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An Approach to the Development of a Quality Metric for Electronic Learning

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Education is life long learning endeavor. It is a process of constantly elicitating, acquiring, organizing and integrating specialized knowledge into a single whole that can be used to help improve one's thinking skills. It is an exciting, relevant and vibrant process. The taxonomy of educational objectives can be found in Bloom (1956). He described the order of sequencing the content of the subject and assessing the learning progress based on the learner behavior. Educating, nevertheless should not necessarily be carried out through traditional means of delivery such as classrooms, tutorials or workshops. These traditional means of delivery tend to congregate students in classrooms and lecture halls where, in most cases, the knowledge gained and the direction it comes are from the lecturer/teacher in charge. The degree of passivity exhibited by the students in conventional setting usually depends on the lecturer's philosophy of teaching and learning as well as the amount or lack of resources available to support the lecturer and the environment.

However, according to Bandura (1977; 1982; 1989) there are other key forms of learning which does not require direct reinforcement. For example, through observational learning, discovery and modeling.

This leads to a paradigm shift in educating, learning and training (Simsek and Louis, 1994). Due to cutbacks in funding, stiff global competition, market restructuring and flexible job skills, education is fast moving towards generating revenue from multiple sources. Such avenues are electronic learning (e-learning), distance learning and virtual education.

The medium which allows this to happen is technology. Educational institutions are installing technological infrastructure such as high bandwidth transmission capacity, networked systems, video conferencing links with remote sites, electronic databases, world-wide-web servers, discussion lists, data conferencing and electronic mail for the staff and students. While, educational software and courseware are being developed in-house by multimedia production centers or purchased off the shelf (Oblinger, 1994).

No one seems to doubt that the development and deployment of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have a profound impact on access, institutional functioning and the education process. However many questions and concerns need to be answered. In particular, those involve the use of ICT e.g e-learning, distance learning and virtual education. E-learning, distance learning and virtual education involve the use of ICTs such as computer mediated communication, site-to-site video conferencing, telecourses, electronic peer network, lectures-on-demand. The main technologies are streaming and multimedia. Nobody would question the importance of ICT in the delivery of content. However, questions do arise on whether a systematic and rigorous evaluation on the content and delivery method has taken place. Questions such as how good are these courseware's/software's/lecture notes, are they being evaluated before it reaches the public, is there a quality model to assist in carrying out the evaluation of the components in e-learning/distance and virtual education, how effective are these types of education compared to the traditional method and does the technology always or normally enhance the effectiveness of education. These are the questions that remain unanswered.

Definition

E-learning, distance learning and virtual education are often used in describing modern types of education. However these terms are often used interchangeably. A literature review carried out on virtual education reveals a variety of of other labels - virtual campus, electronic university, cyber learning communities, virtual studies, digital classroom, paperless classroom, wired education, electronic learning, cyber training, on-line education, open learning, network learning, distributed learning, 3rd generation distance education, keyboard colleges, hyper-universities and the list goes on with other similar metaphors (Arteaga, 1999). The state of affair is confusing. Proper definition is needed. The e-learning was defined as

"…. learning environments consisting of hardware, software and personnel; multifaceted learning program that utilizes distance learning, interactive cable TV and the Internet to connect learning environment to homes, places of works and the community at large"

(E-Learning Working Group Of The National Information Technology Council Of Malaysia, 1999)

While distance education was defined as

"…. instructional delivery that does not constrain the student to be physically present in the same location as the instructor.

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