The 21st century is the age of information technology. The technological age provides several avenues for acquiring education through a number of channels. As the vast web of global and local information networks grows, several new skills and forms of literacy will become available to anyone who wants to reap the full educational benefits of the information age.
Online teaching involves computational system that communicates and cooperates with learners at different levels. Online teaching systems may use the World Wide Web via the Internet server for synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (anytime, anywhere) mediation, or computer-based technology (CBT) through storage devices such as USBs and CD/DVD-ROM for asynchronous experiences. Teaching online involves customized communication and responses, and on-demand coaching (e-coaching) through computer intelligent interfaces and inference mechanisms.
Online learning on the other hand refers to myriad approaches to teaching and learning via the Internet. The ranges of approach include making resources available electronically, creating hyper-rich formatted interactive instruction, delivering and evaluating the instruction, and all experiences of synchronous and asynchronous interactions online. The process focuses on the content and the relationships that underpin virtual interaction of students, instructor and learning materials.
Feenberg notes that online learning and teaching is most effective when various courses are delivered by subject matter experts (SME), and the best way to maintain the connection between online education and values of traditional education is by engaging fully qualified and interested teachers to teach in online environment. Learning is facilitated rather than controlled.
The major online interactions between instructors and students are Synchronous and Asynchronous. Synchronous interaction occurs when the instructor and students participate in real time in the online classroom. Teaching and learning occurs at precisely the same time. The technology employed allows teachers to conduct classes that are almost identical to those in the physical classroom with students at a distance.
Examples of technological tools that are used in this delivery mode include Live Chat; Audio and Video conferencing; Data and application sharing; Shared white boards or Smart boards; Virtual “hand raising” , and Joint view of multimedia presentations and slide shows.
Online synchronous interaction allows instructors to reach a widely dispersed student body and still maintain a vigorous learning environment. Quality programs can be extended to almost all locations without geographical boundaries. Given access to the right technology medium, more students can be taught at the university or higher educational levels.
In asynchronous online learning, the instructor and the students do not interact directly.
The method employs time-delayed capabilities of the internet such that the instructor and students do not meet at the same place and time. Students can access course modules at their convenience. Classes can be scheduled to provide the flexibility of anytime, anywhere teaching and learning paradigm.
Typical tools employed in asynchronous sessions include E-mailing and Instance Massaging (IM); Threaded discussion; Blogs, Newsgroup and Bulletin boards for managing and sharing messages, and File attachments in assignment submissions
Online education can be traced back to as early as the 18th century. It was popularly called distance education. Its evolution and progression over the last 300 years run parallel with innovations in communications technology, and distance learning continues to grow in popularity. Online learning is the latest in a long list of social technologies that have been introduced to improve distance learning by adding various augmentations, substitutions, or blending of new pedagogical approaches and technologies
Correspondence education is a form of distance education given that the teacher and students are physically separated. Encyclopedia Britannica defines it “a method of providing education for nonresident students, primarily adults, who receive lessons and exercises through the mail, or some other device, and, upon completion, return them for analysis, criticism, and grading” .
Research documents that the earliest known reference to correspondence education was on March 20, 1728, when Caleb Phillips placed an advertisement in the Boston Gazette offering shorthand lessons for any “Person in the Country desirous to Learn this Art, may be having several Lessons sent Weekly to them”
Isaac Pitman, recognized as the pioneer of distance education, began teaching shorthand by correspondence in 1840 in Bath, England. Pitman mailed postcards to students and instructed them to transcribe passages from the Bible into shorthand and to return them, by post, for correction. Three years later, in 1843, the Phonographic Correspondence Society was founded, a precursor to Sir Isaac Pitman’s Correspondence College. And thirty years later, in 1873, Anna Eliot Ticknor founded the Society to Encourage Studies at Home in Boston, Massachusetts, which was based on the correspondence school model.
Online learning is a new social process that is beginning to act as a complete substitute for both distance learning and the traditional face-to-face class. This is because it also is a process that will infiltrate the ordinary face-to-face class and radically change the nature of what is thought of as the typical college course. We are in the process of moving from face-to-face courses; to online and hybrid courses using digital technologies to support student-centered pedagogy, offered by a few hundred “mega-universities.
With the availability of the Internet, educators now have access to a universe of resources to provide education in various formats. The value of e-learning lies in its ability to train anyone, any time, anywhere, Also, it facilitates both synchronous and asynchronous type teaching and learning.
As a continent, we need to vigorously promote the development and mass deployment of online teaching throughout our educational system. Through e-learning, we can transform our institutions and achieve better outcomes with the least possible cost.
Nana Prof. Osei Darkwa, President
African Virtual Campus