SIX. What Are the Different E-Learning Styles?

E-learning styles are ways to deal with the problems of scheduling and group interaction.

It's hard at 2 a.m. to get an instructor and a group of like-minded students together at a moment's notice. On the other hand, students taking self-directed e-learning courses can do so at any convenient time, but they work completely alone.

-1. What are the basic styles for e-learning?

- There are three basic styles for e-learning that depend on how the learning event is scheduled and how interaction with other people occurs.

- The three basic e-learning styles are:

1. Synchronous learning

2. Self-directed learning

3. Asynchronous (collaborative) learning

Tell Me More

The style of an e-learning experience is "how it feels" to the student. Do you feel that you're isolated, or do you feel that you're part of a group of people learning together? And if you're part of a group, how do communication and interaction occur?

The following summarizes the different styles, each of which is further described in its own question/answer section in this chapter.

Synchronous Learning

A group of students meet with an instructor over the Internet. They are all online at the same time while they are communicating with each other. The instructor can interact with the students. Students can interact with other students.

Self-Directed Learning

A student acts alone to work through the materials that are delivered to her over the Internet. There is no instructor or group of peer students to communicate with.

Asynchronous (Collaborative) Learning

This style blends the characteristics of the other two styles. A group of students meets with an instructor over the Internet and can communicate. But they are not necessarily online at the same time. Students interact with the instructor and with other students by leaving messages that can be responded to within a matter of hours. The student can work alone but can still communicate with an instructor and with a peer group of students.

It's important to realize that the "perfect" e-learning style doesn't exist. Each style has its advantages but also its challenges.

The following table shows how the learning styles fit with the first three tiers of the IBM 4-Tier Learning Model, described in the appendix:

Tier

E-Learning Styles

Tier 3

- Synchronous learning

- Asynchronous (collaborative) learning

Tier 2

- Self-directed learning (complex approach)

Tier 1

- Self-directed learning (simple approach)

-2. What is the "synchronous learning" style?

- With synchronous learning, all the students and the instructor are "there" at the same time. This is much like the traditional classroom experience, except the "there" is online instead of being physically together.

Tell Me More

The word synchronous means "all at the same time" and refers to the gathering of all the students at the same time (for example, class starts at 7 p.m. Mountain Time and ends at 9 p.m.). This might not seem like a big problem until you start dealing with students in different time zones around the world and with students who are busy with their day jobs while they are trying to take the e-learning course before or after work.

Let's look at a typical scenario for a synchronous virtual classroom experience. You're a student learning the Java programming language. You connect to the course at 8 a.m. on Monday, and after signing in, you hear a lecture (at the same time all the other students hear it) by the instructor over the Internet. After another lecture, you have your first hands-on lab assignment to write your first Java program. You connect to the hands-on experience lab, enter your program, ask questions of the instructor and get the answers, and finally get your first Java program running. The instructor might even be able to "look over" your virtual shoulder to help you with your lab exercise, and you might be able to interact with other students (ask them questions, get responses) while you're in the virtual class.

In summary, the main elements of the synchronous learning style are:

- It is instructor-led.

- It is scheduled (synchronous). Everyone is "there" at the same time.

- It is collaborative. Students can "talk and interact" with each other.

The advantages and challenges of the synchronous virtual classroom are listed in the following table:

Advantages

Challenges

- Familiar learning model for students. Students know what to expect from a familiar environment.

- Instructor interaction makes it possible to strengthen learning.

- Student-to-student communication is possible in a variety of ways.

- Time scheduling. It can be difficult to get all of the students together at the same time. Pressures to continue doing normal day-to-day work are strong when the student has not physically "gone to class."

- Cost for instructor

- Network bandwidth and speed. Some of the "fancier" technologies for synchronous e-learning need wide bandwidths for video, audio, and graphic intensive simulations. Can

all of your students be assured of a high-speed, high-bandwidth network connection?

At this point, I encourage you to turn to Chapter 2 and think about which of those case studies would be possible to do with the "synchronous learning" style. Then, of those that are possible, which do you think you would really do that way? Why?

 
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