Practical E-Learning: The Future of Online Education
IEEE Computer Society Team
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It’s a given that the COVID-19 pandemic changed how people work and learn. Nonetheless, higher learning educators have expressed concern over the loss of student analytical skills and practical training opportunities within the current online learning space. While sometimes necessary, total reliance on virtual education often falls short in key areas of instruction, such as engagement, retention, and evaluation.
According to a 2022 survey by Statista, 16% of prospective higher education students in the United States question the quality of fully remote learning, citing concern over the lack of educational support. In addition, a quarter of students were worried about their ability to juggle in-person classes, jobs, and family obligations. A novel approach known as Practical e-Learning (PEL) addresses such concerns by incorporating content and delivery modules, feedback and evaluation tools, and personalized discussion forums.
The Evolution of Online Learning
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been administered by universities since the late 1990s but are limited in their delivery of practical knowledge and assessment, especially with problem-solving and analytical tasks. A common concern of educators is the minimal contact inherent in online-only learning versus a traditional classroom setting. There is often little opportunity to collaborate and work effectively on group projects, and students cannot build knowledge through in-person peer interactions. For technical subjects, reliance on online coursework restricts the demonstration of hands-on techniques and prevents troubleshooting specific student analysis flaws. Monitoring attendance and the confirmation of student engagement represent additional limitations of the MOOC model.
PEL does not forego the benefits of the traditional lecture approach to learning but enhances it with tools that encourage student involvement and promote connection with both peers and educators. Its comprehensive feedback-based assignments and evaluation module (CFAE), for example, requires students to complete quizzes throughout the lecture instead of as a stand-alone assignment. This promotes retention while also affirming attendance and learner comprehension. Using an e-whiteboard platform prompts learners to complete tasks such as mathematical problems under the eye of the instructor.
For students with poor internet access or limited technological capabilities, private virtual lockers allow for digital submission and evaluation of their work. Likewise, personalized discussion forums using humanoid chatbots to respond to questions and evaluate submissions encourage responsiveness without the added burden to the instructor. Finally, evaluation through conference tools like EasyChair offers rubrics to simplify the assessment of student presentations and term papers. Such an approach also integrates peer review opportunities, encouraging learning throughout the evaluation process.
Traditional learning continues to be the standard for many universities, particularly with technical topics requiring hands-on application or facilitator-led lab work. However, the integration of video tools and other lab-simulating software under the PEL umbrella allows students and educators to approach learning outside of the traditional model without losing its key benefits. As the Internet of Things expands, online learning will continue to evolve within the educational landscape. The PEL approach utilizes both technology and the need for personalized instruction and timely feedback when in-person attendance is not feasible or affordable.
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