Online learning come of age


In the tertiary market the scope to use the Net starts with online enrolment and timetables and flows on to providing downloadable course notes and reference materials. Universities like the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have already begun to offer online simulations to students in its Law faculty.

Online universities or virtual universities are proliferating around the globe. Griffith University in Queensland offered the first post-graduate e-commerce degree online in Australia and has attracted 50 per cent of its students from overseas.

Most people acknowledge that personal interaction is still necessary in the learning world. For example, Michel Hedley, Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) education spokesperson, believes face-to-face learning is better for first-time university students because of the dramatic change from school to university and the need for students to build personal relationships with their teachers and other students to help that transition.

A huge demand from corporations and the realisation by these organisations that the technology is sufficiently mature has led UTS to run a non-academic certificate and diploma course on e-learning this year. Although a number of online and e-learning offerings are now available, many companies lack the understanding of the technology that is needed to implement and integrate e-learning into their enterprise successfully, so this course is directed at helping companies overcome this problem. Most of the course content will be delivered online, but there will be some initial face-to-face teaching.

"UTS is receiving strong interest from overseas, especially in Hong Kong and Asia," Tony Whittingham, e-learning consultant at UTS, said. "As it is the first of its kind globally, there are endless possibilities, such as customising it for clients, holding one- to two-day seminars and developing it as a total online package."

Topics covered in the course include the design of learner interfaces, development of online learning strategies and structures, implementation of virtual classrooms, managing an e-learning environment and evaluation of online learning development and implementation.

E-learning in the corporate world

IBM's "Basic Blue" global online training program for new managers is an example of a corporation using online learning. Managers have six months to finish the program and pass all the tests along the way, followed by a week's face-to-face learning lab where participants get to meet each other and provide feedback to IBM. Basic Blue is equivalent to 128 hours of training per manager and, with 30,000 managers worldwide in 1999, it provided a $US200 million cost benefit to the company.

Elements of e-learning

Content, technology and services are equally important in the corporate and tertiary markets for successful implementation of online learning, according to technology training commentator Trace Urdan, an analyst from US-based WRHambrecht. Content involves providing a range of generic courses as well as the ability to support third-party and customised content.

E-learning also has potential beyond IT training. Business development and personal skill courses are growing twice as fast as the IT training market - at a 123 per cent compound annual growth rate. Delivery mechanisms for training in this area include the Internet, intranet and hybrid learning management systems, and advanced learning support technologies such as mentoring, e-testing, Web seminars and meetings, collaborative functions and Web-based simulation and role-play techniques. Services include consulting for the design, strategy, integration and hosting of e-learning.


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