Origins of Learning Webs

Below is a copy of my 1995 University of Victoria Masters in Education project.

This University of Victoria M.Ed Project document was written in response to a growing body of research that indicates economic and social changes have made lifelong learning essential to all. In the late twentieth century the acquisition of a diploma or a degree is the beginning rather than the culmination of the learning process. This is largely the result of the dramatic changes to world economies brought about by information technologies. This shift, in turn, has put pressure on traditional jobs and institutions. Conventional industrial and resource based jobs are disappearing. No segment of society remains untouched. North American newspapers daily chronicle the transformations being brought about by the movement from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy. These transitions are having an effect on the education system’s ability to meet the lifelong, information age learning needs of adults. This project presents a design to build electronic learning webs, instructional systems to support the development of independent, self-directed, lifelong learners so critical to this new paradigm. The information processing capabilities of the rapidly growing world wide connection of computers called the Internet offer opportunities for applying these approaches both within and beyond the four walls of the classroom.

What are the attributes of an effective information technology based instructional system? Learners need a system that helps them feel self-confident and self-reliant as they use this technology to achieve their educational goals. Adult Basic Education (ABE) instructors want information technology based instructional systems to meet sound andragogical (adult learning) principles and provide even greater facilitation for ‘debugging’ a student’s learning. They also want systems that will ease the clerical workload of testing, filing and the myriad other tasks involved with a competency based system. Other stakeholders will be looking for a technology that leverages faculty’s ability to structure information in new media and to new markets, so that student access to college programs will be increased. For all stakeholders the most important issue will be the ease with which the system can be modified to meet ever changing instructor and learner needs. The ultimate goal of this project is to develop an electronic instructional system that will help the learning community create a ” . . . world made transparent by the communications webs (Illich, 1971, p. 157).”

Major college-wide, province-wide and world-wide instructional initiatives are required to reach this goal. Faculty will have to become information technology literate. In addition to seeing themselves as life-long learners, faculty need to seek out new roles. Learner-centred instruction is critical for the knowlege age. This includes such activities as instructional design and managing and motivating learners.

This project provides a model for the use of communication and knowledge technologies in the development of an information technology based instructional system. The resulting electronic learning webs will not only make use of sound andragogical structure , they will also eventually superimpose this structure on the Internet — the closest approximation to an encyclopedia containing everything known to humankind. This rather daunting task will be accomplished through a synthesis of instructional design paradigms applied using informatics — computers linked to electronic communication systems. The electronic learning webs created by ABE faculty will facilitate individualized learning and allow instructors to create customized learning modules that can accommodate students’ diverse learning styles.

The immediate goal of the learning webs project is to provide more flexible scheduling and increased access for adult upgrading learners at Camosun College in Victoria, British Columbia. The first step has already been taken with the establishment of the Interurban Campus ABE Open Lab in October of 1995. The second step is the development of hypermedia based instructional modules focused to meet the learning needs of ABE students. These modules will be delivered electronically in the fall of 1996 to the existing Open Lab. Because of their electronic, digital nature, the modules can be delivered over computer networks. Thus Phase Three will see the network delivery of the modules to any college connected computer workstation. Phase Four is a further expansion of instruction to worksite-based ‘just-in-time’ instruction. Phase Five culminates in delivery of these hypermedia instructional modules over the Internet to the global community. The potential market on the Internet with tens even hundreds of millions of users is enormous.

Table 1. Five Phases of the Learning Web Project.

Phase  Location                                        Start Date
  1    Interurban Open Lab                              Oct. '95
  2    electronic modules piloted at Interurban        Sept. '96
       Open Lab
  3    expansion to any college networked computer      Jan. '97
  4    worksite                                        Sept. '97
  5    Internet                                         Jan. '98

Offered here, then, is an extension to the traditional educational technologies of chalk and talk, a synthesis of theory and practice in instruction and technology. This synthesis offers a means to extend the instructor’s influence beyond the four walls of a classroom. The hypermedia skills developed by faculty over the course of the learning webs project will provide them with the tools to structure information into ways that, for the adult learner, information can become knowledge. The synthesis of the literature on instructional technology in this paper provides clear direction on how to expand instruction electronically beyond the walls of the classroom. Emerging information technologies, properly applied can be as enabling and liberating as the printing press was for our forebears.

Next – – – Historical Context of the Problem