With proper instructional techniques, the effects of online education could potentially be altered significantly in a positive direction. This research will attempt to determine the specific obstacles that still exist to online education and the current best practices for overcoming these obstacles, as demonstrated by a variety of independent and original research studies conducted on the topic.
Many studies have pointed out that inadequately equipped e-learning systems can result in 'frustration, confusion, and reduced learner interest' (Zhang et al. 2004). An example of this is the fact that many e-learning course offer only text-based learning materials, which could lead to a student's boredom and disengagement in students, preventing them from gaining a good understanding of a topic (2004). However, multimedia technology is becoming more and more advanced and now e-learning systems are able to incorporate materials in different media such as text, image, sound, and video (2004), all sources of media that can keep students interested and engaged in the material being offered. Another problem is that some e-learning systems with their multi-media-based systems lack sufficient learner-content interactivity and flexibility because of their passive and unorganized way of presenting instructional content (2004). Under these types of systems, learners have relatively little control over the knowledge structure and the learning process to meet individual needs. For example, it may be ineffective and time-consuming to locate a particular segment or to skip a portion of a three-hour instructional video delivered via the Internet, making interactive learning difficult. Sometimes a student may want to ask questions about materials and get answers immediately instead of sequentially going through an instructional video to find an answer. But few multimedia-based e-learning systems provide this capability (Zhang et al. 2004).
Students with distinct and varying backgrounds do not benefit much from the 'chalk-and-talk' (Nanda 2010). There is some belief that students should have a required background in order to attend traditional learning settings. Many classroom teachers use a mixed approach to 'chalk-and-talk' teaching. For example, a concept may be given to the class using the talk approach, by giving a definition of something, and then elaborated and example through analogies and metaphors. Teachers oftentimes can then gauge if the students are getting the concept or not. Learning is a highly subjective concept and some students may get the concepts of a 'chalk-and-talk' lecture right away, while others may need concepts presented to them in a more abstract fashion (e.g., a formula or a definition) (2010). On the flipside, some students may need a picture in order visualize the concept and relate it to the definition or formula (2010).
Another issue with e-learning is the challenge to institutions concerning how to manage and organize new technological developments. In many institutions that offer both traditional and e-learning, e-learning is viewed as a completely distinct activity, 'on the periphery of the mainstream classroom teaching, and somewhat esoteric in its organizational needs' (Bates 2005). Because of this mysterious aura surrounding e-learning, distinct departments for e-learning have been established within institutions. There is much concern over this, however, and the question of whether academic departments should be responsible for all forms of teaching has been raised (2005).
Despite concerns over technological developments and how institutions and teachers fare with these new innovations, there is still evidence to suggest that students can really benefit from multimedia e-learning experiences. There is good evidence that supports the belief that relevant visuals promote learning (Clark & Mayer 2007). The question then comes down to, 'what types of visuals are the most effective for learners and the goals of the instructor?' The details of multimedia instruction are still rife with a plethora of questions and doubts.
There are differing opinions when it comes to distinguishing e-learning from traditional learning. Doing so, many argue, 'encourages the view that it is a separate phenomenon' (Fee 2009). In reality, however, learning is learning no matter how information is given and no matter how the learner interprets the information given. Fee (2009) asserts that e-learning should be subject to the same disciplines and the same measurements as any other type of learning. Some even have issue with the "e" in e-learning, claiming that it should not be used at all, 'as e-learning is just another form of learning, albeit in electronic form' (2009). Despite these opinions, the bottom line is that the term 'e-learning' is used just as 'e-mail' is used to distinguish it from 'snail mail' (2009). However, it must be noted that this vocabulary that is given to e-learning is part of what mystifies it and sets it so drastically apart (for some) from traditional learning.
The primary research questions that will be addressed in this research are as follows:
1. What are the benefits of (e.g., self-directed teaching, different types of multimedia to diminish the potential of boredom, etc.) of e-learning vs. traditional classroom learning?
2. What are the drawbacks of online education (e.g., lack of face-to-face time with an instructor, instructors who are not sufficiently skilled at designing e-learning courses, etc.) when compared to traditional classroom learning?
A related general question will include a determination of the best practices for online education, including methods for surmounting identified drawbacks and a way to maximize the identified advantages of online educational offerings. Instructors' views of online education and its effects both on learning and the teaching process will also be examined in an effort to deliver a comprehensive view of the issue, and enabling for the provision of more well-rounded suggestions and recommendations that will be effective from a variety of perspectives.
The hypothesis that will guide the proposed study is that students in the e-learning environment learn and retain information better than the students in the traditional classroom environment because of the introduction of new technological multimedia materials, which can enhance learning by keeping students engaged. The combination of the audio and multimedia presentations at the same time can stimulate learning and make the learning process more fun. The reasoning for this hypothesis is because there have been several studies that have shown that in traditional learning lecturing, the learning is 'highly instructor-centered and sequential' (Zhang, Zhao, Zhou & Nunamaker 2004). There is also some research to suggest that the human brain has the ability to retain picture, audio and other sensory perceptions for a longer duration than words (Best Distance Learning 2010). Though students in a traditional learning environment have the ability to ask questions, many students in these settings do not, however, because of various reasons (e.g., embarrassment, disinterest, confusion, etc.). In online learning environments, however, students have the chance to go over the material in a self-directed learning manner and go back to the areas that have not been fully understood before moving forward with the material.
To assess the benefits and drawbacks of online education when compared to traditional classroom learning, a study using a classroom of traditional students in a traditional learning environment will be conducted. A study of e-learning students learning the exact same material (but in an e-classroom) will also be conducted. Fifty freshmen students will be chosen from a selected university and they will then be randomly selected for either the traditional learning study or the e-learning study. Twenty-five students will be used in each setting. The topic chosen for the study will be an introduction to European history.
The twenty-five students in the traditional study will learn the material in a traditional setting (regular classroom environment) where the instructor lectures and the students are able to ask the instructor questions and take notes on the lecture. The twenty-five students in the e-learning study will learn the material via the e-classroom. The lecture will be an audio presentation of the instructor giving the lecture with multimedia visual aids -- either animated or representational pictures, charts, graphs, etc. -- being shown during the lecture reading. The same instructor shall be used for both studies to make sure that the material is consistent with each other and that the lecture is given in the same teaching style and manner for both of the selected groups. The lecture will be done in the same amount of time.
Students in the e-learning environment will have the ability to go back to the audio presentation if they feel they have questions and thus they will also be able to see the other multimedia material that is being presented