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Classrooms Without Walls

No, there is no longer any need to be physically present at any place for things to actually happen – thanks to the advances in technology. Now check how this, too, is what’s happening in the educational system.

Supporting the concept that the key to promoting improved Web-based learning lies more on how effectively the medium is used, Dr. Felix Librero, chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU), says.

Alvin C., a micro-entrepreneur based in Davao City, wanted to “get the qualifications afforded by prestigious (universities in Metro Manila) – even though I have a degree from (a similarly renowned) university in Davao City, the way people look at (those qualifications from Metro Manila) is still very high (even if many are without merit), so that getting one is a god way to make it,” he says.

The immediate problem for Alvin C. is access. “I have a business in Davao City, which, aside from keeping my family alive, will finance my getting (further) education.” Not to worry, though, as this was easily remedied by eLearning, that “opportunity to pursue (further) studies despite the absence of classroom/residential learning.”

And indeed, as more weight is given to additional industry recognized skills and certification in the corporate world, bachelor’s degrees earned fail, on their own, to sufficiently guarantee climbing the corporate ladder. Thus, more people are considering getting an edge by obtaining further education.

eLearning provides an alternative way of doing this by eliminating the actual physical contact between students and teachers in the delivery of education. The approach allows for students to pursue higher education without having to give up their work.

CHANGING THE FACE OF EDUCATION

“eLearning has really changed drastically how we ought to conceptualize the design and use of learning materials and the learning environment. (It) has revolutionized the delivery of educational services, whether in terms of formal, non-formal, or informal education. eLearning has strengthened quite substantially the notion that the learner must take responsibility for his/her own learning,” Dr. Felix Librero, chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU), earlier said to Enterprise Magazine.

Traditionally, eLearning involved all learning using various electronic means, including the use of radio and television. But recent developments have highlighted the use of computers and the Internet (officially referred to as digital learning), so much so that eLearning has come to be synonymous to learning using computers and the Internet.

With eLearning, people can get education or formal training without having to be in a classroom, with most, if not all, lessons and interactions between students and their teachers done online.

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In the case of the UPOU, the Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE), the same information technology used by the National University of Singapore, is used. To empower students in their own learning process, the system has numerous tools and resources, including lesson plan and calendaring systems so students can schedule their activities ahead of time, discussion forum and chatrooms to encourage participation, FAQ and quiz systems for gauging the level of understanding of students, and work bins for electronic submission of assignments. Operating via the widely used Microsoft Windows system, IVLE simplifies students’ access to education irrespective of where they may be at any given time.

With the removal of the need for actual physical encounters between the students and the teachers, thus limiting disruptions in students’ professional lives, saving finances has been cited as the most obvious benefit of eLearning. But Librero says that the advantages go beyond the obvious, also including the easier access via the Internet to learning materials stored in various databases worldwide. Better yet, accessing knowledge from various sources can be done by the learner him/herself, which “strengthens quite substantially the notion that the learner must take responsibility for his/her own learning.”

QUALITY MONITORING

As a new development in the educational system, however, eLearning has also been questioned for, among others, its impersonal approach that destroys the relationship between teachers and students, and the students among themselves, as well as the inappropriate use of computers and the Internet.

Supporting the concept that the key to promoting improved Web-based learning lies more on how effectively the medium is used, Librero is more concerned with the need for more sophisticated instructional design of computerization and the Internet. “Most of those claiming to have adopted eLearning as a tool in Philippine educational institutions today has no training in instructional design. They do things in a trial and error approach,” he says. “It is extremely ridiculous for educational institutions (that) cannot even offer conventional programs to think that they can offer quality degree programs in the distance mode.”

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED), through the Technical Committee of Reviewers for Open Learning and Distance Education (TCROLDE), formulates the policies governing all forms of distance education programs in the country.

Issued in 2000, CHED Memorandum Order No. 35, or the Updated Policies and Guidelines on Open Learning and Distance Education, identified the standards for the offering of distance education programs. More specifically, the memorandum requires institutions offering open learning and distance education (OLDE) to prepare developmental and appropriate instructional materials for every course, identify qualified subject matter specialists, course writers and production designers, and provide course content and mode/s of instruction.

The TCROLDE evaluates the qualifications of institutions based on a quality assurance framework anchored on the principles of learning centeredness, rigor and sound instructional design, public responsibility and accountability, and quality and continuous improvement.

CHED’s power, however, is limited only to monitoring and evaluating higher education institutions offering OLDE, and encouraging voluntary accreditation.

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“What worries me in this aspect is that if CHED is unable to impose discipline in the design, preparation, delivery, and evaluation of quality formal courses and academic programs through electronic means, then we shall have chaos in the educational system,” Librero says.

GROWING TREND

For UPOU’s around 1,500 online students, “hands down, courses on management and business administration are the most popular and common,” Librero said. This popularity is because of the availability of software and content coming from known universities in more advanced countries in degrees in management and business administration.

For online education, “one could easily spend as much as US$30,000 (about P825,000) for a master’s degree,” Librero said. UPOU charges around P65,000 for a similar degree.

“Overall, I’d like to believe that eLearning has introduced a phenomenon in Philippine education that encourages teachers to be more creative in their design of learning experiences, and students in their desire to learn more meaningfully,” Librero says. “Digital learning, which makes extensive use of computerization and the Internet, will continue to become popular to both students and teachers. More and more teachers in various schools will gravitate towards more use of computers and the Internet in the delivery of specific course content even under the conventional mode of instructional delivery. Because of this trend, more courses and academic degree programs shall become available and accessible through the Internet, which shall make mix mode of instructional delivery much more popular and common to various educational institutions.”

Alvin C. is expecting to finish the degree he is taking by eLearning in less than “a year and a half,” he says, “depending on how well I can balance my business with my schooling.” But even with this, “I am glad for eLearning. It allows for me to continue learning while running my business. Success times two, truly.”

Select Philippine HEIs offering eLearning:

University of the Philippines – Open University
Dr. Felix Librero, Chancellor
UPOU, Los Baños, Laguna
Tel: (049) 5366016 and 16
E-mail: UPOUC@laguna.net
The CHED Center of Excellence for OLDE pursues distance education through print-based, learning center enhanced courses, and courses offered online via a customized Integrated Virtual Learning Environment, adopted from the National University of Singapore.

De La Salle University
Bro. Rolando Dizon, President
Taft Ave., Manila City
Tel: 5214611-26
One of the private institutions in the Philippines exploring alternative and innovative modes in offering courses. DLSU implemented the Internet-Enhanced Master of Arts in Teaching Literature Program, funded by the CHED.

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Ateneo de Manila University
Fr. Bienvenido F. Nebres, SJ, President
Loyola Heights, 1108 Q.C.
Tel: 4266001 local 4002
Having implemented the International eLearning for Professional Journalists, AdMU is one of the pioneers of online education in the country.

Polytechnic University of the Philippines
Dr. Ofelia A. Carague, President
Anonas St., Sta. Mesa, Manila
Tel: 7162644, 7161143

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