Online enrollments are on the rise. Schools are e-reaching out. Attitudes are gradually e-shifting. Students are signing up for courses at a qualified distance with growing frequency and their classrooms, more likely than in recent past, are including elements mediated by the web. But even though our adoption of technology in general seems to have provided the supportive headspace for these educational realities to bloom, are today's students really able to take advantage of the e-learning opportunities they encounter?
In brief: no. When it comes to e-learning success, students have a long way to go. In fact, the distance is further than you might imagine. These are the findings of a recent study out of New South Wales, Australia, which asked university students and teachers to consider a range of learning competencies and how well they felt students were able to achieve them by way of a learning management system (LMS). Unlike other studies with similar concerns that have asked hypothetical questions about student preparedness levels for online learning, what is unique about this study is its alternative emphasis on student participation in e-learning, or teachers who have taught online, and the real, measureable behaviors that students perceivably were or were not able to perform.
Borrowing 58 standardized competencies from a previously used measurement process known as a hybrid behaviorally anchored rating scale, three Australia researchers asked students and staff to scale student attempts at e-learning objectives from 1 to 5: unprepared to very prepared. In this way student e-learning competencies—things like, "determines when it is time to 'listen,'" "uses search engines effectively," "reads and writes at an appropriate level," etc.—fell into a comparison of perceptions from both sides of the podium, where teachers have rated students and students have rated themselves.
Perhaps the study's most striking takeaway is that, on the whole, students and teachers identified student ill-preparation for 35 out of 58 competencies, or over 60% of e-learning objectives. Moreover, of the remaining 23 objectives for which students were perceivably "prepared," for none of them were they thought to be "very prepared."
In some cases, student and teacher opinions converged. For example, both felt that students were able to select appropriate technology for learning tasks, to use web browsers and search engines effectively, to download information correctly, and to "respond to others with respect": skills and an ethic notably prized in successful participants in online social culture. Both also felt that, less happily, students were particularly unwilling to have their ideas challenged or to understand their own thinking strategies in a virtual platform. In many other cases, though, the opinions of students and teachers differed, and widely. Where students thought themselves decent planners, good listeners, strong readers and writers, and thoughtful responders, teachers thought the far opposite. And where teachers thought students decently able to manage their time online, or to present information in a variety of digital formats, students felt themselves to be woefully unprepared. For other competencies regarding the online learning experience, particularly with regard to self-scheduling, self-starting, and interacting with classmates in an online learning community, a double-negative signaled student inabilities to take advantage of some of the proposed general strengths of the contemporary LMS.
So, what now? According to the researchers, the evidence suggests that current learning preparation and digital working proficiency are not adequate for diving into e-learning as if the transition between the classroom and the LMS were seamless. In their words, for student success, students need to be "apprenticed" into the form of learning online just as teachers seek to train them in its content; for e-learning to be socially constructive, students must learn the language and footwork to navigate it. It is not enough to imagine that learning happens independent of the environment in which it takes place.Parkes, M., Stein, S., and Reading, C. (2015). Student preparedness for university e-learning environments. The Internet and Higher Education, 25, 1-10.
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