E-learning has the potential to significantly augment the traditional learning paradigm. However, despite the significant progress that has been made to date for its adoption, it still suffers from boring and ineffective contents. In this article, I will examine how media technologies and Web 2.0 technologies may help improve effectiveness of e-learning.
During the past decade e-learning has made steady progress in its adoption in corporate training programs, for-credit courses in educational institutes, and continuing education programs. Many learning management systems, both commercial and open source, are available. There is a variety of types of e-learning , ranging from videos of instructors delivering instructions – overlaid with PowerPoint pages, to people watching CDs on their computers or browsing the Web for materials on specific topics of interest.
However, pure e-learning has limitations. Depending on the types of e-learning and how the e-learning programs are designed, these include the absence of an instructor, poorly created contents (course materials, exercises, and exams), boring contents, and the absence of a deadline pressure. These result in lower learning efficiency and lower learner engagement relative to traditional instructor-led in-class learning. This has led to blended (or hybrid) learning which combines e-learning components and instructor-led in-class learning components to round out a learning program or learning curriculum. However, insofar as blended learning includes e-learning components, the limitations of e-learning still pose a problem.
The limitations of e-learning can be addressed using pedagogical techniques and technologies . In the remainder of this article, I will discuss the use of technologies in improving the learning efficiency and learner engagement in e-learning.
2 USE OF TECHNOLOGIES
The technologies that are available and widely used today may be grouped as "media" technologies and "Web 2.0" technologies, for the purpose of their application to e-learning. In this section, I will discuss the use of each type of technologies.
2.1 media technologies
There is an array of media technologies that can and must be used to make e-learning effective. They include simple visual aids (graphs, charts, tables, etc. that are created using software tools), audio, music, images, graphics, motion graphics (animation), video, simulations and demos (created using software tools), interactivity mechanisms, etc.
The media technologies can help e-learning in one or two important ways. One is to help the learner understand complex concepts or complex details that, when expressed only in words, are difficult to comprehend. As the saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words," and visual aids, images, graphics, screen captures, motion graphics, video, and simulations and demos can, if used properly, significantly help the e-learners.
Another is to help engage the learners by breaking monotony or challenging them intellectually. The use of the media technologies mentioned above, by their nature, help engage the e-learners by breaking monotony. Simulators/emulators and demos can be a significant help to the e-learners. Depending on the sophistication of the tools used to create the simulators and demos, the e-learners may get to watch how certain things (a mechanical device or software) work, or get to experiment with them. There are relatively inexpensive tools (screen recorders) for creating demos, such as Camtasia Studio, ViewletBuilder, RoboDemo, etc. Microsoft's Excel also may be used to allow the e-learners to experiment with what-if scenarios.
Besides such media technologies, there are interactivity mechanisms (such as mouse rollover images, hot zones, drag and drop) and musical leitmotifs that can help engage the e-learners.
 makes a case for using music or sound effects as background to the textual contents in e-learning. Musical theme, called leitmotif, may be defined for each of a few key situations or characters in the text contents, and may be played in the background. For example, in a customer service training course, a different leitmotif can be associated with a different type of customer: a playful theme for the inquisitive customer, an ominous theme for the angry customer, a rushed theme for the demanding customer, a happy theme for the satisfied customer. This is akin to the use of leitmotif in movies or even video games. Just imagine watching, for example, the chariot race scene in Ben Hur, or playing a video game, with no background music or sound effects! There are very few movie and game scenes without leitmotifs.
A few comments are in order here. First, when the media technologies are used to supplement the main body of the e-learning contents, the media technologies must not introduce any new difficulties. The new difficulties include usability issues and disconnect with the main body of the e-learning contents. For example, a graph that is included to explain certain concept described in text form should not come with terms or acronyms that are not explained in the text.
Second, the media technologies must be usable in the e-learners' environment. If the e-learners' computers lack the memory or CPU capacity, the Internet access bandwidth, or a correct browser, they serve no purpose at all.
Third, the media technologies should not be used gratuitously. In other words, if it is simple enough to convey certain concepts in sentential descriptions or PowerPoint headlines, there is no reason to create a corresponding graph, motion graphics, or video.
2.2 Web 2.0 technologies
The term Web 2.0 encompasses just about everything about the Web, including social networking, posting and sharing user-created contents (videos, photos, audio, etc.), posting blogs, communicating with friends via text messages and emails, etc.
Today tens of millions of Web users visit social networking sites and sites that allow sharing of certain objects of common interest. Enormously popular social networking sites include MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Meebo, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter (in the US ), Cyworld (in Korea ), and, no doubt, other sites in other countries. Websites that allow sharing of objects of common interest include YouTube (video), Flickr (photos), Del-icio-us (bookmarks), Digg (news), Yelp (reviews), etc.
These sites are not meant to be e-learning sites or for sharing only e-learning contents. However, several of the key features these sites offer can be adapted to e-learning, for example, to augment today's learning management systems (LMS) or to create e-learning sites for a variety of subject areas. Most of the features can allow the e-learners to form communities around various subjects. These features are discussed below.
Some of the above features as they manifest themselves in today's social networking and object sharing sites are not appropriate for use in e-learning, and must be modified for e-learning. This is discussed below.
3 CONCLUDING REMARKS
Although the focus of this article was on the use of technologies for improving the effectiveness of e-learning, I believe we must never forget that the foremost objective of e-learning is "learning," not demonstrating technologies. As such, I feel this article would not be complete if no mention is made of the pedagogical techniques that are essential in laying the basis for e-learning. In my view, the use of technologies is a layer that sits on top of this basis. The pedagogical techniques discussed in  are summarized below.
The research that formed the basis of this article was supported by the MKE (Ministry of Knowledge Economy), Korea, under the ITRC (Information Technology Research Center) support program supervised by the IITA (Institute of Information Technology Advancement) (IITA-2008-(C1090-0801-0046))
Won Kim, "Towards a Definition and Methodology for Blended Learning," in Proc. of the First International Workshop on Blended Learning, August 2008, Edinburgh.
Won Kim and Ok-Ran Jeong, "On Properly Using Technologies to Make E-Learning Effective," in Proc. of the 7 th Intl. Conf. on Web-Based Learning (ICWL08), August 20-22, 2008, Jinhua, China.
Won Kim, "A Proposal for a Lifecycle Process for Hybrid Learning," Proc. 1 st Intl Conf. on Hybrid Learning, August 13-15, 2008, Hong Kong.
Lenn Millbower, "The Auditory Advantage," http://www.learningcircuits.org/NR/exeres/6AF8D013-30DC-4CBA-BA15-09DBFD9B0E68.htm
About the author
Won Kim: "Using Technologies to Improve E-Learning", in Journal of Object Technology, vol. 7, no. 8, November - December 200 8, pp. 33-41 http://www.jot.fm/issues/issue_2008_11/column5/