Learning and teaching online
Volume 24, No. 1
With the worldwide economy in downturn, people are considering upgrading their skills and knowledge to remain competitive. Undoubtedly, the U.S. is in speculation of a recession and with that comes the unfortunate corollary: job layoffs. No industry is immune nor is it unheard of to have layoffs in emergency services. Emergency responders can protect themselves and their training officers by staying at the top of their game, getting a degree and embracing more than regular training.
Since many may not be in a financial position to quit their jobs and go back to school, online education is probably the best option. A multitude of e-learning options and tools are available. Training officers can develop online supplementary educations that emergency response teams can complete at their own pace.
With more than three million U.S. learners turning to online opportunities to bolster their knowledge and careers, educational researchers find this burgeoning methodology a valid and useful tool for educators and students alike. A 2007 Sloan survey found robust growth and widespread acceptance of e-learning. Online education, it found, is one of the best methodologies for adult learners, especially those in higher education. The survey of 2,200 U.S. colleges and universities shows attendance in online courses jumping from 2.3 million students in 2006 to 3.2 million during the fall 2007 term.
Yet one troubling statistic has emerged — the dropout rate for online courses ran as high as 60 percent, compared with 11 percent for traditional classroom learning, according to a 2007 study by Lee and Nguyen, researchers at New Mexico State University. But many adults are not accustomed to Internet-based learning. An uncounted number have little idea of how to best use this modality to their advantage. Learning via the Internet is significantly different from attending a course in a bricks-and-mortar classroom. Certain skills and attributes require retooling before plunking down several hundred dollars for an online class that is both fast-paced and rigorous.
Online learning, e-learning or computer-based learning are among several synonyms defining an educational setting where instructors and students usually are separated by time and space and use computers and networks to communicate. Online educators divide e-learning into three broad categories.
Asynchronous learning involves accessing course materials from a computer through the Internet, allowing students to access the virtual classroom anytime or any place. A generalized schedule, controlling the course’s weekly pace, is in place to keep students focused on such tasks as posting discussions or accessing content. Asynchronous courses are popular because of the freedom to schedule one’s coursework around a busy life.
Synchronous learning, as one might expect, adds specific times at which students access materials and discuss course content. These programs, because of their time constraint, are less popular in higher education.
Blended courses combine the traditional classroom for tasks like lecture or group discussion with the Internet todisperse course content such as case studies, Flash movies and streaming video.
The notion of distance learning is not new, having its roots in the correspondence schools of the early 20th century. Distance education is vastly different today with new terminology and user techniques. One of the big differences facing adult e-learners today is adopting how to learn in the computer age. As more fire departments seek recruits and promote to officers with college degrees, online courses will gain more popularity.
Attila Hertelendy is an instructor with the University of Nevada, Reno – Fire Science Academy and President and CEO of Great White Emergency Medical Solutions, Inc., a training and emergency response planning company. Email comments, questions and industrial fire training topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.