No right or wrong in on-line learning

There is no one best e-learning method for educators or employers to use. Students employing both synchronous and asynchronous learning can find faults.

Larry Farmer, manager of IT services at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, B.C., said he likes the synchronous course he’s taking at the moment.

Farmer is one of six people taking an introductory Windows 2000 course through CDI Corporate Education Services in Toronto.

“It’s pretty good. I’m interested in Windows 2000, but I also wanted to take it and see if the format works,” he said. “Maybe some of my other staff would be able to do it.”

Farmer added that the college is “in the boonies” and has often gone to great expense to fly people to courses and accommodate them.

The new approach is definitely the type of learning he would recommend to the college.

The Windows 2000 course is standardardized, according to Farmer, and had a very set curriculum for the instructor to follow. He liked the structure of the four-day course and said the fact there was a live instructor at the other end probably kept students more focused.

“I’ve taken some asynchronous courses and you tend to drift off or say, ‘I’ll get to it tomorrow,'” Farmer said.

However, Brian Fabbri prefers synchronous learning, even adding that e-learning that is completely done by the individual will probably work best for him.

Fabbri, a custom cable manufacturer with Volex based in Calgary, recently started an eMBA course offered completely on-line by New Brunswick-based Unexus University. He decided recently to switch his energies to Unexus’ MBA course, offered on-line as well.

“With the eMBA course there were certain days you had to write the exam, certain days you had to hand things in,” he explained. “I was looking for something a little more flexible because of my job and family commitments.”

He said that although the strict timeline was confining for him, other students needed that rigidity to keep with the program.

He also noted that the course he was taking, financial accounting, had a lot of information and he found it difficult to get through it all in the time allotted. However, he thinks the idea behind e-learning is excellent and is looking forward to this new course.

Fabbri’s class was the inaugural group for the eMBA program and he said they had a lot of input into how the courses were streamlined.

“One of the students was the software engineer for Unexus, so he had first-hand knowledge of what was good and what was bad,” Fabbri said.

The eMBA course also had a chat line set up so students could talk and every week there was a conference call between the class and instructor.

“Sometimes those calls stretched into two hours,” he said. “That will not happen with my MBA course. You get textbooks and materials and it’s all very open and up to the student.”

He liked the fact that the material was all provided on-line so people could do their readings and sort through the course before the class spoke.

At Mount Royal College in Calgary, students have just had their first taste of e-learning. Jim Zimmer, director of the college’s Academic Development Centre, said they have a number of distance delivery programs.

“My sense is that the number of programs delivered on-line will increase, although that needs to be driven by demand,” he said.

Zimmer expects another use for e-learning will be to offer students the opportunity to use an on-line module for studying heavily-subscribed courses.

“I think one of the next steps on campus will be to look at offering a small number of those courses by e-learning,” he said.

Zimmer co-ordinated a study of 551 students using the college’s e-learning module, CourseInfo, in conjunction with classroom learning, to see how viable it would be for the college.

He noted the results were completely favourable with more than 90 per cent finding the module easy to use, with 91.6 per cent finding the on-line course documents useful or very useful.

He hopes the positive feedback will encourage the college to implement more e-learning.

“Some students noted that they were able to overcome shyness thanks to the anonymity of on-line discussions,” he stated. “Although others felt discussion boards needed to be more class-related.”

Farmer noted he would have liked a continued chat, as the Windows 2000 chat was only open during class.

“That would probably be the weakest part,” he said. “There is a chat there and you could send a message to everyone, but basically you have to concentrate on what the instructor is saying.”

Farmer suggested opening the chat for a bit before class and leave it open for a while after class.