Online Instruction and Distance Learning


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Editor’s Note: This updated article is from Happy’s series of 25 essential skills for engineers, which were originally published several years ago by I-Connect007. It provides important information and serves as a useful reference, and this skill remains essential for today’s engineers.

Online courses have become increasingly available and popular. For this to be effective, specific requirements must be met for courses taken or produced over the internet in order to provide the user with a positive experience.

Introduction

Today's fast-paced, global, and competitive environment requires constant innovation, skills improvements, upskilling, and personal learning. Distance learning is the only efficient, scalable, and sustainable way to build and protect the value of our workforces. Face-to-face learning is still the most effective, but time, money, geography, health, and availability make this tougher the older you get.

Why is this Important?

Globalized manufacturing has affected jobs in the United States. Globalized learning is now possible because the rest of the world can gain access to the best courses from Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Harvard, Princeton, and many more!

As many as 12.2 million people took online courses from various universities and technical companies as of 2007. Nearly half were not from the U.S., even though these courses were taught in English. Today, the estimate is more than 25 million, with two-thirds of learners outside the United States. There are 21,200 college-level programs designed to be completed solely through distance education. Sixty-six percent of the 4,160 two-year and four-year Title IV degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the nation offered college-level distance education courses with degrees or certificates. 

Happy_distance_learning_table_1.jpg
Table 1: This table shows non-English speaking countries where the technical people all speak English.
[1]

If you are wondering why Taiwan is upfront, it is because I have firsthand knowledge about Taiwan having lived there for many years. Every young student learns to read English. It costs more to learn to pronounce and speak English. Taiwan’s government had to pass a law to keep English from being taught in kindergarten because English was perceived to be so important. This is essential for technical people because they use textbooks from the U.S./U.K. printed in English. Even while doing something as mundane as bowling, high school students would keep score and compete to see who would get to practice English with my two boys.

If you are concerned about your job and your future but are not motivated to accumulate additional knowledge and skills, remember—there are millions of foreigners that want your job! My motivation for this series of chapters is to alert you to some of the skills that I value as an engineering manager and former CTO of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers. However, I am not teaching these skills. That is still something you have to do.

In the document “Distance Learning: Enabling the Race to the Top” [1] sent to members of Congress and the Office of Economics for the White House in November 2009, the United States Distance Learning Association said, “In the current Knowledge Economy and Conceptual Age, distance learning arguably also presents our richest opportunities for new business and product innovation.”

Major non-English programs are from:

  • China (the largest with millions enrolled)
  • India (second-largest with most in English)
  • Korea
  • European Union
  • Latin America
  • Mexico

Traditional Learning

Most of us are the result of a traditional learning process because of all the years spent in school. Students are taught and lectured to by teachers, professors, or other experts. Even if you moved up to the internet age by viewing webinars, there is still a live instructor lecturing to students. Online learning and distance learning are the next evolutional steps in learning (Figure 1). By using learning theory and experimentation, classes can now be created and stored for use anytime, anywhere. This is a science that is more than pre-recorded webinars or audio track on PowerPoint slides. Sociology is applied to the user on how to keep their attention and measure if they are actually learning anything.

Distance Learning

The U.S. started distance learning (e-learning) after the Vietnam conflict. The military realized the need for continuing education for soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Today, more than 4.6 million hours of distributed learning takes place in the U.S. military every year, whether on ships, foreign bases, or in barracks. The United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) was formed as a nonprofit organization in 1987. They support research, development, and dissemination of best practices across pre-K and K–12, home, higher, and continuing education; corporate, military, and government training; telemedicine, and others.

Retooling (upscaling) will require high-tech new skills and help/collaboration from industries and universities. A priority is that distance learning must also lead to a meaningful credential, whether it is a certificate of completion, certification, or degree. Employers must be active partners. Since 1998, some industries have made great strides in collaborating to develop and provide education and training to their entire industry through industry-based online learning initiatives. Each initiative:

  • Targets both incumbent workers and those new to the industry
  • Partners with carefully selected high-performing online education training providers led by a broad-based company coalition
  • Provides curriculum content co-developed by industry and educational experts
  • Reaches participants nationally and internationally
  • Manages digital resources using the internet and new learning technologies

Managing Digital Resources

The management of digital resources is an important part of e-learning. Numerous open-source and proprietary software tools are available to assist in the e-learning development process. A few to consider:

  • Plone CMS
  • ATutor
  • Microsoft CMS
  • Eedo Force Ten LCMS
  • DSpace
  • MERLOT Learning
  • Nutshell CRM
  • Netsuite
  • Hubspot

 

Figure 1: Learning has evolved over time, and the internet has enabled the emergence and rapid advancement of online learning. 

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