Reflections on Current Trends in e-Learning

In this final, reflective blog post I summarize what I see as pertinent in my current educational context, Thailand, global trends in the design of instruction for e-Learning and a final reflection on the implications for my own, personal learning journey.

Image by Wikimedia Commons

Image by Wikimedia Commons

Current Trends in Thailand

In my educational environment, there does seem to be a trend toward more global considerations in the design of the curriculum, but it seems superficial. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), is starting to slowly influence Thailand’s policies toward education as well. At the primary and secondary school levels, the instruction has focused to a broader understanding of the world through ASEAN, rather than staying totally Thai-centric, but rote learning is still the method of instruction. All levels (P-16) have turned their focus on English language acquisition to become part of the larger global society and I have frequently participated in teacher training seminars in a few different provinces. The secondary school English program, where I teach part-time, intends to help shape global citizens and has participated in the World-Class Standard School project, which “aims to develop Thai students to become the world citizen” from 2010-2012 (Ratchaborikanukroh School English Program, 2014). At the tertiary level, there are ASEAN events, student exchange/trips and the school year has just changed this semester to be in sync with all ASEAN member countries (from June-October, November-March to the American schedule). Overall, it looks like progress, but it takes time to change the current paradigm to include global awareness in developing countries like Thailand. Pagram & Pagram (2006) advise that e-learning be adapted to the current pedagogy in Thailand in order to be more effective and relatable to students, leading to the idea of familiarity as a central step to leveraging new technology.

I was surprised to find that a Ph.D. program and two Master’s degree programs already exist in the virtual world of Second Life (SL), offered by Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand. The designer purports that Assumption is the first university world-wide to offer postgraduate degrees in SL and the first Thai university to develop their own private island (Assumption University, n.d.). Sun Microsystems (Thailand) has already collaborated with Kasetsart University to offer a country-wide competition of students creating their own 3D learning environment (said to initiate the ‘Education 3.0 movement’) as well as offering courses in virtual creation; a virtual version of a historic temple was also created (The Nation, 2009; The Nation, n.d.). Additionally, distance learning has been endorsed by the Ministry of Education since 2006 with a number of initiatives which a focus on developing and sharing e-learning resources, among the K-16 levels (Bacsich, 2014). As I teach English Language Learners (ELL) virtual worlds, such as SL, complement English language learning through the synchronous chat and voice capabilities available. I could give students a general goal for practice (meet someone new in a given location) which I can assess, based on the chat or a recording. I could also have them visit a specific library to view materials and presentations in English, which students will have to synthesize and report on. For my Buddhism classes, students can visit pilgrimage sites and explore other forms of Buddhism and other religions by visiting different locations (Linden Research Inc., 2014).

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Image by Wikimedia Commons

Distance learning has been endorsed by the Ministry of Education in Thailand since 2006 with a number of initiatives which a focus on developing and sharing e-learning resources, among the K-16 levels (Bacsich, 2014). Additionally, a number IT programs with a concentration on connecting rural schools have been in place:  Openmind Projects: IT in Isan (based in a highly impoverished area), Thai Rural Net (promoting ICT empowerment) and Thailand – IT Princess: Empowering All Thais with IT (started in 1995 to work towards educational equality) (UNESCO Bangkok, n.d.). Thailand has also formulated various series of plans to incorporate and bolster ICT in education at the national level through the implementation of ICT policy toolkit in 2010 (UNESCO Bangkok, n.d.). A need for the Thai education system to increase the quality of instruction, as the standards are quite poor, involving the development of the curriculum “to cope with the world situations and Thai culture” (Limsawetkul, 2007). The notion of the inclusion of pedagogy based on Thai culture, namely Buddhist philosophy, is underscored by the present tension between Western and Eastern ideas in the educational reform dialogue as well as the absence of a developed spiritual dimension to education (Chan, 2012). The preceding history of e-Learning Thailand shows that global trends do, and will continue to, impact education and educational reform in Thailand.

Five years from now, I envision a Thailand with basically no change. Each government initiates its own educational reforms and standards, often neglecting projects already started and running. The recent military takeover (we cannot call it a ‘coup’ anymore) illustrates the political instability inherent in Thailand. Ten years from now, I see a changing Thailand within the ASEAN, from the implementation of the AEC with a scheduled deadline for 2015 (Global Times: China, 2012). As of 2012, Thailand was the only ASEAN member nation with a comprehensive preparation plan for 2015 (Chongkittavorn, 2012). I feel that increasing quality in education, generally, and the English language, specifically, are appropriate dimensions with which to monitor basic standards achievement. E-Learning will continue to become widespread with more academic research/studies and digital professional learning networks. Twenty years from now we will start to see a new generation of Thai students with skills that dwarf the current standards, emerging to be comparable with developed countries’ (global) standards.

Global Trends

Global e-Learning trends include e-Learning as a supplement to face-to-face learning, Blended learning, rather than learning taking place totally on line as well as the continued increase in social media platforms (Patel, 2010). Desired skills for instructional designers, as measured by job postings, generally indicate the need for knowledge pertaining to “Instructional design/ADDIE, Collaboration, eLearning, Communication skills, Evaluation, Needs analysis, Project management, LCMS, Microsoft Office Suite, Adult learning theories [and] Web authoring skills” (Sugar, Hoard, Brown & Daniels, 2011, p. 233). A continuing trend in the design of instruction has focused on the theory of cognitive load, mainly to design with intrinsic load in mind (by leveraging students’ prior knowledge), the avoidance of extraneous load (information not critical to learning) and to foster germane load (leading to deep learning) (De Jong, 2010).

The three components of instruction are modes, methods and media; modes are basic elements of communication (line drawings, text), methods facilitate the process of learning (examples, feedback) while media actually delivers instruction (instructor, computer) (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). When designing content for a diverse and global audience that includes rich media, one needs to choose the correct components of instruction based on the prior knowledge of the learner. This is due to the fact that learners with a low amount of subject knowledge have a low tolerance for complex, rich media because it increases the extraneous processing. Increasing extraneous processing (an extra load) makes it more difficult for essential processing (essential, learning load) generative processing (which aids in the learning process), thereby making instruction less effective (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). Three principles that aid in the correct selection of rich media are the dual channels principle (audio and visual elements are processed separately), the limited capacity principle (there is a limit to the amount of input the channels can process) and the active learning principle (engagement in the selection, organization and integration of knowledge leads to meaningful learning) (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). Keeping the above in mind when selecting rich media will aid in the learning experience.

Image by openclipart.org

Image by openclipart.org

Clark & Mayer summarize that the inclusion of visuals with text aids in learning, the inclusion of audio also aids in learning and simple graphics work better than more complex styles (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn (2012) is an outstanding example of using visuals with text to aid in learning. The graphics are purposeful and are inserted seamlessly into the text. Clark & Mayer’s define rich media as “instructional programs that incorporate high-end media such as video, animation, and audio” (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012, p. 310). When building understanding, simple line drawings are more effective than complex, 3D visuals (Reiser & Dempsey, 2012). Instead of becoming ‘rich media crazy’ and insert needless media that adds to the extraneous load, detracting from learning, one needs to be cognizant about the goal of the visual and use them wisely.

Reflection on my Personal Learning Journey

The emphasis on aesthetic design to enrich learning, the idea of design as the entire process of ISD and the dialogue between ISD as a science or an art are major concepts that caught my attention. I enjoyed that we actually learned how to design for how people learn, backed by research (Dirksen, 2012). The design principles themselves were apparent in the book, as I stayed engaged the entire time. Design as a more general term instead of the ADDIE specific concept is more holistic in viewing design as an ongoing process which can be informed by design practices in a multitude of professions. The connections that we can draw between ISD and other fields is an area that needs to be explored for the benefit of all professions involved; the knowledge is already there, we just need to make the connections to enhance our overall understanding of design. I view ISD as a field that draws from principles from scientific research, but is a specific skillset in designing instructional activities; that is, it has a foundation of research and best practices that would be best leveraged through a mentor with mastery of ISD techniques.

From a quick survey of different e-Learning content available for free on the internet, the overall quality and engagement are readily-apparent areas where standards need to be set. I think there should be a level of accreditation for free online courses and MOOC’s so that potential learners do not waste their time on material that will not promote learning. This is the next step for the raising of the standards of e-Learning content; needless to say, the amount of online material will only increase with the growing popularity and distribution of internet accessibility so we might as well make sure the content is quality.

 

References

Assumption University. (2006). A second life. Retrieved from http://www.au.edu/index.php/news-and-event/204-a-second-life

Bacsich, P. (2014). Researching virtual initiatives in Education: Thailand. Retrieved from http://virtualcampuses.eu/index.php/Thailand

Chan, H.K. (2012). Education and international development: Quality of education in Thailand, a conflict between policy and culture. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/2011370/Education_and_International_Development_Quality_of_Education_in_Thailand_a_conflict_between_policy_and_culture

Chongkittavorn, K. (2012). Why Thailand is crazy over AEC. Thaivisa. Retrieved from www.thaivisa .com/forum/topic/599088-why-thailand-is-crazy-over-asean-economic-community/

De Jong, T. (2010). Cognitive load theory, educational research, and instructional design: some food for thought. Instructional Science, 38(2), 105-134.

Dirksen, J. (2012). Design for how people learn. New Riders Press.

Global Times: China. (2012). ASEAN community will start Dec 31, 2015. Retrieved from www.globaltimes.cn/content/745114.shtml

Limsawetkul, S. (2007). The development of international basic education model for Thailand in the future. ABAC Journal, 27(2). 9-14.

Linden Research Inc. (2014). Second life. [virtual world]. Retrieved from http://secondlife.com/

Pagram, P. & Pagram, J. (2006). Issues in e-learning: A thai case study. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, 26 (6), 1-8.

Patel, L. (2010). Instructional systems design: in an on-demand world. T+D.

Ratchaborikanukroh School English Program. (2014). About our E.P. Retrieved from http://www.ratb.ac.th/ep/

Reiser, R. & Dempsey, J. (2012). Trends and issues in instructional design and technology. (3rd ed.) Allyn & Bacon.

Sugar, W., Hoard, B., Brown, A., & Daniels, L. (2011). Identifying multimedia production competencies and skills of instructional design and technology professionals: An analysis of recent job postings. J. Educational Technology Systems, 40(3), 227-249.

The Nation. (n.d.). 3D technology captures Thai heritage, arts and culture. [article]. Retrieved from http://www.nationmultimedia.com/home/2010/06/03/technology/Students-create-virtual-world-temple-30130780.html

The Nation. (2009). Launch of ‘Wonderland Challenge 2009′ for students to create an innovative 3D virtual learning environment. [article]. Retrieved from http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2009/02/12/technology/technology_30095558.php

UNESCO Bangkok. (n.d.). Thailand. Retrieved from http://www.unescobkk.org/education/ict/countries/country-information/thailand/

 

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