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21 August 2020 | Stanisław Suchodolski

E-learning in higher education — how effective can it be?

Higher education has to be equal to nowadays demands and many challenges. Interesting craft courses, which are in many cases “good enough” to get an interesting job, decreasing the number of students, digitalization… Additionally, students are in a continuous rush, suffer from disturbance of attention. May e-learning be a cure?

I’ve checked opinions and discussions during the 5th Polish Conference Online Academy, which took place in Lodz, Poland. Then I compared them with my own experiences from working as a trainer (in e-learning and traditional ways).

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Traditional or online education?

We live in interesting times, looking for the best choices, opportunities, paths of development. Should we choose traditional or online methods of education? Most of the conference’s speakers at Online Academy (all academics) treat e-learning as an additional tool. It is a way to meet students in the extra time and space. In my everyday work for an international company, I have the opposite experience. E-learning is popular and the most often used way to train employees. Face to face courses are complicated to manage — companies are worldwide, knowledge from a specific area is hardly available in all countries. Developing online training may be easier to produce and to adopt by employees. For international companies, e-learning is not an option to choose, it is the only reasonable choice. It is a must-have.

Everyday chooses

During one of the speeches, dr Stefan Nowicki (University of Wrocław) said that choosing the accurate training method is a daily problem. Let’s compare it with choosing the perfect outfit — we have the whole wardrobe, but only a few clothes are adequate for the occasion. Experience, social knowledge, understanding of listeners’ needs, and capabilities can help us to choose wisely. Knowledge about advantages and losses connected with particular training methods is crucial while selecting the right one.

E-learning honeypots

A common belief about online training says about their monotony, unification, and lack of visual attraction. Sometimes those objections are true, but they aren’t applicable to all courses. Companies developing e-learning training can offer a wide range of tools and solutions: interactive videos, animations, simulations, quizzes, storytelling, and so on.
But, be aware, too many attracting elements may be an ambush. Dr. Kamila Szymańska (University of Łódź) warn against multiplying appeals. In consequence, important information may be cannibalized by distractions. Animated pop-up, calls to interaction, colorful background, and task to do on the same slide… can cause a headache. People have limited attention, so the balance of forms and incentives is more than required.
There are also other factors, destructive for the course’s effectiveness. One of the main is time. Even interactive and interesting training may cause fatigue if it is too long. Second, using too many fun factors. Of course, showing information in the curious form is usually helpful, but finding a happy medium is crucial.
An effective way of teaching includes elements of problem-solving, no matter if it is on-line or off-line. Thanks to that, we change an attitude from “here you have information to remember” to “here you have the task, use your knowledge to resolve it”. According to dr Ola Majchrzak (University of Humanities and Economics in Lodz), this is an attitude that should be applicable in the near future.

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash

Language of technology as a native teaching language?

What are the practical examples of using e-learning in academic teaching? One of the ways, based on video materials, was showed by dr Marek Małolepszy (Lodz University of Technology). He uses video tutorials to help students with mathematical equations. Tutorials show the method step by step. It is enriched with comments and allows us to pause or reverse it at any moment. It is not the way to override traditional classes but may be a great help after them, especially to develop skills and repeat material.
Conference raised plenty of curious topics, but one of them seems to be especially interesting: how to encourage students to ask questions during the lessons? Young people suffer from a lack of courage in public situations. It is hard for them to take over an initiative and, even, ask the questions. Moreover, this observation applies more in later stages of education, children from pre-schools and primary education (especially classes 1–3) seem to be more open.
The solution is about using the language of youth, which may also mean the language of technology. Nowadays generations — Millenials, Z’s and Alfas are gaining knowledge in completely different ways than even X’s. Teaching methods succeeded a few years ago, are not effective any longer. The knowledge is commonly available, you only need to take your smartphone to dive in. Lectures from quantum physics lay near tutorials about baking rainbow cake or how to do a perfect “zombie make-up”. All of those are the e-learning methods.
Most time, the personal phone sticks to the hand of its user, it’s even hard to leave it during a small walk, shopping, or other activities. Education should be just like that — mobile, available and handy. Otherwise, it neither be useful nor effective.
It also should be up to date, cross-technological. Dr. Wieslaw Przybyła (University of Humanities and Economics in Lodz) quoted his son, who said: “dad, writing on paper is creepy today”. This statement is a wonderful illustration of the needs and convictions of younger generations.
Dr. Krzysztof Wojewodzic (ESCOLA S.A.) claimed that not only handwriting but also typing begins to be outdated. People are using voice notes and nowadays solutions using Virtual or Augmented Reality (VR and AR) are reducing the paperwork. In education as well as in production lines the trend is to expedite the workflow and every process. Using voice commands or voice notes is also visible in projects using IoT and it will be growing in the future.

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Photo by Katya Austin on Unsplash

Let’s take a look on a bright side

Dr. Kamila Lasocińska (University of Humanities and Economics in Lodz) spoke about more and more popular storytelling, which uses interesting stories to educate. The idea is not new — people are interested in gossips or fun facts. The world was explained by the legends from ancient times. Using interesting stories engages emotions, which may be helpful in the process of remembering. The important thing is not to stop on the story, but follow it with comment or exercise. Rethinking it lets listeners to find a solution, inspire to experiment or other things, programed by a teacher.
Nowadays, education has to face many challenges. Luckily, it also may use multiple tools and solutions allowing to win the fight for the students’ attention and engagement.

Marlena Momot
Transition Technologies — Managed Services