by James Yellowlees, Ph.D.
Distance Learning, aided by technology, has its roots in countries such as the U.S., Canada and Australia where children living in remote areas had to be taught from a distance. This usually involved small planes delivering homework to a central “teacher” who would then mark the homework and send the new weekly lesson. It was not a good idea for either to be late, for it would mean the loss of a whole week of study.
In the 1970s, the implementation of fax machines, videos and cable television added speed and variety to the process in some regions. The 1980s ushered in the use of satellite television, a medium that was utilized by remote communities for education, the dissemination of community information and entertainment.
The widespread use of the Internet has brought e-learning to us and this is rapidly changing the education process. In many countries in North America, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere, e-learning has become both a supplement to the regular education system and a means for very busy people—and people without easy access to regular classrooms—to improve their qualifications and to gain certificates, diplomas and degrees.
In some universities in North America, a laptop computer is included in student tuition fees and homework assignments are posted on university Websites. Communication related to assignments is done by e-mail between the students and professors or teaching assistants.
In the U.S., an increasing number of professional people are gaining their MBA’s through e-learning. The number of institutions offering these and other degree programs and the course options are multiplying rapidly so it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what the best programs and courses are.
Corporate e-learning has also taken off rapidly. Technology for virtual classrooms has improved dramatically with the implementation of systems such as TeleSuite, which is currently the best system on the market. TeleSuite is used by Duke University for the delivery of executive programs for corporate clients and is utilized by the University of Arizona for delivering MBA programs for corporate clients.
It is done in a theater-like situation in which lecturer and students can see each other quite clearly and the connection is so solid that the images are seamless and not jerky, as is sometimes the case when teleconferencing technology is used.
Except for the higher end, and higher cost, solutions such as TeleSuite, e-learning to date has been mainly static so it has required a great deal of discipline and perseverance to complete course and degrees. The increased use of chat and other interactive features has helped in the process of making e-learning more interesting, interactive and accessible.
In Japan, until now, e-learning has been slow to take off, mainly because of the high cost of connectivity. The widespread and rapid proliferation of flat rate broadband presents corporate, institutional and individual e-learners with a much more interesting opportunity for continued learning.
With its greater connectivity speeds and bandwidth, broadband allows for the introduction of video streaming, more sophisticated chat functions and other features that help to make the e-learning experience more varied in terms of content, more accessible and less of a solitary activity.
The challenge then is to find the right system(s) to implement, for corporate and institutional user groups, and the most appropriate and accessible contents.
Here are some ideas for selecting the most appropriate education institutions/course providers:
(1) Legitimacy: E-learning has both legitimate and, let’s say, not-so legitimate content providers. Increasingly well-known universities throughout the world are offering both credit and non-credit courses. It is best to confirm whether the course provider is legitimate.
(2) Free Trials: Most e-learning institutions and organizations will allow you to take a trial course and to make visits to the various areas of the virtual campus, including the library and chat areas. If the institution/organization is unwilling to grant you this access, there may be a reason why: it may not actually exist.
(3) Counseling Support: Does the institution have proper counseling support or, after you have paid your tuition fees, do you just receive a text book and a “Good Luck” message?
(4) Technical Support: Some e-learning solutions require that special software be downloaded and deployed. Does the institution/organization provide proper support in this area, or are you left on your own?
(5) Instructors: Are the instructors and assistants for the courses qualified? Don’t hesitate to check.
(6) Course Contents: Are the course contents solid, unique and updated? The nature of e-learning allows for texts and course contents to be constantly updated in order to reflect advancements in the field of study. It is best to ensure that the institution/organization is keeping contents fully updated.
(7) Leading Edge-Accessible Technology: It is critical that e-learning solutions include leading edge technologies that are accessible to users.
(8) Small Steps: E-learning still involves a great deal of discipline. Start by taking one course and then gauge your capacity for handling more. Falling behind can be discouraging and lead to dropping out. A good institution/organization will advise you to do this.
For serious corporate or institutional e-learning users it is very important to create, license or purchase a proper learning environment; the number of options is increasingly rapidly. One interesting system to consider is Edunomics. It provides solutions called Rapid Knowledge Access (RKA) that is very good for language learning and Learning Organization Builder that is a good, stable, reasonably costed corporate solution.
Edunomics Executive Consultant Benjamin Porter notes that his group aims to make learning more efficient. Edunomics can be contacted by telephone at 5206-6845 in Tokyo and by fax at 5206-6846.
A number of solid and interesting e-learning options that are easily accessed, and sometimes supported in Japan, have emerged. Here are some of these:
The International Secondary School (ISS) provides a unique, supported e-learning alternative for junior high and high school students in its cozy Meguro School. Principal/ Director Allan Tsuda has been active in education in Japan since the early ’80s and has a strong interest in promoting international education alternatives in Japan.
“Some of our students don’t fit into the regular Japanese school system or the existing international schools,” he said. The ISS students study credit courses that are approved by the North Dakota Division of Independent Study and are supported by a number of specialized teachers in a live setting.
This format of supported e-learning and distance learning is essential for it to succeed in a method, especially for junior high and high school students.
The Gulf Islands School District in British Columbia Canada has taken the initiative of delivering British Columbia-based curriculum online in Japan. This initiative is being supported by the Japan operations of the Canadian Education Alliance and Global Daigaku.com.
According to Dr. Scott Bergstrome, the program director, the aim is to provide credit and non-credit courses to international schools in Japan and to Japanese public and private high schools. In addition, the online courses have been developed to prepare high school students in Japan for high school and post-secondary study in Canada or the U.S.
Gulf Islands International Education Program: Tel: (250) 537-9944, Ext. 203 Fax: (250) 537-9512.
The University of Southern New Hampshire (SNHU) began its Distance Education program in 1996 and now serves students in 23 time zones around the world. This distance education program supports more than 8,000 enrollments each year so it is able to deal with capacity. SNHU offers both undergraduate programs and graduate programs such as MBA’s. URL: www.snhu.edu.
The Liverpool John Moores University online program is managed by a leading British firm called Resource Development International Ltd. (RDI). The Masters in Business Studies (MBS) is a two-year program that covers International Business Issues, Information Management Issues and Management and Operations. RDI Managing Director John Holden noted that the number of students taking RDI online courses throughout the world is increasing dramatically.
RDI: Tel: 44 (0) 24 765 15700, Fax 44 (0) 24 765 15701, E-mail: [email protected] URL: www.rdi.co.uk.
It is estimated that the number of broadband users in Japan will multiply to 30 million in the next three years. Thus, it is possible that Japan will become the most wired nation on earth with affordable broadband by the year 2008. If this scenario does unfold as predicted, it bodes well for increasingly exciting opportunities for both users and suppliers of e-learning and distance learning.
James Yellowlees, Ph.D, is president of Global Daigaku.com, a leading Tokyo-based education / training firm.