E-learning sites range from static Web pages to interactive learning classrooms. This article concentrates on interactive learning classrooms and focuses on issues of student motivation.

Motivation and e-learning - personal reflections - resources article

Self-directed learning on the internet is becoming increasingly popular and it is one other way to encourage our students to practise their language outside the classroom, or it is a vital resource for the student who cannot get to a classroom.

  • What is an e-learning site?
  • Introduction to the cyber classroom
  • Are students motivated by this type of learning?
  • Reasons for a high drop-out rate
  • How to keep learners motivated
  • Conclusion


What is an e-learning site?
Students who are interested in guiding their own learning can freely access sites such as www.commnet.edu/grammar, owl.english.purdue.edu and find excellent handouts which are accompanied by answers.

Going one step further, students who, again, are more interested in free Self-Access may visit www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish or the Virtual Learning Centre in Hong Kong: vlc.polyu.edu.hk and find colourful activities which can be accessed at any time. These sites are more interactive with their Chat, or Talking Point facilities and students can become part of a community, but they are not tutor-led.

Then, at the far end of the scale, come the fee-based virtual classrooms - online courses with set dates for starting and ending. They are tutor-led and participants can access the asynchronous sessions at any time, completing tasks assigned either individually or collaboratively in groups through Chats and Discussions. Individual problems can be discussed during tutorials and these sites often have synchronous sessions and a "virtual café" where participants meet up with others to relax. There will often be evaluations throughout the course and certificates on successful completion. A password is given to those who enrol, but a sample lesson for these types of courses can be accessed at writingclasses.com/sample/adult and Englishtown.com.

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Introduction to the cyber classroom

  • Distance education brings to mind children living in the outback of Australia, learning from a radio.
  • Nowadays distance learning, e-learning and online learning describe learning via a computer connected to the Internet.
  • This type of learning has had a bad name because up until recently it has meant material being posted to a static website with no means of interaction.
  • Currently, courseware applications are being developed which enable firstly asynchronous activities such as chats, threaded discussions, tasks, glossaries and resources, and secondly, synchronous activities such as chats, discussions and virtual classrooms.
  • Teachers' roles are changing. They are being asked to write material for "cyber-classrooms".
  • Neologisms in the topic are appearing and "e-learning" is perhaps the most current term. It is already appearing as "elearning".


Are students motivated by this type of learning?
Course designers must realise that learning styles are different: visual learners, kinaesthetic learners, auditory learners. E-learning courses must cater for all otherwise learners will lose interest.

Reasons for a high drop-out rate

  • Learners can feel isolated.
  • Difficult navigation within the site.
  • Confusing instructions for tasks.
  • Irrelevant material for learners' needs.
  • Technical breakdowns.


How to keep learners motivated

  • Isolation is an important issue.
    • Teachers post a Welcome Letter at the beginning of course.
    • Material is written in a "chatty", informal way.
    • Learners encouraged early on to find out about each other (hobbies, goals, interests).
    • Encourage competition between learners (who has written the best essay, who can post the first message).
    • Teachers check in regularly, at pre-assigned times (and never fail to do so).
    • Learners are encouraged to post their photograph (if they want to - some prefer to remain anonymous).
    • Teachers praise frequently.
    • Teachers provide and ask for constant feedback.
    • Work can be shared.
    • Lurkers are contacted by email to find out the reason for non-participation.
  • Navigation must be kept simple. Not everyone is technically minded.

 

  • Tasks need to be explained in the simplest terms.
    • Models and examples should be given (more than in face-to-face classrooms).
    • Continually tell the learners what they have done, what they are doing and what they will do next.
    • Make sure they are aware of the objectives of each exercise.
    • Give deadlines for submission of tasks.
    • Teachers set realistic dates for turn-around of homework (and keep to it)
  • To make the course relevant, learners are encouraged to take turns in being responsible for leading a discussion or task. They are given plenty of practice to use new skills.
  • Technical breakdowns will occur, they are still a fact of life. Essential that the teacher has a contact telephone number or e-mail address for each learner.


Conclusion
As technology develops, it will become cheaper and will meet the needs of all types of learners. Visual learners were, to some extent, satisfied by the static websites. But what about the others? With new technology, video and audio clips can be used to help the auditory learners. Powerpoint slides or other graphic illustrations can further help the visual learners and kinaesthetic learners can be given links to other websites and encouraged to be interactive and independent.

Institutes, schools and governments are becoming more aware of this development and there are plans for a pan-European network. E-learning is a fact, it is here and will stay here, continually developing until it is within the reach and pocket of everyone.

If you have any suggestions or tips for using the internet in the class you would like to share on this site, contact us.

Leite Monteiro, English teacher, Language Centre, Civil Service College, Portugal

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