pjk peter.kindlmann at yale.edu
Sat Feb 17 19:36:16 EST 2001

Subject:   e-learning

Dear Colleagues -

The current issue of The Economist has a good article on the
market for e-learning and why it has been slow to take off.


A few quotes highlight important facets. My concluding comments
follow at the bottom.

About academia

> Consider UCLA, the University of California, Los Angeles, a prime
> candidate for advanced electronic learning methods if ever there
> was one. But UCLA uses the Internet much like a big business would.
> And, like the average big business, it doubts whether it has saved
> much money as a result. It has simply been able to do a number of
> things better.
> The first users, says Rory Hume, the university's executive vice
> chancellor, were the administrative staff: "the people who buy
> things, and who have the power to hire and fire." Next to see the
> opportunities were the librarians. Only late in the day did
> academics realise that the university's system, now being designed
> as a single unit, could be used as a way to distribute information
> about classes and, more recently, about grading. But on-line
> instruction? Lots of small experiments are running on campus, but
> not much more. "Even when our professors put all the material on
> the web," says Mr Hume, "all the students still come to lectures." 

> Many of the other uses of information technology on the UCLA campus
> neither save money nor visibly enhance productivity. They simply
> raise the quality of the experience. One example is the web-sites
> that now exist for almost all 3,000 or so undergraduate courses.
> About 55-60% of them not only supply lecture notes; they also allow
> students to take tests online and to see their results. Another
> example is My.UCLA, an in-house "portal". Students can use it to
> search for advice, such as the entry requirements for graduate
> school.
> ...the extension of an institution's brand is not without risk.
> Increasing the number of students who claim to have studied there
> can damage a university's reputation if those students do not
> receive the level of teaching that the university's name was built
> on.

About home schooling

> Among the most committed early users of children's educational
> websites were those families that teach their children at home.
> Since it became fully legal in all 50 states in 1993,
> home-schooling has taken off in America. Estimates of the number of
> children currently being taught at home by their parents range from
> 1.5m to 2m, and the number is thought to be rising at between 7%
> and 15% a year. 
> The homes in which this teaching takes place are among the most
> wired in the world­94% have a computer, and almost all of those are
> connected to the Internet.

About corporate training

> Enthusiasts of e-learning claim that corporate networks in the
> future will move beyond the provision of courses 24 hours a day,
> and that they will become a growing, responsive repository of
> knowledge that continuously delivers to employees just what they
> need to know at any particular moment...and in a form perfectly
> adapted to their style of learning. 
> No e-learning programme is close to this yet, although the United
> Airlines example gives a flavour of things to come. The nearest to
> such a "knowledge environment" is probably to be found in
> professional service firms like McKinsey, a consultancy where the
> collective expertise of the employees is almost the only asset.
> McKinsey consultants have developed systematic ways of pooling the
> results of their work into a continuously growing information
> resource on which all the firm's employees can draw. But they are
> powerfully self-motivated individuals. The same cannot be said of
> pupils at the likes of Beverly Hills High. 

Bottom line as I see it

> To develop the market for e-learning requires a deeper
> understanding of the process of learning, of how pupils respond to
> ideas presented by a computer rather than by a teacher or a book.
> The Learning Federation, a consortium of American businesses,
> academic institutions and government agencies, is proposing to
> co-ordinate research in a range of scientific disciplines that will
> accelerate progress in e-learning. 

This process of better understanding how to learn with
technological means is one that universities should be major
contributors to. It will require a careful and committed
interdisciplinary commitment. It should in fact become an
officially degreed program of study. Progress to date has at best
been spottily anectodal. 

Universities have in recent years discovered the profits of
scientific discovery, most prominently in biology and genetics, and
not without some strain on academic tradition. Contributions to
understanding the e-learning process ought to be an entirely
fitting, and potentially also profitable, undertaking for
All best,  --PJK

More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list