July 2004

ICT and Education:i4d launches a new research programme

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People learn in many different ways and at different times. Their need of learning varies as per their social status and need. Learning, as an indefinite process, is beyond time and contents. But any learning is purposively constructive in nature. It may range from simple knowledge of letters up to the higher level of formal education. In this process, the word 'Learning' covers the entire path of getting knowledge as per the need of the persons involved into this process. To support these different learning needs, different delivery methods are needed. No single learning method is best for every learning need. When learning programme combines modern tools and traditional learning methods, it might be termed as 'blended learning'. With the development of science and technology, the tools and techniques of learning are also being changed. Even 20 years back, we couldn't think of learning without textbooks. Now we can think of that with the increasing popularity of internet-based training, web-based training, on-line learning and, in recent time, 'e-Learning', and can even get recognised university degrees without stepping out of the home.

What is e-Learning?
e-Learning is technology-based learning, instructional content or learning experiences delivered or enabled by electronic technology. It is a structured, interactive approach for educating and informing the students, employees etc. It includes computer-based learning, web-based learning and virtual classrooms or chat rooms. Instructor-led courses often include some form of technology-based training to give learners both hands-on training and easy access to the instructor's expertise. But we can never ignore the significance of traditional learning methods while accepting and utilising the modern tools and technologies. e-Learning, on its way of development, needs initial training which ultimately follows traditional face-to-face learning methods. What change this modern method has brought is reducing the time of face-to-face learning. In this way, a blended learning programme has been initiated that combines e-Learning and traditional learning methods. This blended learning can provide the convenience, speed and cost effectiveness of e-Learning with the personal touch of traditional learning.

Synchronous e-Learning
Synchronous e-Learning requires the students and instructors to be present at the same time. It includes Virtual Classroom, Audio and Video Conferencing, Chat, Shared Whiteboard, Application Sharing and Instant Messaging. This type of e-Learning provides the students the opportunity to receive immediate feedback from the other learners and instructors. On the other hand, the familiar classroom-based teaching-learning process provides stimulating environment to the others. At the same time, this process needs specified times.

Asynchronous e-Learning
Asynchronous e-Learning happens when training takes place independent of time and relationships. It requires documents and web pages, web-based training (WBT), computer-based training (CBT), CD-ROM, recorded live events, simulations and labs. It also includes self-paced courses and discussion groups. In this process, the learners have the scope of selecting the time of learning as per their own convenience.

e-Learning includes development and management that include Authoring, Learning Management Systems (LMS), Learning Content Management Systems and Knowledge Management.

Why e-Learning?
e-Learning is increasingly perceived by governments and educators alike as a means of embracing greater access to education and development. Open and distance learning combined with Internet technologies support many of the Millennium Development Goals adopted in September 2000. Targeted education and development programmes are working toward positive measurable outcomes in several developing countries in a number of areas and sectors, such as universal primary education, gender equality, improving maternal health, building knowledge in agricultural production and reducing infant mortality.

There are numerous causes of e-Learning to gain popularity in the developing countries day by day. The causes are interlinked with each other. In a nutshell, the causes are attributed to rapid changes in technology, changes in social and demographic patterns, fierce competition leading to the search for time and cost saving solutions, and the facts that learning has become a continual need to keep pace with the information explosion due to the advent of the Internet.

Components of e-Learning
e-Learning refers to the use of Internet, Intranets or Extranets to deliver a broad array of solutions that enhance knowledge and performance. The Internet is the public, global network of networks, which is based on the Internet Protocol (IP) and related standards and designed to provide a standard means of interconnecting networks so that any system could communicate with any other system. It operates as a confederated network of networks and offers universal accessibility. An Intranet is a private application of the same internetworking technology, software and applications within a private network for use within an enterprise. It may be entirely disconnected from the public Internet, but is usually linked to it and protected from unauthorised access by security firewall systems.

An Extranet is a use of Internet/Intranet technology to serve an extended enterprise, including defined sets of customers or suppliers or other partners. It is typically behind a firewall, just as an intranet usually is, and closed to the public, but is open to the selected partners, unlike a pure intranet.


e-Learning for Whom?
In the field of education, the concept of 'e-Learning' is still a vague notion. If we say that learning has no beginning and no end, the same statement can also be used for the term 'e-Learning'. Though many projects are going on globally, there are still areas where we seek clarification and better collective understanding.

  • Which of the projects can be considered as 'e-Learning' projects?
  • If an on-line professional course be called 'e-Learning', why don't we take into consideration the information kiosk provided for the farmers and fishermen as centres of 'e-Learning'?
  • Should we consider 'e choupals', 'aquachoupals' etc which are basically information kiosks for community, as e-Learning projects?
  • How will we delimit the process of e-Learning in a developing country like India, where about 35% people are still illiterate and many more are semi-literates with minimum knowledge about letters?
  • How do we overcome the basic services barrier to leapfrog into the world of ICT, which are inherently high technology solutions?

Basically the info kiosks like 'e choupals', 'aquachoupals' etc. have a target of narrowing the digital gap. Through these kiosks the underprivileged community who didn't have any knowledge about computer, IT etc. or access to all these, are being provided the opportunity to get updated information of their daily use. If a professional qualification on-line is required for a young professional, the information on weather forecast is equally important for the fishermen and the updated information on current market price of crops, crop production etc are also equally important for the farmers. Moreover, we can foresee the long-term impact of the process of narrowing the digital gap, which can bring more people into the process of e-Learning for higher studies in near future. Keeping this long-term effect in mind, the section on e-Learning is being initiated as a regular section in 'i4d' which will provide all kinds of projects associated with learning through 'e'

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