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Learning just a mouse click away

E-learning is an internet driven learning. It facilitates learning and upgrading ones education and skills at any point in his career with freedom of location and time for teachers and students. The need to reduce cost for upgrading individual's skills is the driving force that is popularizing E-learning. E-learning is learning anything, anywhere and anytime.

The world of ‘e’ is evolving. Steadily and not so slowly, PC and the Net are affecting every aspect of our life, learning included. Though it would be too early to say that e-learning has already taken the world of education by storm yet the fact that e-learning is toddling into the realms of coaching can’t simply be ignored.

Learning in the e-era is predictably just a mouse click away. E-learning has transformed the traditional premise of educational theorists. A global academic village is in the making. Education is a function of communication and the Internet is the best tool of communication that mankind has ever seen. Without fantasising about the kind of shape that the Internet will take, it can be safely assumed that the Internet is where the education will happen. E-learning is here to stay.

Breaking conventions

E-learningis changing the conventional mode of imparting education. It has removed boundaries and timelines, cut costs and increased availability & choice. Emergence of Internet has facilitated growth of Learning Management Systems . E-learningshares the concept of distance learning with speed of internet. Open University , UK , was the pioneering institute in this field. They have been around for nearly four decades and most ventures in India are modeled around them.

It reduces training time by as much as 50 percent on the same subject and decreases time-to-market of new skills globally. More courseware is available at significantly less costs. It has been noticed there is a 25 percent to 50 percent higher retention of knowledge due to e-learning.

E-learning simulations are being seen as the next big thing in learning. Simulation-based learning is second nature to the new generation brought up on a diet of play stations, videogames and multimedia.

Spread in Asia

Asia is widely viewed as the world's emerging hot spot for higher education, with demand for universities growing in direct proportion to rising living standards. This growth brings challenges that analysts believe can be met only by e-learning.

Asia is home to nearly half the world's students. This number is predicted to rise from 17 million in 1995 to 87 million by 2020. Demand will be vast in the world's two most populous nations, China and India. By 2020, China will be unable to supply the 20 million university places required to meet the needs of its developing economy, and by 2015 India will struggle to supply a needed 9 million places. Demand will far exceed the capacity of the global education industry to provide enrolments.

India: Global hub for e-learning

E-learning in India has come a long way since 1992, when it was launched in India. Industry experts believe that we are in the third generation of e-learning, where e-learning is about knowledge management. It is no longer about providing content over the internet and evaluating students through assignments. Learning through the medium is more structured and assessment is more stringent.

India is fast emerging as an e-Learning hub. To cash on this trend, multinationals like McGraw-Hill, Digital Think, SkillSoft, Mentergy, etc. are in the process of consolidating their operations in India.

India is likely to see dual benefits through this trend. Firstly, India will emerge as a hub for developing e-Learning software as well as a major market for e-Learning tools. In the Asia-Pacific, as price sensitive organisations cut back on their training investments, it will prove to be a big opportunity for India.

Though e-learning as a concept is still in its nascent stages in India, the competition in this space is heating up as NIIT, Tata Interactive Systems, Mentorix compete for a larger chunk of the global e-learning pie.

Several prominent institutions like XLRI, IIM Lucknow, and IMT Ghaziabad offer courses in management through the e-learning mode, as it’s not just about teaching a course module. It’s collaborative learning where the message is to generate learning through peer evaluation and interface with the faculty through video conferencing. Although, in many ways e-learning is still synonymous with distance learning there is greater accountability of the student. The British Council also has pioneered the concept of e-learning in the country.

Developing content

E-learning content must be developed under a cohesive and shared environment, working with developers, writers, subject-matter experts, project managers, programmers and clients. E-learning content has to be constantly shared, reviewed, critiqued, amended and distributed. This collaborative challenge becomes more difficult when all these people are located across different countries and come from different backgrounds of expertise.

Therefore, it is critical to have the following in place: proven e-learning design methodologies and tools, distributed and collaborative development platforms and effective project management and online workflow processes. The quality of the deliverables is highly correlated to the quality of client input. Therefore, the client’s project management and involvement is critical to success.

Understanding e-learning

E-learning represents convergence in education, training and information fields, delivered by computers, through the Web or from an organisation’s LAN. With organisations providing for virtual communities, learners can interact with classmates and peers having similar interests, across other parts of the organisation. The basic benefits are that e-content is less expensive to produce and e-learning sessions are easy to keep up-to-date because the updated materials are simply uploaded to the server. Further, the session is collaborative.

Implementation is the major component of e-learning. One of the key tools to implement distance education is virtual classroom (VCR). Here the instructor holds the class on the Internet and can virtually see and interact with the learners attending the classrooms.

An online course usually functions this way. First, the student registers at the Web site and sends in a cheque, demand draft or uses a credit card to pay online. A course packet containing study material is then sent to the student, if required, with an online ID or PIN and password for access. The student can log on to the site and go through the syllabus, study or download the material.

An electronic page is miles apart from a textbook. The challenge for e-learning portals is in making their Web pages as, or more effective than textbooks. This is done by making the virtual course interactive, with chat and other software to make learning a real experience.

Changing the face of education

Online courses on all subjects, from the CBSE syllabus to retailing, have changed the face of education in India. The education bug has caught up with Indian Web sites and they are doing their best to provide students with an alternative way to quality education. The trend is steadily catching up with students across India as the Internet spreads and gains popularity.

E-learning is all about performance improvement, which does not bind e-learning to happen purely through the Web. Human intervention, even if virtual, is a crucial element in e-learning that cannot be discounted in any way.

The content is dynamic and e-learning is more of e-sharing. Then another important reasons behind the success and feasibility of e-learning is that it reaches hitherto unreachable learners.

Interaction among the learners, and between the students and the instructor is important. Hands-on experience and lab exercises that can be done by simulations of problem scenarios are also helpful.

Most online courses are strictly online, but many e-courses include additional features like student-teacher live chats, online assignments and resources for additional studies, playback of recorded classrooms of expert faculties, discussion boards and email support. Some sites go a step further with synchronous or live support in the form of virtual classrooms. Some may have personal interactive classroom sessions offline in select cities.

New opportunities

The whole process of e-learning has generated some new jobs as well. At least, in India. India has already attained the reputation of developing both quality and volumes of e-learning products and solutions. Educational software-producing companies are also capitalising on the Internet to disseminate learning through the Web.

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