e-Learning as a gateway to rapid innovation

Applied information technology is slowly revolutionizing different branches of industry, and aspects of our daily life. Education is a field where applied IT has already made a significant mark. We are interested in what else it can offer. We have asked Dr. Giovanni Vincenti on his view of the progress. He is the Assistant Professor at the Division of Science, Information Arts and Technologies at the University of Baltimore, and the general chair of the 3rd EAI International Conference on e-Learning e-Education and Online Training, eLEOT 2016, which took place on August 31- September 2, 2016, in Dublin, Ireland.

More developed education system should help us achieve more innovations at a faster rate. What is the role of e-Learning and e-Education in this?

There are really only two purposes that e-learning serves. First of all, it is about the delivery of the content. Before e-learning and educational technologies started gaining a significant footprint in society, formal education would be often limited to a school or a desk. Nowadays, with the ability of downloading books to our tablets or cell phones, looking up information from reliable sources whenever we need it no matter where we are, or following lectures of world-famous experts, the concept of education has become much more pervasive and universal. As long as there is an Internet connection, often people have access to amazing resources.

The second key role of e-learning and educational technologies deals with the presentation of the material. Until around 10 or 15 years ago studying meant reading books and using our imagination to make images come alive. Perhaps the most significant example is the book “Gray’s Anatomy” by Henry Gray. This masterpiece has been the essential resource used by medical students for decades. Why not augment this classic with computer-based simulations? Why not add some online quizzes to evaluate the progress of students? And why not create an application for mobile devices that allows students to explore virtually the intricacies of the human body as they are waiting for the bus? Some of the latest developments in e-learning, especially augmented reality, have advanced the domain of education significantly.

What technologies and practices are now used in this field? What do e-Learning and e-Education work with?

Giovanni Vincenti, General Chair of eLEOT 2016

The field is not very well regulated (or understood), so there is a significant difference in the implementation of e-learning solutions from institution to institution. When it comes to formal education, many universities and private institutions have adopted Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). In terms of informal education, virtual and augmented reality are in a position to create great impact on immersion.

I think there is still a general misunderstanding regarding the importance of qualified personnel. Universities in particular often have very small departments dedicated to helping instructors teach effectively. This problem is even more significant when we look at how many instructional technologists are on staff. This figure is essential to ensure that the solution fits the purpose when it comes to technology-supported education.

I am very happy though to see that many institutions are going well beyond the use of a Learning Management System (LMS; such as BlackBoard or Moodle) to just post assignments or grades. It is important to realize that LMSs are extremely powerful and adaptable to different content. The ability of integrating Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)-compliant resources to an online course offers great potential when we have the synergy of a subject-matter expert (the professor), an educational expert (the instructional technologist), and powerful software (the LMS).

Is there a big interest for this field? Why so/not? What is/should be the motivation to work on e-Learning and e-Education?

This field is essential for society. As the amount of information about any given field grows every year, we also need a way to transmit the information efficiently and effectively to new generations of scholars and practitioners. Let’s think about a simple example. Most of us will change careers at least two or three times during our lifespans. Some changes may not be too radical, while others may require us to learn a completely new set of fundamental notions onto which we will be required to build. What’s a better way to get ready for these new adventures by learning through resources that stimulate our interest, accommodate to our needs, and keep track of what we know and what we should review?

The flip side of the coin deals with the transparency that comes with popularity. When some disruptive innovation comes along, people cannot do anything but stare at it directly. Imagine how people must have felt when automobiles started becoming popular. I am relatively sure that anyone who saw their first car in the street back then would remember what it looked like. Nowadays there are so many cars that we do not really pay much attention. To many they all look alike, and we just assume that they should exist and work properly. When we visit websites or use mobile applications to learn something new, we just assume that those who created that resource have put much effort into ensuring that the content is accurate and the delivery will be flawless. Educators have a great responsibility, but often the resources available to them are not enough. This may lead to losing the interest of students not because the content is not important, but because the presentation is not what they came to expect.

What is the significance of the eLEOT 2016 event for this field?

eLEOT is a relatively new reality in this field. There are conferences and publication venues that are well-established and function as beacons and benchmarks. Our conference is young, and with that comes great potential. Last year someone asked me what is the main idea that drives eLEOT, what distinguishes us from others. I believe the strength of this conference resides in the people who attend it. We leave as much time as possible to let the participants interact, still ensuring that every presenter has enough time to showcase their work. We have added a Demo session where participants can experience the products of others, and that has been very successful. We want to give space to everyone, and we strive to make everyone feel welcome.

We also value the importance of giving space to new ideas, new approaches, and especially people who are just starting with e-learning. Often conferences are attended by very selected groups of people, often all experts, and the range of topics is relatively narrow. Basically people end up telling each other the same things over and over. I believe that the paradigm shifts significantly when the core of the conference is education, because teachers always try to find new ways to present the material or to engage students. Who knows what kinds of sparks will a presentation about new educational technologies in biology generate in someone who teaches fine arts or literature.

In the end we are just trying to let people talk to each other in a meaningful way. eLEOT is just a mean to many ends, some scholarly, others residing in industry, and most aimed at advancing the field of education giving the same opportunities to established practitioners as well as novices in the field. You never know who may start the next revolution in e-learning.

eLEOT 2016 is now accepting papers! Find out more.