Last July I was invited to Beijing to consult EU-China –project on Occupational Safety & Health in High-Risk Sectors. Aim of my two weeks long visit was to promote eLearning and train local staff in eLearning course design. There are around 3,000 study centers around China but no other teaching methods as the traditional classroom teaching.
So far the online courses were planned to be self-paced courses with no interaction or learner centered course design. Content was recorded lectures and an examination in the end of the course. Aim of the project was to promote eLearning as a blended learning model and totally online courses.
First Chinese stakeholders wanted to see some European online courses about occupational safety and health. There are plenty of online courses available and we looked in more detail courses of British Safety Council, 3T results and Health and Safety Work Executive. Second quite crucial aim was to understand what does a course designer do. It was almost difficult to explain a thing that is so obvious and clear for myself. I listed following 6 tasks as the most important tasks of the eLearning course-designer:
- Design of the curricula & learning environment according to end-user requirements and aims of the training
- Design of student activities (online, self-study and blended learning)
- Design and production of user friendly materials
- Design of students’ interaction during studies
- Production of manageable chunks (contents, timing)
- Design of attractive elements & visual layout of the learning environment
Chinese stakeholders agreed they have to train course designers because they are lacking this kind of expertise. There are also differences in pedagogical thinking in general which has an impact to learning design and teaching. According to Bing & Ai-Ping (2008) Asian learners still do not interact on a high level dimension in a Web-based environment. Teaching is teacher-centered and Chinese students are not willing to comment each others’ opinions or ideas in the forum boards of online environment. But Asian learners have begun to be involved in Web-based collaborative learning. What they need is encouragement for learner-centered interaction and higher level of knowledge exchanges. Learners need to be constantly motivated and assured of their progress by tutors. Enthusiasm, involvement and interests shown by tutors will sustain learners in their online learning process. Sounds familiar if I think 1990’s in Finland.
Challenges the EUCOHS-project face in promotion of eLearning are partly global, partly cultural. Around the world there have been a series of obstacles encountered by educators as they began to implement distance learning. The first obstacle is that of a lacking good training and high-quality supervised experience in the use of distance learning pedagogy for the instructors who will teach eLearning. This is true also in this project. Beside general pedagogical training there have to be resources to train teachers and course designers how to use those specific technologies to initiate an supervise successfull student activities. There are research results that show there is limited professonal development for instruction rooted in information and communication technology primarily due to a lack of training. In Chinese culture the educational model has very passive students and minimal interaction. Students are not willing to comment each others’ opinion or ideas. Chinese don’t put neither teacher nor students in a position to ”lose face”. This cultural impact will minimize when Asian countries move toward knowledge-based economies and Chinese learners begin to be intrinsically motivated which indicates a move towards individualistic society. Then learners begun to realize that to acquire knowledge effectively, it is essential ”to learn” and ”to ask”.
At the beginning of eLearning it is crucial to reflect the pedagogical background of course design. Also in this project there are two options: they can copy the teacher-centered delivery model of teaching to online environment. Or they can plan online learning with a more interactive model such as many western countries prefer. Even thought the amount of students in Chinese organisations is high I recommend to include interaction to learning – it can be online or face-to-face. But interaction has to be there at least when we want to develop higher cognitive skills like learning to learn, self-assessment and metacognitive skills.
Bing, W. & Ai-Ping, T. 2008. The Influence of National Culture Toward Learner’s Interaction In The Online Learning Environment. A Comparative Analyses of Shanghai TV University (China) and Wawasan Open University (Malaysia). The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 9 (3), 327-339.
Wang, L-C., Song, J. & Liu, G. 2011. The eLearning Experience: General Truths and the Chinese eLearning Experience. International Journal of Instructional Media. Vol. 38 (3), 2011. 225-236.