This paper has pointed 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 of the learning process rather than the zenith. Information technologies have brought dramatic change to world economies. They, in turn, have put pressure on traditional jobs and institutions. Conventional industrial and resource based jobs are disappearing. No segment of society is untouched. These dramatic transitions are having an effect on the education system. While today’s public school systems are striving to adequately prepare children for the educational demands of the information age, adult learners face heightened demands for lifelong learning. This project has presented a plan to build electronic learning webs in an ABE environment. Faculty developed hypermedia instructional systems are capable of supporting and enhancing the development of independent, self-directed, lifelong learners so critical to this new paradigm.

An examination of other earlier computer-based learning systems has shown that all are based on a behaviourist, model, which arranges instruction around pre-set, specific learning objectives and outcomes. The proposed hypermedia systems would implement cognitive research on the development of adult learners using the emerging information technologies. The computer mediated communication capabilities of the rapidly growing world wide connection of computers called the Internet offer opportunities for applying these approaches beyond the four walls of the classroom.

What are the attributes of an informatics based instructional system? Learners want to feel empowered and enabled by this technology to achieve their educational goals. ABE instructors are concerned that these systems meet sound adult learning principles and provides even greater facilitation for ‘debugging’ a student’s learning. They also want to know if information technology is able to ease the clerical workload of testing, filing and the myriad other tasks involved with a competency based system. Some stakeholders, particularly administrators, wonder about the value and cost of electronic learning webs compared to that of traditional technologies. For all stakeholders the most important issue is the ease with which the system can be modified to meet ever changing instructor and learner needs. Sherry’s ideal Integrated Learning System will have to help educators create a ” . . . world made transparent by the communications webs (Illich, 1971, p. 157).”

Before this can happen, major initiatives in education are required to provide appropriate hardware, software and human support. Computers have heralded a fourth revolution in education. The first was the establishment of formal learning, the second the invention of writing and the third the invention of the printing press. This latter technological invention dramatically affected how humans were taught. Like most technologies of the late twentieth century the information age is changing society at a much greater rate. This document has presented a plan to facilitate change in Camosun’s ABE department. The design first encourages instructors to become computer literate, and then communications technology literate. ABE faculty who are already learner rather than teacher-centred need technologies that will allow more effective and efficient delivery of instruction. This proposal provides a scheme to provide faculty new experiences in their roles as instructional designers, managers, and motivators of learners (Fahey, 1987, p. 22).

This project, then, has focused on providing the parameters for constructing electronic learning webs which make use of these approaches to facilitate meeting the needs of Adult Basic Education (ABE) learners. Good ABE practice involves competing instructional paradigms. On the one hand, ABE offers career focused, behaviourist learning objectives and individualized, competency-based learning conditions. On the other hand, as ABE faculty are dealing with more autonomous and sometimes more disadvantaged adult learners, there is a requirement for a responsive, constructivist learning environment. Adult education theorists acknowledge this paradox and recommend a focus on the adult student’s life experience to produce a curriculum closely tied to the student’s world. Thus ABE is fruitful ground for the development of instructional modules that will help build and support an information technology based lifelong learning infrastructure.

Provided here has been a model for the use of communication and knowledge technologies in the development of an integrated hypermedia instructional system. The resulting electronic learning web will not only makes use of sound andragogical structure. More importantly it will eventually superimpose this structure on the Internet — the closest approximation to a single encyclopedia of everything known by mankind. This rather daunting task will be accomplished through a synthesis of instructional design paradigms applied using of 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.

To ensure that all of the above happens in the context of ‘good practice’, this project has presented a process leading to the development of hypermedia (HTML) based instructional modules focused on the needs of an Adult Basic Education student. The first step was a literature review of instructional design philosophy, theory and practice responding to the needs of a life long learner. The second was an examination of the fit of design theory with current instructional practice in the ABE classroom. Finally, from this review of theory and practice came the design framework to plan and pilot the development of hypermedia (HTML) instructional modules. Offered here, then, was 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 way to extend the instructor’s influence beyond the confines of a classroom. The Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) skills developed by faculty over the course of the pilot project will provide them with the tools to structure information into ways that, for the adult learner, data can become knowledge.

The research on how the next generation ILS’s can be used to improve learning in colleges, institutes and schools is clear. These emerging technologies have the potential to be even more liberating than the printing press was for the forebears of today’s learners and instructors. The author has identified some important philosophical questions to consider before embarking on curriculum development of hypermedia instruction. Hypermedia will help ABE instructors create a ” . . . world made transparent by the communications webs (Illich, 1971, p. 157).”

This then is a synthesis of design philosophy and practice for an electronic learning web. The research is clear on how to expand instruction electronically beyond the walls of the classroom. Emerging technologies, properly applied can be as enabling and liberating as the printing press was for our forebears. Today’s technology, like yesterday’s has the power to enslave or enable. Those with an enabling vision for learners must take the opportunity to master new technologies and turn them to the needs and ends of both teachers and learners.

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