SWOT stands for ‘Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats’. It is a standard brainstorming and communication technique used to identify issues associated with change. Before you (as tutor) consider what you think e-learning is and its pros and cons, a useful exercise is to draw up a grid and quickly fill in what your general attitudes are.
An example of this exercise given in the table below from a session with a group of academic tutors analysing the broad benefits and constraints of e-learning.
Simple documentation templates can be created for recording and developing user needs statements from an interview or focus group. Questions and discussion might be used to gather information on the student group:
- Students’ availability or preference of study environments
- Student characteristics: entry qualifications, employment aspirations, language, disability, etc.
- Current student problems or concerns
- Refining an existing methods or provision
- Establishing what students see as appropriate or helpful activities
Recording such information systematically over time helps develop a culture of considering student needs and experiences as well as gauging successes of a new course or method.
A needs analysis for a new method or course is likely to include a review of overall teaching strategies. E-learning facilitates a whole range of teaching and learning activities – see LDC e-guide ‘E-learning solutions for teaching and learning’. However, a learning activity does not take place in isolation to the teaching and study environments, assessment tasks, tools used and so forth. It is therefore important to ensure that all components of the curriculum, including any uses of e-learning methods or materials, are properly integrated and the purpose of a particular component is then clear to the student.
Pedagogical models are useful for making explicit the intentions of the e-learning approach. The needs of the tutors and students will be different in each case.
Looking at needs across different types of development models, Robin Mason (1998) contends that:
“Current approaches to teaching and learning in higher education are dominated by the following: the importance of interactivity in the learning process, the changing role of the teacher from sage to guide, the need for knowledge management skills and for team working abilities, and the move towards resource-based rather than packaged learning.”
She suggests three development models:
1. CONTENT SUPPORT MODEL
Course content and tutorial support are dealt with separately, particularly used where content does not change significantly or where courses are tutored by external staff. Collaborative activity (peer commenting, online assessment, computer conferencing) amongst students is rudimentary, in most cases less than 20% study time, and added onto the course as supplementary rather than core. With increasing use of the web for delivering content, there is more scope to extend the balance of content to collaborative activity.
2. WRAP-AROUND MODEL
The course content consists of tailor made materials (study guide, activities and discussion) wrapped around existing materials (textbooks, CD-ROM resources or tutorials) and representing around 50% study time. The remaining 50% is comprised of online interactions and discussions, including real time online events and screen sharing with increasing audio/video components. The tutor role is more extensive as less of the course is pre-determined and students take more responsibility for their learning.
3. INTEGRATED MODEL
The third model is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the first. The heart of the course involves collaborative activities, learning resources and joint assignments. These take place online through discussion, accessing and processing information and carrying out tasks. The course contents are fluid and dynamic as they are largely determined by the individual and group activity. In a sense, the integrated model dissolves the distinction between content and support, and is dependent on the creation of a learning community.