E-learning has become an increasingly attractive option for delivering HSC courses and programmes of study, especially as part of a blended approach to pedagogy. However, while there are undoubted advantages to this mode of education, there are also serious shortcomings that undermine its value. Research into e-learning in HSC has focused on the student experience, their satisfaction and the extent to which classroom based learning can be compared to online learning. There are a relatively small number of studies that have looked specifically at the role of the teacher and the experience of teachers when required to adopt e-learning into their pedagogical strategy.
There is little consensus on the choice of terminology to categorise the new technologies on educational affordance, or on the pedagogic underpinning of innovative modes of online education. The literature and policy framework use a broad spectrum of terms: web-based learning, web-enhanced learning, computer-assisted learning, computer-mediated communication, and digital pedagogy being a few. However, in HSC education, one term has come to embody the new technologies as educational affordance: e-learning.
E-learning has been understood in many ways and there are a many of ways of conceptualising it. It does, however, seem to require some form of electronic mediation, whether in a classroom or from a distance. There is now a general agreement that e-learning involves information and communication technology. For instance, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE, 2005, p.5) defined e-learning as ‘any learning that uses ICT’, and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC, 2001) agrees, defining e-learning as learning facilitated and supported by the use of information and communication technology. The Higher Education Academy (HEA, 2009) remembers teachers: ‘Any use of ICT to enhance teaching and learning can be called e-learning’. Glen (2005) goes on to assert that e-learning is the integration of information technology into the learning/ teaching process, using material delivered via the internet.
In essence e-learning is a broad term that describes the use of technology to support learning and teaching – not just learning. It does not mean there is one model of e-learning, and it does not mean it is an all-or-nothing approach. After all, the new technologies have developed incrementally. But they should be led by sound educational principles. Yet, e-learning has not produced a quantum leap in improving pedagogy, with many users finding that traditional approaches to teaching are compatible to using e-learning, even when adapted to working online. However it is contended that to improve the pedagogy of e-learning more attention needs to be paid to the teaching half of the learning/ teaching process.
E-learning and teachers
In higher education e-learning has been endorsed and encouraged as a tool for the twenty first century’s knowledge economy (Bradwell, 2009). It has been posited as a revolution for healthcare professionals, a tool for developing practitioner skills and a method for facilitating lifelong learning. Beetham and Sharpe (2007, 2), when rethinking the use of pedagogy in light of the digital age, assert that guiding others (from the original usage of pedagogy as a slave leading children to school) ‘is a unique, skilful, creative and demanding human activity that deserves scholarship in its own right.’ Mayes and de Freitas (2007, 13) go further and argue that the internet offers not just a new model of education, but a new model of learning. If teachers are to be involved in this new model of education and learning, the implication is a necessity for a new model of teaching, and one for which teachers are prepared.
There are a limited number of published studies evaluating the role and perceptions of teachers in e-learning in healthcare, while there were many more that explored the experience of students, but from which some evidence about the role of educators can be gleaned. Even though new technologies have been endorsed by HSC educators and used across a spectrum of media they are not indicative of effective and confident use. Impediments that impact strongly on the use of e-learning methods are that: teachers are not consulted about developing e-learning; student support for e-learning is better than and prioritised over support to educators; and there has been insufficient teacher preparation, guidance and training to equip educators to use the new modes of delivery.
In respect of e-learning pedagogy is not just how people learn but also the social interactions that support learning, where teaching is reclaimed from negative connotations of being dominant, unresponsive and repressive forms of instruction. In fact e-learning offers the potential for teaching to lead the way in being a learning partnership between student and teacher, responsive, and enabling. But if e-learning in all its forms is to be effective and achieve its potential, there needs to be a coherent and workable model of education.
The potential benefits of e-learning can liberate teaching from the confines of the classroom. In HSC it might use e-learning to promote the development of enquiring, reflective and critical learners by implementing a range of learning and teaching strategies across a wide range of settings, and thus creating a learning environment that provides appropriate professional and inter-professional learning opportunities. However to meet these aspirations teachers need to be confident and adept in using the innovative media.
This is based on the assumption that e-learning requires teachers. There is a need to ensure students have computer skills to enable them to engage in their learning, but the quality and amount of support students receive from teachers is influenced by their relationship with their teachers, and those teachers need to be trained for online delivery so that they can provide regular, constructive and timely feedback to students.
The preparation of teachers has to be addressed if new technologies are to be embraced in the care teaching and learning environment. Many teachers are ill-equipped to use e-learning in their teaching strategy, with poorly developed IT skills which leads to a lack of confidence. It is becoming clear that any shift in the role of teachers needs to be supported through professional development.
Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (2007) An introduction to rethinking pedagogy for a digital age in Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. Designing and delivering e-learning London and New York, Taylor and Francis Group
Bradwell, P. (2009) The Edgeless University: Why Higher Education Must Embrace Technology London, Demos
Glen, S. 92005) ‘E-learning in nurse education: Lessons learnt?’ Nurse Education Today 25 (6), 415- 7
HEFCE (2005) ‘HEFCE strategy for e-learning. London
http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100202100434/http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/HEFCE/2005/05_12/ accessed 17th September 2013
JISC (2001) ‘JISC Five Year Strategy 2001- 2005’ Joint Information Systems Committee, London
Higher Education Academy (2009) ‘E-learning’ http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/hlst/resources/a-zdirectory/e-learning/ accessed 17th September, 2013
Mayes, T. and de Freitas, S. (2007) Chapter 1 Learning and e-learning in Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. Designing and delivering e-learning London and New York, Taylor and Francis Group