Oyehmi. T. Begho BSc (Hons), QTS, MA, MBCS, MCPN

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AN OLD AGENDA FORMS A NEW ALLIANCE

E-Learning + Web 2.0 + Mobile technology = E-learning 2.0

Abstract. This article is an epigrammatic look into how new and emerging e-learning technologies can help improve the present, poor acquisition of knowledge and information within educational and business sectors in Nigeria.

We’ll be taking a brief look into the history of e-learning, how the web2.0 phenomena, in particular social networking

, has influenced e-learning and led to an ever growing synergy between online social communities and virtual learning environments. Lastly, we will look at what has caused its slow uptake in developed and developing countries.

Many research findings show that e-learning has reached a greater level of maturity over the past few year and has become feature rich but also socially aware. The benefits of employing such technology in both the educational and business sector in a developing country, such as Nigeria, would have a tremendous affect on the learners and workers of the next generation. 

The most prolific change will be seen in knowledge acquisition between the “have and the have nots”; Once deprived university students will now be able to study the same course material as a student in Harvard or MIT. Small businesses will be able to train employees at a fraction of the cost, attain a higher level of efficiency and provide customer services of the same standard as corporate firms.

Critical success factor for a successful e-learning deployment vary in importance from organisation to organisation and from country to country. At present Nigeria’s biggest problem its poor infrastructure but the use and increased availability of mobile devices, if used strategically, might be able to give it the start it desperately needs.

This notwithstanding, adopting such technologies without taking into due consideration our lack of technical expertise, sociocultural predispositions compared to those in more prominent research studies and our use of a very traditional pedagogical approach, will still most likely lead to failure.

Awareness, strategic planning, change management, skill assessment and/training, adapting vs. adopting and a renewed focus on accessibility and infrastructure have been highlighted as key elements needed to truly harness e-learning’s full potential in Nigeria’s development..

 Introduction

For the purpose of this article we will be using the term e-learning in its widest context thus expanding the paradigm of what e-learning is perceived by many to embrace.

E-learning is the acquisition and use of knowledge distributed and facilitated primarily by electronic means. This form of learning currently depends on networks and computers but will likely evolve into systems consisting of a variety of channels (e.g., wireless, satellite), and technologies (e.g., cellular phones, PDA’s) as they are developed and adopted. E-learning can take the form of courses as well as modules and smaller learning objects. E-learning may incorporate synchronous or asynchronous access and may be distributed geographically with varied limits of time.

(Wentling, T.L., Waight, C., Gallaher, J., La Fleur, J., Wang, & C., Kanfer, A. (2000) p.5)

Over the last two decades technology has moved forward in leaps and bounds, especially in the development of web based applications, from buying and selling goods online to learning a second language. Some countries have embraced this shift whole heartedly, backing initiative after initiative, setting up structured plans and policies, while others have sadly been left running on the treadmill trying desperately to catch up. Unfortunately, it can still be said that in many countries, developed and developing, that the educational sector has been much slower to adopt these emerging technologies than in other areas.

The poor performance or slow uptake in the educational sector has been accounted to various reasons ranging from lack of basic ICT skill, perception of usefulness (or uselessness) to the already, widely publicised, dismal track record of electronic educational instruction, thus putting users off before they have even begun. Many say this medium has been plagued with disappointment and failure from its very inception. Whether this was caused by the unattainable hype or lack of knowledge of such new technologies is still cause for debate. Unfortunately, one thing remains certain; it was not meeting the needs of the end user, especially within educational institutes.

The history of technology in the classroom is one of cycles of exaggerated promises, highly publicised installations with committed teachers, and masterful and inventive excuses for why the promises went unfulfilled.
(VENEZKY, 2004. p1)

The above remark astutely sums up the thoughts of many but even so it is still undeniable the huge impact these technologies have had on the world economy, corporate management, globalization trends and our ordinary day to day working life.

 

E-Learning : The beginning of a journey
One of the very first documented experiences of the use of technology in mass learning was in the early 1940s, but its introduction was not into the classroom as we know it but into military bases all around the United States in preparation for World War II. The US military were using TV and videos to train the troops in various tasks ranging from personal hygiene to weapon maintenance (Rosenberg 2001, p20). Due to these efforts, which had demonstrated great potential in this medium, research continued. Thomas Edison even proclaimed that, due to the invention of film that," Our school system will be completely changed in the next ten years" (Saettler, 1968, p. 68).

Unfortunately this dramatic change has yet to occur, even though it has been used in numerous areas. Many critics say it was inherently flawed due to its lack of interactivity and thus abandoned. It was this emphatic lust for interactivity that renewed the efforts in the research of computer based training (CBT). 
The first true drill and practice-based integrated learning systems (ILS) evolved from Skinner's (1968) mechanical programmed instruction teaching machines. And with the advent of the personal computer and its increased popularity and widespread use developers believed they had reached a turning point but unfortunately this was not the case. With the differences in hardware, software, programming languages and other incompatibility problems its widespread use came at a very expensive cost and cost then as in today’s society plays a dominant factor in the success or failure of a product. 

Another glimmer of hope came about in the 80s with the invention of the CD Rom but with the speed of changing information that small glimmer of hope was fading very quickly. Even with the advancements in the 70s and 80s using learning psychology, which has became widely integrated into days advancing educational technology (Reiser, 2001), could not produce the amount of interactivity many required and needed at that time. It has been stated in many papers that users found these practice and drill exercises quite monotonous and boring (Rosenberg 2001, p23).

Then along came the internet, the origins of which can be traced all the way back to World War II where voice-communication laboratories were used in the creation of the first Internet prototype originally known as ARPANET in the 1969. This prototype was first used widely by educationist and researchers in universities. Other computing networks started appearing in the 70s and once again with the help of the military pushing the use of standardized protocol (TCP/IP) as originally used by ARPANET these networks where connected together creating a “network of networks”. With the introduction of a hypertext transfer protocol know as http the internet now offered the user the ability to display graphics, sound and animation. From this point web base learning took off and many believed that it had the capacity to provide the level of interactivity that everyone had been waiting for but Ravet and Layte (1997) preferred to use the term activity rather than “Interactivity” since they believed that “the internet still offers only a poor level of interaction based on the click, response and yes, no answer of it’s CBT predecessors.” The fact that with this technology learners can learn at any time, anywhere, and at their own pace (Roffe, 2000; Hudson, 1999) is an undeniable advantage but still does not meet the aforementioned hype too many expected.

As technology has improved over the last couple of years considerable advances have been made and these have lead to what one might call the evolution of e-learning. From the early CBT and instructional type training to Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Managed Learning Environments (MLEs) and now Personalised Learning Environments (PLEs). In their development greater attention and research has also been paid into how we learn or should we say “how we learn best” online. This has been an ongoing continuum from behaviourism, cognitivism to constructionism and social constructivism methodologies.

Many researchers are of the opinion that constructivism, which is based on the idea that "learning is a constructive process and that learners do not passively receive information but instead actively construct knowledge as they strive to make sense of their worlds." Cobb (1996, in Constructivism and Learning) is an ideal pedagogy for e-learning as it both draws upon the strengths of the medium and best overcomes it weaknesses. 

E-Learning 2.0: Same name but a whole new personality

The next phase in E-learning’s illustrious journey came about in the latter part of 2004. It was so subtle that those not paying close enough attention might have easily missed it. This particular phase, unlike it predecessors, was not necessarily driven by developers or researchers but instead by commercial technologies and end users themselves and what this generation might call social software. Enter Web 2.0.

The term or use of this word was first coined by Dermot McCormack in his book titled Web 2.0: 2003-'08 AC (After Crash) in 2003 and later popularised by Tim O'Reilly; the founder of O’Reilly media at a brainstorming session with Dale Dougherty. A common misnomer at the time was that web 2.0 was some form of application or technological advancement that would be coupled with the already existing web. Far from being the case, many of the applications in question had been in existence for years. In simple terms, Web 2.0 encapsulates the idea of the proliferation of interconnectivity and interactivity of web-delivered content, through the use of blogging, taggings, wikis, video etc. There are roulghly six ideas that form the bases of web 2.0. These range from individual production and user generated content to architecture of participation and network effects.

Regardless of the overarching rhetoric surrounding this, the discussions and debates caused by the appendage 2.0 have helped to highlight the significance of application over application (how these softwares are applied vs the software itself); as stated earlier most of these so called “new applications” have been available for quite some time, but it is how these individual applications come together and are now being used collectively that has allowed us to finally harness their true potential. As we all know good craftsmanship does not lie just in the quality of the tools.

One of the first websites to take advantage of this merging of technologies was Live Journal which was established in 1999 and was a place that users could keep blogs, journal or diaries. After a couple of years a deluge of different branded sites touting new services and applications came out, each trying to enrich the users experience even more than the previous but only a handful really stood out in the cyber crowd. Enter Myspace, Youtube and Facebook; the three musketeers.

Other examples included Flickr (photographs) and Odeo (podcasts). These popular services take the idea of the ‘editable’ Web, where users are not just consumers but active contributors and play a big part in the production of content. Literally millions of people now participate in the sharing and exchange of these forms of media by producing their own blogs, podcasts, videos and photos.

Slowly but surely the educationist sat up and started paying closer attention. This added interconnectivity and interactivity began the transition of how people interacted with content and one another online dramatically. From a static content environment where end users were the recipients of information to one where they are active content creators, facilitators and collaborators marked this turning point and e-learning 2.0 (as coined by Stephen Downes) was born or should we say redressed.

Businesses have not been left out; many of the areas relating to training and knowledge transferral have also been transformed but are less well documented.


Convergence of Web 2.0 and Learning platforms

 

 

Fig. 1 E-Learning 2.0 Diagram

It would be practically impossible to find a Virtual Learning Environment without these “social learning” features. Those companies that do not have them already, or have not updated, are most likely out of business or hawking their sub-standard goods to unbeknown third world countries.

The table below gives a rough guide to the growing similarity of “Social learning” and “Social networking” tools.


Comparison table of some common features

VLE (Moodle) / Facebook

 

Moodle Facebook Description
Profile Profile Area for user to enter there personal details and interests
Email Email Internal communication tool
Instant Chat Instant Chat allows participants to have a real-time synchronous discussion via the web
Notice Board Wall to Wall Sharing messages with a particular group of people
Forums Discussions Discussion based application with different formats to fit the topic
Theme selector Editable Personalisation
Latest activity on site Latest activity by friends On moodle this shows any activity/changes made to the course or site by the facilitator. On facebook it shows any changes made by friends.
Shared Resources Shared videos / pictures etc Ability to share media
Ajax Ajax Customisation, ability to drag and drop
Courses Groups This is a collection of people
Choice Polls Simple / short survey type tool
Blogs Blogs blog (a contraction of the term weblog) are simple webpage of regular entries of text, graphic, video etc.
Wiki Wiki A Wiki enables documents to be authored collectively in a simple mark-up language using a web browser. The Moodle Wiki module enables participants to work together on web pages to add, expand and change the content. Old versions are never deleted and can be restored.
Participants Friends Those users that are in a group or have been given permission to communicate with one another
Test Quiz Online test/quiz

 


Even now there are still some reservations as to their use within the educational arena, especially from a legal perspective (security and abuse of chat rooms, copyright issues etc). Arguments have arisen in regards to the convergence of these two worlds but as some have stated this by no means contradicts good practices, in fact this is reflected in many of the present learning theory, especially social constructivism.

Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice which is a summary of 50 years of educational research that addressed good teaching and learning practices, has provided us with a solid starting point for evaluating online course design. It also enables designers from the offset to associate online activities and tools with good practice. Below is a brief review of these practices in relation to online learning environments.


The seven principles

1. Encourages contact between students and faculty 
Interaction between participants and the instructor is a must to keep up and sustain motivation and involvement. Instructors can achieve this by playing an active monitoring role within the system. Online messages boards and internal communication support this.

2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students 
Sharing ideas and working as a team greatly encourages participation and enhances the learning process and depends understanding much more so than isolated study.
Good learning as with good work is not competitive and isolated. Setting up communities within e-learning and group tasks further enhance this.

3. Encourages active learning 
Learners must play an active role in their learning. They must have opportunity to discuss their work, write about it and relate it to their own experiences. Assignments are also a necessary.

4. Gives prompt feedback 
Students need appropriate feedback on the work/assignments that they have carried out to gain any real benefit from the course. Suggestions from the instructor and their peers are a great aid to this. Students need the opportunity to reflect on what they have learnt to know how they will be assessed.

5. Emphasizes time on task 
Participants need help learning time management skills by being give a specific time structure for completion of tasks. This will ultimately produce effective learning for students teaching for instructors. Courses can be given deadline where hey are automatically closed, reminds can be sent periodically.

6. Communicates high expectations 
Having high expectations usually produces high outcomes. This is still often the case with those less able and motivated who are encouraged to make that extra effort.

7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning 
The environment should provide the participant the chance to acquire knowledge and learn through his or her own preferred style. Due to the multifaceted nature of e-learning the use of hyperlinks, video, sound etc support learning style to a greater degree than its face to face equivalent.

So education now has its own version of Facebook. Going by online usage statistics this might finally mean the ultimate success formula for e-learning. Unfortunately this is not to be the case. Why? The answer might lay in the fact that other critical success factors that have not shared the same limelight still exist and play a vital role, even more so now, in holding the chain together.

Critical Success Factors
By definition critical success factors are any elements, event, dependency, or other factor that, if not attained, would seriously impair the likelihood of achieving an organizational or project objective. The most dominate ones are know as critical success factors. Having a clear understanding of the implications of technical infrastructure required by an e-learning project is essential to a successful strategy. The effectiveness of this strategy will also rely on pinpointing the sociocultural issues that will affect individuals' willingness and ability to use the technology, skill development for key stakeholders, work practices, learning environments and strategic initiatives to support and promote VLE usage (Wands & Le Blanc 2001).

A survey carried out by e-learning Magazine published the following results:
Summary: 53% say lack of bandwidth is a major challenge to e-learning. 51% say “cultural resistance is a barrier to e-learning, and 39% say lack of interaction.”

Sectors Critical Success Factors
Corporation/Company users say:  Bandwidth 58%Cultural resistance 42%Lack of interaction 42%Lack of engaging content 34%Measuring ROI 33%Firewalls 22%No standards 13%Browser problems 10% 
Government/Military users say:  Cultural resistance 71%Bandwidth 64%Lack of interaction 42%Firewalls 20%Measuring ROI 16%Lack of engaging content 13%Browser problems 13%No standards 13% 
Higher Education users say:  Cultural resistance 63%Bandwidth 44%Lack of interaction 30%Browser problems 22%Lack of engaging content 19%Firewalls 19%No standards 15%Measuring ROI 7% 


Source: e-learning Magazine User Survey, 2001

What must be noted from the above is that for each area/organisation the critical success factors may differ slightly so it is important to first analyse the environment in which e-learning is to be embedded. This is an area critical to Nigeria’s chances of any kind of successful implementation. Our technical issues are paramount but we will find that there are many other issues that need just as much focus to ensure sustainability, for instance, resistance by lecturers to give up their resources, which up until now have been an extra source of income. This in itself would mean immediate failure if not address properly as a VLE is just a medium through which learning content is conveyed. Without content there can be no learning.

Unfortunately, not much research has been carried out regarding the cultural acceptance of these new and emerging technologies by organisations in developing countries. It has been argued that e-Learning requires a major cultural change to be successful (Bates, 2000) most researchers agree that understanding the culture of the organisation and adapting the e-learning strategy to fit that cultural environment is more likely to lead to success (Lea 2003; Newton, Ellis & Hase 2001; Rogers 1995). From this point it is therefore essential for greater research to be carried out regarding change management and organisational change in our particular environment.


The problem of lack of good internet access is not synonymous to Nigeria, in fact there are parts of America and Europe where access was not sufficient enough for their users needs so they looked at different initiatives to help bridge this gap. One of them called the Learning2Go initiative is currently the largest collaborative mobile learning project for pupils in the UK. The initiative, co-ordinated by the e-Services team of Wolverhampton City Council, showed how successfully mobile learning can be used to give students’ access to ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning. Learning2Go is developing new ways of delivering exciting and motivating learning both in and beyond school.


Phase 1 of the initiative began in 2003 with 120 mobile devices in four schools. During phase 2 of the project, launched in the second half of the autumn term 2005, more than 1000 pupils and their teachers in 18 schools were involved. Phase three began in October 2006 with an additional 1000 devices across all Key Stages. Phase Four 2008 saw a further rollout of over 1500 devices. This last phase included devices rolled out within the "Computers for Pupils" initiative and the national MoLe Net scheme.

Another large scale project in mobile education to date set out to help nearly 10,000 students throughout Yorkshire to assess their own competencies via their mobile phones and related handheld devices. The Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings project (ALPS) aimed to ensure that the graduates, studying sixteen different subjects from a wide range of health and social care courses, had the skills needed to be effective in the workplace.

Learning development specialist MyKnowledgeMap (MKM), T-Mobile, and mobile software specialist ecommnet provided the online infrastructure to support ALPS, a partnership among the Universities of Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Leeds Metropolitan, as well as York St John University College.

These are just two examples out of 32 widely documented UK projects (http://www.molenet.org.uk/projects/2007projlist/index.aspx) for the year 2007/2008 and the numbers are increasing every year.

A few m-learning projects in Africa have already been set up in collaboration with foreign universities or organizations. These projects include:

• The Dunia Moja Project -- "one world" in Swahili -- is a pilot project offering classes via cellphone. It was created in collaboration between Stanford univeristy and three partner universities in Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa.
• MELFA - A Danish – South African initiative offering Mobile solutions or Literacy Training and Skills Development. - http://www.melfaproject.net
• Wildlive! was launched in the UK in 2003, and then across Europe in 2004, and adopted a combined web-and WAP-approach, meaning that it provided conservation content on the Internet and mobile phones.
• Originally developed for the Indian market, Freedom HIV/AIDS was launched on World AIDS Day, 2005, and sought to use mobile phones to take HIV/AIDS education to the masses. A number of games were de¬veloped including “Penalty Shootout” and “Mission Messenger”. The games, originally developed for the Indian market, have been translated into a number of African languages.

 

Conclusion

In Nigeria’s present state of a growing recession, degrading education system and sharp cut in cost and expenditure, there are many reasons to take a good hard look at e-learning, regardless of the hype or rhetoric spawn by its proponents and commercial vendors.

E-Learning has greatly matured over the last couple of years and many valuable lessons have been learnt along the way. Our late adoption of this technology to some degree has saved us from a laborious and expensive journey. But our journey must begin now before it is too late. When put into context adopting e-learning at this time would be of a much greater benefit to us (Nigeria) than compared to that of any developed country. E-learning can provide Nigerian business employees and students with anywhere, anytime accessibility to training/learning material. This will allow them to incorporate learning when it is convenient for them, at home, in school or in the office. With the structure of present education system and traditional teaching methods this would have been practically impossible.


Under the right circumstances access to education would become available to a more widespread geographical placed population; participants can come from many different backgrounds thus bringing a wider variety of knowledge, skills and experiences to the learning arena. This will also be made possible due to substantial cost savings eliminated as a result of less travel.


Other reasons for adoption include higher retention of training or course material, better interactivity between students and students and teachers. Training Magazine reported that technology-based training has proven to have a 50–60% better consistency of learning than traditional classroom learning and with our growing lack of skilled qualified teachers and failing students this can only be seen as an affordance.


In the recent Secondary School Certificate Examinations, 14 per cent of the pupils that sat for the last examinations passed and a whopping 86 per cent failed in one degree. We have an emergency - if indeed the leaders of tomorrow are to emerge. (Vanguard 24 October 2008)


This epidemic failure of our education system is no longer a debate; it is now a well known publicised fact. Higher education fairs no better. Hundreds of thousands of student leave every year with below standard levels of literacy and numeracy skills. As can be seen by the statement below, funding or lack there of, is a major issue behind this poor state of affairs.


Nigeria has, up till, now refused to comply with the UNESCO recommendation that at least 26 percent of every country’s annual budget be spent on education. She spends less than 7 percent of her budget on education. Botswana spends 19.0 percent; Swaziland, 24.6; Lesotho, 17.0; South Africa, 25.8; Cote d’Ivoire, 30.0; Burkina Faso, 16.8; Ghana, 30.0; Kenya, 23.0; Uganda, 27.0; Tunisia, 17.0; and, Morocco, 17.7 percent.
(Okecha , October 2008 )

A glimmer of hope shines through with the growing telecommunications revolution. The mobile phone is starting to look like a favourable medium that may help kick start e-learning revolution on a wider scale. More and more people have access to a mobile phones, thus have access to information hosted on the Internet, which means that they the opportunity to participate in m-learning / e-learning programs.


Accessibility and infrastructure are without a doubt our main problems, so as we spend time resolving them let us use technology prevalent around us to support this transition. Standing still on this e-learning treadmill is just as bad as walking backwards. It is time be innovative, Nigeria’s future can be online or continue to be on the line. Our next move is an important one.

 

Bibliography

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2. RICHARD L. VENEZKY (2004), University of Delaware, USA
Technology in the Classroom: steps toward a new vision
Education, Communication & Information, Vol. 4, No. 1, March 2004

3. Creating an African Virtual Community College: Issues and Challenges by Osei K. Darkwa and Steve Eskow, First Monday, volume 5, number 11 (November 2000),URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_11/darkwa/index.html
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6. Goodyear, P. (2001). Effective Networked Learning in Higher Education: Notes and guidelines. Lancaster: Centre for Advanced Learning Technology, University of Lancaster.

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Keywords. E-Learning, Mobile Learning, Mobile applications, Web 2.0

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