OPINION: Time for E-learning in Uganda’s education sector

We have an urgent need for e-learning in Uganda’s schools and universities.

It is important to note that the development of a strategic e-learning plan is one thing, while effective and successful e-learning implementation is another.

Schools and educators need to first consider the learning outcomes sought, political landscape, technology constraints/opportunities, resourcing, and general organizational readiness.

Just by its nature, technology adaptation brings with it a lot of organizational change issues. Change is a given if we do not simply want to replicate our old ways of doing things. Challenges will be met; therefore, we need to be ready for the disruption change can bring to our schools when introducing a comprehensive e-learning strategy.

So how do we introduce new digital learning environments whilst avoiding the pain so many schools around the world have already suffered? We need to not only consider

the technology we want to introduce but organizational and change management principles as well. The ‘people’ things. Moving on, I would like to highlight the most useful tips needed for implementing effective and successful e-learning in schools.

E-learning driven by pedagogy

To successfully achieve any technology-driven education, it is important to do the implementation systematically and driven by the pedagogy/instruction method. We have witnessed many failures, spent finances and frustration with little return in the implementation of digital learning environments.

Sadly, the implementation of educational technologies has not always resulted in positive learning experiences or outcomes for students. Technology complications aside, this was often a result of not fully understanding the dynamics generated by introducing technology into the education arena.

In some of the worst implementations, traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching approaches were simply replicated with new technology. For administrators of educational institutions, this at first seems very attractive due to possible significant cost savings due to unlimited scalability.

However, in reality, this mostly leads to a poor learner experience, substandard educational benefit, dissatisfied students and disenchanted teaching staff. Not a good position to be in. The good news is that research shows us how to do better and it has strongly pointed to allowing pedagogy to drive e-learning in schoolsschools.

Now let us take a step back from the technology itself, it is important to consider how we want to apply IT in the classroom. When introducing technology in educational settings, we need to rethink the pedagogical methods of deployment. Technology offers us so much more than blackboards and chalk ever did. We can now employ rich multimedia content that provides a more interactive and engaging learning experience.

Teaching methods, therefore, need to be rethought to get the best out of new technology. We know from studies in educational psychology how students retain knowledge and how they can apply it to situations outside the classroom. This has motivated the development of various active or student-centered teaching methods.

These include authentic learning and enquiry-based learning, among others.

These pedagogies promise better learning outcomes than previous didactic approaches to teaching as they promote the development of critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and real-world learning.

We also know that today’s multinational, innovative, and technologically sophisticated environment employers need employees who are critical thinkers and effective communicators, people who can think outside the box and solve problems.

To prepare students for the 21st century, today’s schools need to teach higher-order skills of critical thinking and complex problem-solving.

So we need to consider how we can employ educational technology more effectively, in ways that develop these higher-order problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Diagnosing a student’s prior knowledge

Problem-challenges need to be achievable, otherwise, they can act as a demotivator. In encouraging problem solving for deeper learning, problems provided to learners need to be within context and in line with their skills. Setting a goal too high will demotivate, whilst setting a goal too low will do the same. Understanding the learning outcomes helps us set the difficulty of the problem to be solved.

Educational technology can help us here as well. For example, a pre-test to diagnose students’ prior knowledge could be administered in a Learning Management System as a placement test; the results could trigger different outcomes.

If a student fails such a test, they could be automatically booked on an easier foundation or bridging course; pass the test and progress along the intended learner journey.

Such a diagnostic testing component can identify possible knowledge gaps and unlock suitable bridging courses to target those gaps. Different learning journeys and learning-logic can place the learner in a correct spot in their learning journey, for example, navigate the learner to jump to an area/item or go to a restricted area. If questions are answered incorrectly, a jump to the start of the course action can be initiated so that the learner has to study the content again.

Elements can also be retrieved from a restricted area, for example, after successfully passing an exam, or, if a lesson needs to be completed in a specific sequence.

Change management considerations

Secondary non-technical considerations are the school organizational issues that facilitate or hinder technology-induced change.

If considering employing Authentic Learning pedagogies to make the most of e-learning a shift in the traditional teacher-student dynamics is needed, teachers need to develop new skills to facilitate, guide, coach, mentor, advise, not teach. Students also need to accept new learning roles of the discoverer of knowledge, not just being passive learners. With these approaches, learners act as active participants, while teachers act as mediators or facilitators of learning, unlike traditional teaching approaches.

Research shows that technology integration requires much more than simply acquiring technical skills. The provision of technology tools, organizational and change management principles are needed.

Usually, learners are enthusiastic about the realism of the active learning approach in delivering real-world practical experiences and to accomplish this, teachers need a shift away from the orthodox way of teaching to where they provide guidance, not answers, to students. For this, they need to learn new teaching skills and content knowledge for e-learning.

Subsequently, teaching staff needs support from their institutions, at the highest level.

In conclusion, a rapidly changing landscape of ongoing digital transformation puts new requirements on the teaching staff.

Change is often initiated by school administrators, not the teaching staff themselves. The change that occurs from technology introduction can often result in resistance as people react to possible loss of status, loss of pay, or loss of comfort. New ways of working put requirements on new competencies and continuous learning and development.

Teaching staff do not have time to produce e-learning content. Both issues that can lead to resistance to the change. However, with the right support mechanisms, many implementation challenges can be overcome.

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Dr Muganga is an education thought leader, author, international curriculum speaker, and passionate about changing the education factory we call the school.

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