D-Learning, E-Learning, M-Learning and Beyond

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Instructors frequently are called upon to teach people who are scattered across a large geographic area. While it’s sometime necessary to bring together those individuals in one location, their learning needs often can be met remotely.

Without sacrificing the quality education learners expect from a classroom-based program, trainers can use d-learning, e-learning and m-learning strategies to develop a comprehensive curriculum that will meet the diverse needs of their widespread audiences.

D-learning, or distance learning, is as old as written correspondence itself, but this educational technique didn’t catch on in academia until the 1970s with the foundation of several “open universities.” These programs allow students to correspond with an instructor at their own pace, as their schedule allows.

As the Internet gained popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s, e-learning, electronic learning, became the remote education tool of choice. This method offers students the chance to meld text, audio, video with personal interaction with their instructors and peers.

As technology continues to advance, m-learning, or mobile learning, is allowing learners to access training courses and educational tools on their handheld devices wherever and whenever they want or need to learn.

It’s important for instructors to use a combination of these training strategies to meet the specific learning needs of their audience, said Dr. David Metcalf, a researcher at the Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida and author of “M-Learning: Mobile E-Learning.”

By drawing on the best these methods have to offer, trainers can create a high-quality, customized program that will give their trainees the tools they need to succeed. As with any tool, each of these methods has their strengths and weaknesses.

Metcalf said d-learning works best for larger, more comprehensive programs that generally end in a certification or degree, whereas smaller, self-contained courses are better offered on an e-learning system. This allows instructors to easily track and analyze their students’ progress.

M-learning, on the other hand, can provide learners with relevant information when it’s needed most, supporting the high performance cultivated by other in-depth training techniques. By allowing users to access the information they need with a few simple keystrokes, m-learning techniques can enhance performance while workers are on the job, Metcalf said.

“If I were to look at where mobile learning fits in best, it’s not trying to replace a classroom or an online course module — it’s trying to enhance those in a way that makes sense for how you’re trying to get your work accomplished,” Metcalf said. “Using m-learning for reinforcement, reminders of things someone might have learned in a course but didn’t retain, is probably the best way to go.”

Technological advancements, however, will expand the scope of m-learning techniques in the years to come, he said. About 2 billion people already own cell phones, and as the quality of these phones improve, educational tools such as “point-and-shoot learning” and “augmented reality” programs will become fun, feasible options from which trainers to choose.

These techniques use the camera and global-positioning system (GPS) features that are available on higher-end cell phones to allow users to learn while interacting with their environment. Using the “point-and-shoot” method, learners receive personalized information about the images and text found in pictures they take with their camera phone. “Augmented reality” games integrate activities such as mobile scavenger hunts with a phone’s GPS capabilities to make the lessons more memorable by adding a physical component.

“The point-and-shoot model for learning is something that we’re really seeing people grasp onto because they don’t want to have to type a lot of information into a tiny little screen,” Metcalf said. “They want to get what they need in an instant.”

Yet, even with these new techno-friendly techniques, trainers will have to make sure their learning programs have a mixture of methods that will work best for their audience, he said — no new gadget instantly will make it easy to develop a remote-access education program.

“If you look at the instructional models that fit, you’re going to be looking at ways to deliver in those multiple formats and to

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