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How to explore e-learning during coronavirus crisis

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Added 2nd May 2020 10:31 AM

Suddenly, online study has become attractive, with many institutions moving course content, activities, and assessment to online environments.

How to explore e-learning during coronavirus crisis

Suddenly, online study has become attractive, with many institutions moving course content, activities, and assessment to online environments.

COVID-19 | E-LEARNING

Dr Jessica Norah Aguti

 
COVID-19 has led to lockdowns in many countries. Education institutions have all been closed and there is a scramble on how best to keep students studying.

Suddenly, online study has become attractive, with many institutions moving course content, activities, and assessment to online environments. 
 
In Uganda, a number of radio and TV stations are featuring a variety of lessons for children in primary and secondary schools. Other schools have uploaded notes and revision questions on their websites, while others have pointed their learners to free online learning resources. Whereas all the above efforts are commendable, they are simply fire-fighting or stopgap measures coming in to attempt to provide continuity in learning. The schools have never prepared their students, teachers, and infrastructure for online delivery and assessment. 
 
Such rushed efforts are bound to be uncoordinated, not pedagogically done well and likely to benefit only a few. Whereas many unsuspecting stakeholders may mistakenly call these online learning or e-learning approaches, they are in an actual sense not, but stopgap measures using electronic environments. The open, distance, and e-learning (ODeL) community has baptised these as emergency remote teaching (ERT). 
 
Online or ODeL approaches are indeed alternative delivery options that can be utilised to expand access to education, promote flexibility in teaching and learning as well as equity in access to education. 
 
They, however, demand thoughtful and careful instruction design and development of learning materials; provision of the right technological infrastructure; robust learner support and effective assessment. They are interactive by nature and are learnercentred with the learners taking control of their own learning. These key attributes on e-learning or ODeL are all absent in the ERT being practised. 
 
So as we think of responding to COVID-19 and to the post-crisis era, what opportunities do ODeL approaches provide to us as a nation? 
 
A number of opportunities can be harnessed from ODeL. However, as indicated above, careful planning is needed. The learners and teachers need to be pedagogically prepared for this mode of study. Preparation can be done physically or virtually. Learners need to be taught how to study using technology. Teachers, on the other hand, need to be trained on how to develop courses for virtual delivery and provide support online. 
 
The examples below could be harnessed. Use of learning management systems (LMS) for online course delivery, asynchronous, and synchronous learning, particularly for tertiary education. There are a number of open source learning management systems to choose from such as MOODLE, Canvas, and Open edX. 
 
However, conscious effort must be made to identify the right LMS, provide appropriate technology,  sensitise, and train both students and staff; design and develop the right learning materials. 
 
Blended learning: Whilst access to computers, laptops, and mobile phones has increased, many Ugandans still do not have access to these technologies. In some cases, where the technology is accessible, both students and staff lack the right skills to fruitfully benefi t from e-learning. 
 
It is, therefore, advisable that a blend  of technologies and methods is used. 
 
Promoting or providing access to Open Education Resources (OER): There are now a number of credible sites for OER that one can adopt or adapt for use in courses depending on relevance. The advantage is that one can take a resource, customize it to fully meet course needs. For most of the OER, the only requirement is that you acknowledge original source, but also that you share with others as well. However, since Sub-Saharan Africa has a small contribution to OER, we have to rely largely on external sources. There is a need for policies that promote making learning materials accessible as OER. 
 
Open schooling: With government policy and support, existing learning institutions could be hubs of activity for access to quality learning materials, flexible learning options and management of the learners. 
 
However, all the above requires institutional policies, structures, and systems; access to hardware, software, and skills, and political will. 

E-Learning highlights

Use learning management systems for online course delivery asynchronous and synchronous learning 
Explore blended learning 
 
Promote or provide access to Open Education Resources. 
 
Open schooling method
 
The writer is the director of the Institute of Open, Distance and E-learning (IODEL)  
 

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