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introduction

Welcome to the new UVaWeblearn: A resourse and portal for technology-assisted education, distance-learning and online education. This site should be taken as a primer on the use of technology - in the classroom and out of it - to facilitate learning. This should be taken as broadly as possible, to include technology ranging from web-based productivity suites to radios and phones. Additionally, many considerations are made that do not apply to everyone. In the United States, access to a radio isn't an issue, but justifying the use of Google Docs & Spreadsheets over Microsoft Office may be more of a concern. This site, and the eBook from which it is derived, attempts to address both of these audiences and seems to do it well.

Before browsing this site, I feel it would be best to define some terms. ICTs stand for information and communication technologies and can be described, for the purposes of this primer, as a "diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, and to create, disseminate, store, and manage information." These technologies include computers, the Internet, broadcasting technologies (radio and television), and telephony.

In recent years, there has been a groundswell of interest in how computers and the Internet can best be harnessed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of education (and business and health care and nearly everything else) at all levels and in both formal and non-formal settings. But ICTs are more than just these technologies; older technologies such as the telephone, radio and television, although now given less attention, have a longer and richer history as instructional tools. For instance, radio and television have for over forty years been used for open and distance learning, although print remains the cheapest,most accessible and therefore most dominant delivery mechanism in both developed and developing countries. The use of computers and the Internet is still in its infancy in developing countries, if these are used at all, due to limited infrastructure and the attendant high costs of access.

Moreover, different technologies are typically used in combination rather than as the sole delivery mechanism. For instance, the Kothmale Community Radio Internet uses both radio broadcasts and computer and Internet technologies to facilitate the sharing of information and provide educational opportunities in a rural community in Sri Lanka. The Open University of the United Kingdom (UKOU), established in 1969 as the first educational institution in the world wholly dedicated to open and distance learning, still relies heavily on print-based materials supplemented by radio, television and, in recent years, online programming. Similarly, the Indira Gandhi National Open University in India combines the use of print, recorded audio and video, broadcast radio and television, and audioconferencing technologies

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What is e-learning?

Although most commonly associated with higher education and corporate training, e-learning encompasses learning at all levels,both formal and non-formal, that uses an information network—the Internet, an intranet (LAN) or extranet (WAN)—whether wholly or in part, for course delivery, interaction and/or facilitation. Others prefer the term online learning. Web-based learning is a subset of elearning and refers to learning using an Internet browser (such as Netscape or Internet Explorer).

What is blended learning?

Another term that is gaining currency is blended learning.This refers to learning models that combine traditional classroom practice with e-learning solutions.For example, students in a traditional class can be assigned both print-based and online materials, have online mentoring sessions with their teacher through chat, and are subscribed to a class email list. Or a Web-based training course can be enhanced by periodic face-to-face instruction.“Blending”was prompted by the recognition that not all learning is best achieved in an electronically-mediated environment, particularly one that dispenses with a live instructor altogether. Instead, consideration must be given to the subject matter, the learning objectives and outcomes, the characteristics of the learners, and the learning context in order to arrive at the optimum mix of instructional and delivery methods.

What is open and distance learning?

Open and distance learning is defined by the Commonwealth of Learning as “a way of providing learning opportunities that is characterized by the separation of teacher and learner in time or place, or both time and place; learning that is certified in some way by an institution or agency; the use of a variety of media, including print and electronic; two-way communications that allow learners and tutors to interact; the possibility of occasional face-to-face meetings; and a specialized division of labour in the production and delivery of courses.”

What is a learner-centered environment?

The National Research Council of the U.S. defines learner-centered environments as those that “pay careful attention to the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that learners bring with them to the classroom.” The impetus for learner-centredness derives from a theory of learning called constructivism, which views learning as a process in which individuals “construct” meaning based on prior knowledge and experience. Experience enables individuals to build mental models or schemas, which in turn provide meaning and organization to subsequent experience. Thus knowledge is not “out there”, independent of the learner and which the learner passively receives; rather, knowledge is created through an active process in which the learner transforms information, constructs hypothesis, and makes decisions using his/her mental models. A form of constructivism called social constructivism also emphasizes the role of the teacher, parents, peers and other community members in helping learners to master concepts that they would not be able to understand on their own. For social constructivists, learning must be active, contextual and social. It is best done in a group setting with the teacher as facilitator or guide.