e-Learning: For Greater Access to Higher Education and Better Social Equality
Posted on May 18th, 2020

Dr. Gamini Padmaperuma, a Chartered Professional Engineer

e-Learning has become a buzz word nowadays. e-Learning essentially uses information and communication and technology (ICT) for teaching and learning. The importance and relevance of e-Learning can be well recognized in view of the current pandemic situation and general global trends in education.

His Excellency the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his manifesto has given the highest priority to providing higher education opportunities to all those who pass the A/L exam. This indeed is a noble task and implementation of such a task can be greatly facilitated by e-Learning, which does not require heavy investments on expensive physical infrastructure to accommodate large numbers of students and facilities. An e-Learning approach with proper ICT networks, sound learning management systems (LMS) and appropriately developed e-Learning content can make a significant contribution towards enhancing the access to a larger portion of the deserving youth. The present situation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has added another dimension to the importance and relevance of e-Learning. e-Learning came to the rescue of many pupils and students during the lock-down period as an alternative to  missed face-to-face classes and lectures. It is evident that the use of e-Learning can help us in meeting many of the challenges that are created by the emerging trends in education as well as emergency situations such as the current pandemic.

The global trends are: The demand for education is rising. The education which was previously accessible only to a limited few representing the elitist groups has become more widely accessible to members of the larger community. This has created enormous pressure on existing traditional educational institutions, which usually have limited resources and until recently operated only on the face-to-face mode of teaching.

The demand for distance learning is rising. Today the jobs are very demanding due to the rapidly advancing technology. Therefore, everyone has to continuously update or upgrade their training and education to stay competitive. Accordingly, many would resort to distance learning for keeping themselves up-to-date and stay competitive in their jobs. Also, many would like to acquire their initial qualifications or new skills to change their career paths, through distance learning.

Life-long learning is gaining increasing relevance. In view of the necessity to keep up with the changes in technology and to stay competitive in their jobs, many would embrace life-long learning as an appropriate approach.

Shift from teacher-centred learning to learner-centred learning. Another important change that is taking place is that the focus of teaching and learning has shifted from the teacher to the learner. The teacher’s role has changed from teaching or lecturing to coaching or facilitating. The future vision for education is identified as one that provides access for anyone, for any type (subject) of learning, at any place and at any time.

These emerging trends in the field of education amply highlight the importance and relevance of e-Learning as a useful means for meeting the challenges emanating from the new trends in education.

However, one of the biggest concerns among the educators involved in e-Learning is the lack of sufficient pedagogical input in the design of related instructions. It is obvious that e-Learning is a very worthwhile endeavour in present context. However, what is not so obvious is what it takes to implement e-Learning successfully.

Successful implementation of e-Learning has three main fronts to tackle. They are: the technological front, the front concerning the learner preparedness, and the front involving the effective design of instructions.

The technological front involves the provision of ICT networks with appropriate capacity, economy and reliability to meet the demands of e-Learning. This means having a reliable communication network, accessible to users throughout the country and capable of transferring large amounts of data including audio and video files at a reasonable speed and at affordable price. Presently, this does not pose a major concern to e-Learners, even if there are concerns in some areas, the necessary actions are underway to rectify them. The initiatives taken by Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) and network expansions undertaken by telecom companies would alleviate this concern to a large extent.

The second important front in implementing e-Learning is the learner preparedness. It is necessary for the learners to be computer-literate to participate in e-Learning. Despite the high rankings in traditional literacy ratings, Sri Lankans lag behind its neighbours in terms of computer literacy. The current computer literacy rate of Sri Lanka is 30.1%, where this percentage for urban sector is around 41.5%, and rural and estate sectors represent, 28.6% and 13.7%, respectively, as per the statistics available.   This is another major concern that needs to be addressed promptly.

Another essential factor under learner preparedness is the competency in English language. Our English Proficiency Indices are also lower than that of most neighbouring countries. It is obvious that without a competency in English the learners are unlikely to reap the full benefits of e-Learning. It is therefore necessary to initiate programmes to uplift the competencies in English and computer literacy throughout the country, particularly in the rural communities.

Solutions to this issue can also be found through Computer-Aided Learning (CAL) materials. Particularly, the improvements to the competency levels in English can be achieved through properly designed interactive multimedia learning materials to be made available through CDs. Provision of learning materials through such a medium will provide wider access and consistency in training, minimise the problems associated with the lack of human tutor support and also train the users towards e-Learning. These CDs can be run on individual computers without networks or Internet. A high degree of computer literacy is not required to use the CDs for learning.

The third front, which is not obvious to many, is the instructional design. It is important that e-Learning materials are properly designed with appropriate pedagogical inputs, if successful learning outcomes are to be achieved. It is quite possible that both the first two fronts are already satisfied (technology and user preparedness) but no successful implementation of e-Learning is possible since the e-Learning content is either not developed or poorly designed. It is therefore important to pay high attention to the design of e-Learning content with appropriate pedagogical inputs and sound instructional design techniques.

However, the objective of using the appropriate instructional design techniques is to achieve effective learning outcomes. The instructional designers design instructions, learning activities, discussion forums, practice sessions, assessments, feedback mechanisms, etc. These design activities are based on the context within which the learning takes place (learning context), the type of learner, and the type of learning task. The use of technology and media such as discussion forums, chat rooms, audio, video, etc. is dependent on the instructional design. The technologies should not be used indiscriminately just because they are available. On the other hand, appropriate use of technologies such as audio, video, animations, etc. in instructions may make them appealing to a diverse cross section of learners, thus making them more useful and effective.

Creating necessary facilities for e-Learning for both urban (20%) and rural (80%) sectors in the country may help reduce the existing inequalities between the two sectors in access to quality education thereby the overall economic and social gaps. Therefore, this is an excellent opportunity to be snatched by the authorities responsible for alleviating the social inequalities present in our society. However, if such facilities are not adequately provided to the rural communities in a timely manner, they will be further alienated by what is known as ‘the digital divide”.

It is advisable that policy makers have a thorough review of the total requirements for implementing e-Learning successfully and provide necessary direction to the appropriate institutions. e-Learning shall be used as a standalone approach as well as a complementary approach to traditional teaching and learning (Blended Learning), using existing educational institutions as well as new ones.


Dr. Gamini Padmaperuma, a Chartered Professional Engineer and a former Senior Lecturer at OUSL, holds a PhD from the University of Canterbury, NZ. His PhD thesis was on Instructional Design for Computer-Based Learning. email: gamini_pad@hotmail.com.

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