Think of e-learning and you probably envision students using computers to take online classes. But online learning can be much more than simply studying on a laptop in a dorm room. Today's e-earning tools go beyond computers to include MP3 players, podcasts, blogs and more. Let's see how these forms of e-learning technology are being used.
Net generation students are well versed in technology, often arriving on campus adept at communicating by text message, e-mail and message board and armed with laptops, MP3 players, smartphones and PDAs. Many have years of experience with online social networks, blogging and downloading music and video. They're looking to apply their technology and skills to learning, and schools are finding ways to meet those needs with online courses and hybrids that bring new technology to traditional teaching.
Yes, these students can take online classes on their personal computers, but they also can:
- Download podcasts of course lectures and professors' audio study notes to their PDAs, smartphones or MP3 players to review wherever and whenever they have time.
- Check and copy information from the professor's daily or weekly blog, including the course syllabus, assignment changes, study notes and other important information.
- E-mail or text message study partners to set up study sessions and get answers to each other's questions about the material they're studying.
- Send instant messages to professors with quick questions or to set up a time to talk more extensively by phone.
- Log in to an online forum or visit a private chat room to discuss the topics being studied with the professor and other students in the class.
- Take notes, photos or video with an iPod or smartphone during lab experiments or in the field to use later as part of papers, presentations or test preparation.
- Bring work home from campus, share information for a collaborative project or submit a project to a professor with a USB flash drive.
- Buy and use educational software available for PDAs to review the subject they're studying.
- Complete written, video or presentation assignments and hand them in via e-mail to the professor.
- Log in with a secure password to check their ongoing grades in each course.
Students are well versed in the mobile technology that has become part of e-learning, while professors know the subject matter well but are less experienced with new technology. The challenge for colleges and universities is bringing the two together. And students may be the more ready group.
A 2006 study of students and faculty at the University of Texas at Brownsville University found that, based on the mobile devices they owned and how they used them, 94 percent of the students surveyed -- but only 60 percent of surveyed faculty -- were ready for mobile learning.
The researchers used the definition of mobile learning as the intersection of mobile computing (the application of small, portable and wireless computing and communication devices) and e-learning. They predicted increased emphasis on mobile learning and urged professors to work e-learning elements into even traditional courses, starting by making content and information accessible from students' computers and phones [source: EDUCAUSE].
As the Net Generation graduates and as technology advances, e-learning is finding a home beyond schools and on campuses. Through Web conferences and Web seminars, for example, companies are using e-learning to train employees, keep stakeholders aware of company initiatives and help consumers learn to use the products they've bought.
For more information about e-learning and related topics, check out the links on the next page.