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3. The Role of Advanced Learning Technologies

The three stages identified in the learning framework, provide a framework for the evaluation of courseware developed using advanced learning technology (ALT) for education. Three kinds of courseware can be identified:

3.1. Primary courseware

Primary courseware is courseware produced professionally, authored by subject matter experts but usually designed and programmed by specialists. It involves the presentation of what is termed the ‘primary exposition.

Traditional linear media, especially film and television, and the new multimedia environments, are highly effective for orientation; to give interesting overviews and entice people into a new subject area.

Much recent literature has discussed the suitability of hypermedia for exploration, whether a rich set of interconnections will allow opportunity for learning by browsing. Initial enthusiasm for this paradigm has given way to a realisation that free exploration is inefficient and needs to be supplemented by guidance.

For experimentation technology, particularly in the form of interactive simulations or expert systems, can begin to achieve real added-value for learning. The learner can interactive with the software. The answers to the learners’ questions are provided through the (re)action of the simulation software. Here we begin to encounter the idea of the computer as a virtual laboratory.

3.2. Secondary courseware

Secondary courseware is constructed by teachers for their own courses. or is tailored from primary sources. The same tools can also be used by the learners to create their own courseware.

Secondary courseware supports the tasks students actually do when learning. This covers formal activities such as the completion of assignments, essays, projects, laboratory work as well as informal activities such as organising notes, searching for material, practising for exams. Here productivity tools can be used far more effectively if put in the hands of the learners to create their own material rather than for teachers to deliver material. It is the process of collecting, organising and explaining the material for other people which facilitates learning rather than reading the results of other people’s learning activities. These tools range from word processors, graphics packages, authoring packages, expert system shells and even video conferencing.

3.3. Tertiary courseware

Tertiary courseware is a new kind of courseware, which hardly exists at present, but represents an idea which is currently attracting attention. Learning is facilitated through communication. The communication may take the form of questions, answers and discussion. This provides material for re-conceptualisation.

Tertiary courseware provides the best current opportunity for adding effective support to learning. It is centred around communications and uses technology to provide opportunities for discussion and reflection. This is particularly relevant to the needs of distant learners to provide a sense of belonging to a group, but is also relevant to campus based institutions, especially multi-campus or those wishing to share resources and those wishing to broaden the learning experience for their students by introducing guest lecturers and broadening their peer community.

What technology now offers in support of dialogue is an environment in which discussions can occur without the participants being physically close and/or simultaneously present. Video conferencing makes distance unimportant but time is still crucial. Therefore this is not suitable for open learning. With the use of asynchronous communication tools such as computer conferencing and email neither time or location are important. Moreover, technologies such as the Internet allows the appropriate participants to locate one another in the first place.

3.4 Assessing the role of technology

When the role of a technology within learning is assessed, there are two separate criteria to consider, those or effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness refers to the opportunity the technology offers to improve on what is obtainable with traditional methods. Video conferencing is particularly promising for the support of dialogue.

When we turn to the question of efficiency, the case of technology delivering the primary exposition - the access to content - becomes stronger. The delivery may take the form of a video conference lecture or other forms of multimedia. The case revolves around the following issues:

Video conferencing was not designed as a method for educating the masses. It is an intimate method of communication on an individual or small group basis. It does not replace the use of print or other methods used in the conceptualisation process. Its can be used to encourage construction, its true use lies in encouraging dialogue and increasing the scope for dialogue.

3.5. Conclusions

Most ALT and multimedia development has been, and still is, aimed at the production of primary courseware. This represents a limited and mistaken view of the main opportunity for technology in learning. In many cases, existing media would fulfil learners’ needs for access to subject matter perfectly adequate. The case for developing expensive primary courseware for delivery on a computer depends on the extent to which it makes the subject more understandable, perhaps through the use of simulations. Unfortunately such cases are quite rare. There is a cost efficiency argument for using technology for distribution but this should not be confused with the argument of using technology to provide more effective learning. To create a more effective learning environment, the scope for construction and dialogue must be increased. Figure 3 illustrates where video conferencing can be used to increase the potential for dialogue, both with in an individual learner environment and within a collaborative learner environment.

Figure 3: The learner’s environment

Video conferencing has potential to deliver any of the three forms of courseware.