the way we work, the way we learn, and the way we interact with others. The individual is being given more and more power to direct his/her path in life how he/she sees fits.

The rules of traditional education systems are also changing, as more and more E-Learning programs are developed online. The classic three rules of education: 1. fixed hours, 2. permanent location, and 3. one educational system, are quickly being replaced by three new rules: 1. adjustable times, 2. adjustable place, and 3. different educational systems.

Flexibility, individualization and distance capability have become three intrinsic necessities for today’s educational system models. But as the educational system continues to bend towards the individual’s needs, we must not think that individualization of education means the exclusion of group interaction and activity. Human interaction will always be an essential part of an individual’s education, and perhaps this is the issue that we must pay the most attention to in the coming years of E-Learning program development.

Increased Responsibility and the Importance of Personal Motivation

With this increased autonomy and individualization, however, comes increased individual responsibility. As one makes the transition from in-class programs to online programs, one must realize that that does not necessarily make things easier for the individual. On the contrary- online education necessitates the individual to be responsible for his/her time, learning methods, study organization, and so on. Before one decides whether or not one wants to make the transition from in-class education to online education, one should consider one’s own level of motivation.

In a dossier produced by a European based program called "Projet Polifemo", it is suggested that before getting involved in a distance/online program, a student should assess his/her motivation level according to three motivational factors: 1. perception of the future- how will the program enhance the candidate’s future? 2. perception of competence- does the candidate feel like he/she will be able to perform adequately in the program? and 3. perception of control- does the candidate feel like he/she is capable of taking the responsibility of completing and following through with a distance/online program?

Facts and Figures

Because E-Learning is such new concept, there are not many reliable sources of data that have been formulated. There are basic numbers and figures, but until the programs and the systems of E-Learning have been established for at least a decade, it will be difficult to attain accurate data on its success and number of participants.

The U.S. congress ‘Web Commission’ estimates that approximately 377 million people in the world today are currently using the Internet. The UCEA (University Continuing Education Association) reported that there were approximately 1.7 million online college courses taught in the 1997-98 school year. The National Center for Educational Statistics did the following survey on distance education at postsecondary educational institutions for the 1997-98 school year:

 

B.Turill

Sources

1. Dias, Marco Antonio Rodrigues, "Higher Education: Vision and Action for the Coming Century," UNESCO Open File, Prospects, Vol. XXVIII, no.3, Issue number 107, September 1998, www.unesco.org

2. Smolenski, Mark, "The Digital Divide and American Society", Gartner, October 2000, www.gartner.com

3. Projet Polifemo, "Programme d’Initiative Communautaire ADAPT BIS", Fonds Social Europeen, 1999, www.educagri.fr/actions/pni/pdfs/blpni4.pdf

4. UCEA (University Continuing Education Association), www.nucea.edu

5. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQUIS), "Survey on Distance Education at Postsecondary Education Institutions," 1998-99, http://nces.ed.gov/edstats

6. Web Commission, "The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving from Promise to Practice," released at a press conference in Washington D.C. on December 19, 2000, www.webcommission.org

 




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