A Review of Web-Based Learning

A comparison of web-based learning and online study with traditional classroom-based learning with a teacher, trainer, or instructor in front of the class is shown below.

We hear a lot these days about online and web-based learning or e-learning but how good is it? In the past, many people have been put off by boring, computer-based learning material term papers that were little more than PowerPoint slides.

There is no doubt that without an inspirational teacher in front of you, if the learning material isn't of high quality, then it is all too easy to lose interest and stop learning. This is particularly important in these recessionary times when cash is tight and online learning can be more cost-effective than traditional classroom-based learning.

Finally, we'll also look at the benefits of mixing web-based learning with social networking in order to add student collaboration to the learning mix.

So what do we mean by Traditional Learning?

When I was at school and later at, university we generally sat in rows before a teacher or lecturer in a classroom or lecture theatre. The teacher determined the pace of the lesson and did most of the talking while we, the students, listened and took notes.

How does this compare with Web-based Learning?

The first true distance learning was the 'Correspondance course' where the student of such subjects as typing or foreign languages received learning material through the mail or other essay writing services of the need.

The Internet changed all that and learning material can now be delivered directly over the web to where ever the student happens to be at the time; even to Starbucks or McDonald's!

Here are some of the benefits of modern e-learning:

  • Self-Paced (you can work through the material at your own pace).
  • Delivered 24/7 to suit your individual needs and timetable.
  • Delivered as many times as you want. This is great for overcoming skill fade. For example, practising emergency drills which only occur very rarely so aren't experienced in day to day working.
  • Choice of learning style. Well, designed e-learning can adapt to your learning style and individualise the training offered.
  • Built-in assessment. You can be assessed as you work through the course. The training material presented can even adapt to your answers. If you are struggling with equations, for example, then the built-in instruction algorithm may deviate into a revision module giving you more help with algebra.
  • More cost-effective. E-learning eliminates transport costs to visit a training venue, hotel/accommodation costs and the cost to hire an instructor, trainer or teacher.
  • Less time consuming because of zero travel time and instant availability.
  • Better for the environment because saves transportation fuel costs plus heating and lighting costs for the school or college.

But there are obvious disadvantages of distance learning too:

  • Lack of interaction with a peer group (limited opportunity for collaborative learning).
  • Excellent for knowledge-based training but it doesn't work well for practical mental and physical skills (For example, soldering, craftwork and skill of hand).
  • These shortcomings can be overcome by, for example, online universities holding 'summer schools' where online students can meet up, get to know one another and share ideas about the subject being studied or conduct practical exercises.
  • Apart from real-world meetings the use of online tutors and social networking sites also help. More on that later.

Benefits of Traditional Teaching

With all these benefits of online learning and e-learning, is traditional learning dead?

No of course not:
  • Learning directed by a real, experienced individual can be crucial for discipline and ethos. An obvious example of this attitudinal learning is military training. As far as the army is concerned there is no substitute for an experienced soldier in uniform either on the drill square or in front of a class to engender military ethos.
  • It can be easier to concentrate in a traditional classroom - particularly if the trainer or lecturer is engaging and enthusiastic!
  • In the classroom, you can ask questions and get immediate answers and the learning delivered tends to adapt to the needs of the individuals in the class.
  • You can also interact with classmates and share ideas (collaborative learning).

And the Disadvantages of Traditional Learning?

  • It didn't do me any harm when I was growing up but there are obvious disadvantages to this approach:
  • It is relatively costly (Think about travel costs to get to the place of learning, accommodation costs, meals, teacher or instructor salaries etc.).
  • Only one learning Style. Some people love lectures but many people don't learn well in this setting. Instructor-led learning is a one size fits all solution.
  • The pace is fixed. The teacher paces the lesson either to fit the needs of the slowest pupil or inevitably some students will get left behind. Either way, some students will not be happy with the outcome.
  • No differentiation. This is a term teachers use to indicate learning focused on the individual's needs. While this is an educational ideal it is always difficult to differentiate if you have only one teacher looking after a large class.
  • Effective assessment difficult – You either require a traditional exam or some kind of test or assignment. Students increasingly cheat with essays and assignments and an exam isn't a particularly fair form of assessment.
  • It doesn’t fit in with modern lifestyles - Today, we have a shorter attention span. There is a tendency to multitask more (think younger generation and mobile phones) and as a result, each new generation of teenagers is finding concentration on a traditional lecture increasingly unappealing.
  • The lecture is a 'One Shot' solution - After the class, you are left with only your notes. If you fell asleep or were sick then it is difficult to recover the educational content of the lesson.