Trends in electronic and experiential learning in higher education

Tablet computer with handOne of the innovative learning systems brought about with the advent of the information revolution is electronic learning (popularly referred to as e-learning).

This deals with the delivery of a learning, training or education progra-mme by electronic means involving the use of a computer or electronic device to provide training, educational or learning material.

It emphasises on the delivery of a learning, training or education programme by electronic means. Generally, it includes the delivery of content via Internet, intranet/extranet (LAN/WAN), audio and videotape, satellite broadcasts, interactive TV, and CD-ROM.

E-learning is used as a supplement to face-to face instruction, in a mixed mode with face-to-face instruction, or used on its own. In some places, it has replaced the century’s old model of teaching and learning, which focuses on an instructor standing in front of a classroom lecturing to students.

This model no longer fits the way people want to learn today, because of the changing technological world in which we live. With rapid advances in technology and Internet tools, the traditional model is fading away to accommodate today’s learners.

If the new ICT allows for learning to occur anywhere and doesn’t require concentration of building, we can imagine a learning model where we combine electronic learning and a form of community-type learning based on an apprenticeship model, experiential learning. This brings together the two types of e-learning, electronic learning and experiential learning or, what has now become known as e-learning2.

People like Dr. Eskow view e-learning2 as a pedagogy that uses the everyday world as the scene of instruction. With e-learning2, learning is hands-on and takes place in the “real world” of work and service.

Arthur Morgan, former president of Antioch University in the United States, compares university education to a pair of shears and argues it needs the two blades of practice and theory to have the proper cutting edge. Harold Taylor, former president of Sarah Lawrence college (USA), expressed the matter more vividly a few decades later:

“If you want to ride a horse, dance a jig, climb a mountain, build a boat, write a novel, study history, think intelligently, become educated, a certain amount of instruction in a class in the subject will be useful-perhaps for two or three seasons.

After that you will need to get a horse, start dancing, climbing, building, writing, thinking and educating on your own. Otherwise you will not have learned what you need to know, that is, how in fact to do the thing you have set to do. To learn something, it is necessary to practice it.”

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead articulates a similar position: “First-hand knowledge is the ultimate basis of intellectual life. To a large extent book-learning conveys second-hand information, and as such can never rise to the importance of immediate practice. Our goal is to see the immediate events of our lives as instances of our lives as instances of our general ideas.”

Whitehead and Morgan and Taylor and all of the others who argued for a university without walls did not have the tools for a pedagogy that would allow students to be scattered in space and time and yet in regular touch with each other, with faculty, and with intellectual resources. In e-learning2, we now have the pedagogical tools to help students connect the immediate events of their lives with the propositional and conceptual learning of the academy.

Experientialists argue that what is learned in the settings of the everyday world has a richness that cannot be captured or stimulated in a lecture, textbook, screen, or game.

We need to incorporate experience-based -learning as part of mainstream education. Students entering higher education should be exposed to traditional learning methodologies focusing on terminologies and concepts of the subject matter.

In addition to this, students should be exposed to practical knowledge and experience-based lessons in the field of study. This could be achieved through outside projects and relevant hands-on real-life experience.

This experience-based teaching methodology not only addresses the challenges of preparing future technologists in an ever-changing field, but also arms students with the experience that many employers are seeking.

E-learning2 offers the possibility of ending (or at least dramatically reducing) the distance between the academic disciplines and the practices they are designed to inform and illuminate.

Further, e-learning2 allows the settings of the world–businesses, service agencies, government offices, or multipurpose community telecenters–to be the primary scene of instruction, making it possible for students to learn by applying theory to practice in these settings.

New ICT tools allow students engaged in such settings to act as a learning community by engaging with each other as well as their instructors and colleagues, and to reflect on their experiences.

Instructors help students relate their experiences to the bodies of knowledge of the curriculum, and to extend their learning by use of the rich resources found on the Internet as well as books and the older media of instruction.

The combination of real-world experience and communication technologies can provide learning opportunities not available in the traditional classroom setting.

To derive the full benefit of the educational process, and to provide a holistic form of education, there is the need to build on the comparative strength of both electronic and experiential learning modules.

Leadership at the regional and national level is needed to push for the acceptance of e-learning2. E-learning2 should be at the core of the curriculum. It provides Africans with one possibility to create a literate workforce and a knowledge-based society.

Bringing the two streams of pedagogy together in a single enterprise creates the possibility of a new institution that engages the strengths and offsets the weaknesses of contemporary higher education across the continent. Higher education should accommodate everyday experience as well as reflective thought on the part of the student, and e-learning2 offers a vital means of achieving this goal.

 Dr. Osei K. Darkwa

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