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Developing Countries Are Facing Challenges for E-learning Adoption

Education is one of the most significant factors for economic growth and poverty alleviation in developing countries and the access and utilization of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for spreading education is considered to possess high potential for these countries struggling for meeting a rising need for education while facing a number of challenges. E-learning is encountering a lot of challenges and hindrances in developing states and drop-out rates are normally too higher than in conventional classroom based learning. (Bollag, B. and Overland, M.A.,2001)

A study conducted by Dept. of Informatics, Swedish Business School Örebro University, Sweden, categorized the challenges, into four major groups:

  1. Course challenges, These include design, content and delivery
  2. Challenges associated with characteristics of a teacher and a student
  3. technological challenges
  4. contextual challenges – cultural, organizational, and societal issues

1. Course

The most common and biggest challenge is related to course, its development and delivery. Concerns have been raised regarding content, its design and the activities to be carried out in a course, the support functions offered and course delivery mode. There is a need to especially design a new curriculum suitable for E-learning environment, in order to create awareness how E-earning is different from conventional classroom based learning.

2. Individual characteristics:

The characteristics of the students in developing countries have to do a lot with E-learning adoption and its success. The student motivation is the factor that holds prominence in most of the surveys conducted in this regard. Students in developing countries have been found to have little motivation for becoming a part of E-learning setting. Several reasons are responsible for this. One of the reasons is conflicting priorities. These are concerned with the amount of time students have to, and desire to, dedicate to the course.

Students in developing countries revealed that it is very stressful and difficult for them to arrange time for an E-learning course because of conflicting priorities with family and work commitments. Most of the students in developing countries are found to be doing part time and low paid jobs. A third issue is the student’s financial difficulties. Developing countries are badly hit by poverty since long and lack of student financial support can be a forecaster of student withdrawal. A secure and helpful study atmosphere affect e-learning to an extremely big extent and some researches even propose that this is the most significant factor impacting drop out and student retention.

3. The Technological Challenges

One of the major concerns under this challenge is the access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), by students and teachers. In developing countries the access to computers, laptops, tablets, TV etc is not wide spread and a large number of students are still deprived of the basic requirements for effective E-learning setup. Secondly, the cost of the technology and equipments also matter. The cost factor is critical in developing countries because in these regions there is a need for low cost and affordable ICT alternatives with low service charges.

4. Contextual challenges

Every society holds certain beliefs, culture and values that affect its education system. One challenge identified here is the role of student and a teacher. In most of the developing countries, students are trained to show honor for teachers who are considered as the experts and cannot be questioned. In these cultures where students behave as receivers, the effective implementation of E-learning is challenging. Students being spoon fed by teachers and student’s too much dependency on teachers are taken as obstacles in E-learning settings.

Bollag, B. and Overland, M.A. (2001) Developing Countries Turn to Distance Education, Chronicle of Higher Education, 47, 40, A29-22.

The Challenge of Four-Status Model of eLearning: Principles Toward a New Understanding for Healthcare Professionals

In many industries, a growing need for distance education exists. This is especially true in the healthcare industry where new knowledge is essential to enhance patient care.  Professional requirements also require hospital staff to learn new information.  In this article, Turnbull, Wills, and Gobbi (2011) talk about eLearning in a nursing program in Thailand and how they faced challenges due to several factors.  They mention that one needs to critically consider the factors of infrastructure, finance, policies, and culture (IF-PC) when deciding to pursue eLearning as a source of teaching, since there are many drivers and barriers to eLearning.

Gobbit et. al (2001) conducted a mixed method study consisting of interviews, questionnaires, and surveys.  The study examined the eLearning program at this nursing college in Thailand and came up with several findings.  Benefits of eLearning can be great due to the access of new knowledge, allowing hospital staff to enhance patient care.  However, technological barriers prevent many from being able to utilize such resources.  For example, many of the staff members were unable to access computers, while others had slow Internet connections. According to the author, the success of an eLearning program can be strongly influenced by the four domains mentioned in the article (infrastructure, finance, policies, and culture).

 

Turnbull, N., Willis, G.B., & Gobbi, M.O. (2010).  The challenge to the four-status e-learning model for healthcare professionals: a critique on a developing world case study.  Paper presented at the 3rd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation, November 15-17, 2010, Madrid, Spain.

 

Financial Benefits of eLearning

Companies are rapidly implementing eLearning as a method of training.  The eLearning sector as a vehicle for training is becoming larger as technology gets cheaper and more advanced.  According to Nichols (2004), the way eLearning benefits companies is that it is lower in cost while it has a higher output through automation.  The author writes in his article that the financial benefits still need to be considered when deciding to pursue eLearning training.  As with all decisions, there exist benefits as well as drawbacks.

One of the drawbacks to eLearning initiatives is that there exists a high fixed cost.  Some of the costs related to eLearning are personnel (Instructional System Designers, eLearning developers, curriculum developers, programmers, graphic designers, and a few others).  Additionally, the level of interaction and simulations significantly affects costs as well.  For example, a course on sexual harassment might decide to include a video scenario using professional actors rather than text with images.

On the other hand, the benefit of turning training into eLearning over instructor led courses (ILTs) is that learning of new knowledge is much quicker than the traditional methods.  For example, a company introducing a new technology to its employees requires tremendous amount of knowledge transfer.  Providing eLearning training allows employees to learn them quickly at their own pace.  Contrastingly, providing instructor led training can take much longer to learn the new knowledge since training depends on the speed of the trainer.

When an organization decides to implement eLearning as a form of training, Nichols (2004) writes that it should depend on the contribution to cost, quality, service, and speed.  Although some aspects of the projected costs may be subjective, the author suggests that it can play a contributing factor in the decision making process, while getting “buy-in” from managers and directors (p. 33).

Nichols, M. (2004).  The financial benefits of eLearning.  Journal of Distance Learning, 8 (1), 25-33.

eLearning Based on the Semantic Web

The new Web—what some people are referring to as the Semantic Web—offers a promising solution for the obstacles businesses face when implementing new eLearning methods. In a Semantic Web, content will be made consumable for both machines and humans, allowing “automated agents” (p. 2 ) as Stojanovic, Staab,  & Studer (2001) refer to them, to decipher web content and react to unpredictable scenarios just as people do.

According to Stojanovic et al (2001), in order for this objective to be realized, four main layers of representational structures are required including the XML layer (representing data structure), the RDF layer (representing meaning), the Ontology layer (representing a consensus of the meaning), and the Logic layer (which allows for reasoning). While technologies for the first two layers already exist, the latter two have yet to be fully developed.

The benefits of the Semantic Web will lie in its ability to be shaped by the automated agent into relevant, just-in-time learning experiences for users on an as-needed basis. In essence, an employee who needs to solve a problem or complete a task could create a course of study or training module in seconds simply by typing in a semantic query related to the topic.

Stojanovic et al (2001) argue that in order for such a scenario to be realized, eLearning systems must use ontology-based metadata (i.e. a standardized system of tags by which to organize web data). Furthermore, this system must describe not only the content of web resources, but also their context and structure. A Semantic Web based on this ontology foundation would allow for better communication between machines and humans, making dynamic, real-time learning a distinct possibility.

 

Stojanović, L., Staab, S., & Studer, R. (2001). eLearning based on the Semantic Web. Paper presented at the World Conference on the Web and Internet, October 23-27, 2003, Orlando, Florida, USA.