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   Distance learning, e-learning


Drawing upon distance learning as a personal qualification resource increases constantly. People of all ages and educational backgrounds, often living far from conventional educational centers and / or with difficulties to access these centers, must resort to these methods to complete or complement their personal educational needs, and also companies and other organizations are interested in distance learning to raise staff qualification.

Though distance learning has existed for many years (at least for most of the XX century), the development in computer and communication technologies offers a very interesting vector to render the distant students access to instructors and cognitive materials more efficient and comfortable.



The great challenge to computer assisted learning is rendering it as efficient as high quality private face to face instruction.
 


In spite of the massive involvement of multimedia and communication technology in the current distance learning setting, conventional education is perceived as better organized and more clearly presented than distance learning.

The primary goal of distance learning is student success.

Current research focuses on the fundamental element to reach this goal: the projection of instruction itself, not only adapting the already known and traditionally used methods, but also creating and developing resources that reduce and overcome the instructor - student distance.


Anyway, there are two very important actors in this process, that must try themselves to search the best method to get to, not only in communicating at the human level, but also in developing their respective roles: instructor and student.

Analyzing and valuing these roles, today more than ever it becomes evident that the equilibrium between these roles is not only re-stabilizing, but that this re-stabilization re-qualifies both of them:

the distant student is more responsible for his own learning, it is he who learns;


and the distant instructor assumes a not less important role, but with different attributes: facilitates learning, the facilitator.

 

The distance student: This distance instructor:

somehow isolated, in spite of all communication resources (WEB, e-mail, videoconference) that by themselves do little more than presenting information, must develop the ability of learning by himself, and to search, personalize and adapt to himself the informational / cognitive resources rendered available in the course framework.

More than what someone could teach him, since any personalization of the instructional message is very limited at the source, the student himself - while learning - must learn how to learn, specialize in learning.

The results of this strategy are not only educational, but also economical, in the short and long term.

  besides his scientific background, must be well trained in using and exploiting all properties of the new media, that ranges from videoconference (must be able to smile at the camera, to repeat questions, and transmit good humor) to use at best the digital learning technologies.

But, is he a facilitator or an expert?

 

 

 

Aspects that determine distance learning success:
Students meaningfully benefit from a detailed syllabus with the corresponding presentation scheme, with the possibility of taking notes in structured mode, with interactive guides, using graphics and multimedia, customized to the environment and students.
Information packaging and presentation, simple or complex, in a direct and easily perceptible mode.

All of this determines the need of a careful and detailed planning, new tools and methods for the delivery of course contents.

Maximum effectiveness in distance learning is obtained with cognitive interfaces.

Learning requires motivation, planning and the ability to analyze and apply the information that has been taught.
 

In distance learning, the student situation is even more complex and demanding regarding that of any other student, for several reasons:
 

Most distant students are older, have jobs and family and must coordinate these different concurrent areas, including also free time and studies.

The distant student has several reasons to take these courses. Some students are interested in a grade to qualify for a better job, some take these courses to extend their education without the need of a grade, or for social reasons or company interests.

In distance learning the student is usually isolated. Factors arising from contact with other students do not exist. The distant student lacks the instructor immediate support, that would also be able to motivate him, and if necessary, give special attention to real needs and difficulties that arise during study.

Distant students and their instructors have little in common regarding background and common experiences, and therefore more time is required to establish a student-instructor relationship. Without direct contact, students might not like their instructors, and feel uncomfortable with their own student situations.

In distance learning, technology is typically the conduct through which all information and communication flows. While instructors and students do not feel comfortable with the information transfer system, communication will be inhibited.

 

The development of learning in distant students
At the beginning, students might have trouble to determine the course requirements, because they do not have their peers' support, nor simple access to the instructor o familiarity with the technology that is being used for the distance course delivery. They may feel insecure about themselves and about their learning. Experience and research results demonstrate that students that are not confident about their learning, tend to concentrate in memorization of facts and details to solve assignments and pass the exams. The frequent outcome is that they end with a limited understanding of course material.

This memorization of facts and details results in a superficial approach to learning, that is expressed as follows:

Focus on signs (the texts and the instruction itself).

Memorization of information and test procedures.

Thoughtless association of concepts and facts.

Failure in distinguishing principles from evidence, or new information from old.

Consider assignments as something imposed by the instructor.

Internal emphasis focused in assignments and exams, that leads to knowledge isolated from real life.

 

Distant students need to be more selective and focused on their learning to be able to really learn new information, to convert in real knowledge the information received. The learning approach must lead from superficial approach to deep approach:

 

Focus on what is meaningful.

Relate and distinguish new ideas from previous knowledge.

Relate new concepts and instructive material to daily life.

Relate and distinguish evidence from arguments. Organize and structure contents.

Clarify and systemize what has been learned. The distant student has a greater need of reflection on what he is studying. He needs to examine his current conceptual structure, and how it evolves and changes with new information / knowledge.

The strategic node of distance learning

There are not any magic solutions to bridge the evident gap in cognitive communication between the instructor and distant students, not even those coming from distinguished paternities (in which often the most important is the name), neither a technology that could by itself solve the problem, that is not precisely of electronic communication technology (though it is very important) .

Most currently used methods adapt traditional resources (text and multimedia, with its natural closure) to the available communication facilities, that have evolved much more.

The need arises for a technology that enables the instructor to present the distant student the necessary course information organized, disposed and formatted to overcome the limitations of traditional vectors, to alleviate the need of the instructor's presence and to speed up the learning process interactively. The values of active learning are not important only at school, but also in higher levels, and even more so in distance learning.
This way, an integral solution (that may also be integrated with other technologies) is offered by Conceptual Knowledge Bases

The ease in presenting information (or knowledge) to transfer with little instructor effort, in the human memory format, the format in which the mind stores and manages knowledge, renders information more learnable than text and self-existing multimedia and enables the distant student, simply, to reflect and adapt that information to his particular knowledge state: this implies the real and direct personalization of the cognitive message.

Conceptual Knowledge Bases have all the essential features for distance learning:

Ease of use for both parts, the instructor and the student.

The graphical and spatial knowledge representation, in the human memory format, a formidable development of concept maps / semantic networks.

May besides be integrated with process, cause - effect and even law or vocabulary, or any other type of standard diagrams.

A more rational and logical use of multimedia support.

The ability to personalize the "knowledge" to be transferred, by the instructor or the student himself.

CKB have all the necessary functionality to enable direct student adaptation and reflection.

May be used as a mean for qualitative / quantitative assessment.

May be naturally e-mailed (or placed in the WEB) for the dialog instructor - student, for collaborative analysis of the geographically disperse group of students, to share ideas in the most explicit language to comment and criticize the maps of the peers, to share ideas at knowledge level.

The development of joint projects is eased and stimulated.

 

A byproduct of this kind of learning activity -maybe more important than the product, it is, than learning itself - is that the student develops the learning ability, acquires the difficult methods of autonomous learning, information management, searching and researching.
This is an aspect that valorizes people and is a feature that most companies consider a necessary employee requirement.

 

The use of these technologies settles the basis for a very important learning mode:lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning requires, besides powerful cognitive tools, also the development of personal learning skills, and of mastering its methods.

 

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