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E-Learning Emerging As Educational Resource for Community Colleges

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 02, 2014
Three important trends are converging at community colleges to alter the shape of how education occurs. These include the national focus on completion of students’ studies, increased usage of technology by faculty to reduce costs and present real-time information, and students’ desire to learn on their own time at their own pace. In addition, there is an ongoing conversation on how community colleges can support entrepreneurship and small businesses to grow local economies. 

To better understand these issues, a survey was conducted through a collaboration between the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, the nation’s leading organization focused on promoting entrepreneurship through community colleges, and Hewlett-Packard, whose programs include HP LIFE e-Learning, a free, cloud-based, peer-reviewed, e-learning program that offers online IT and business skills training for entrepreneurs.   Part of HP Living Progress, the company’s vision for creating a better future for everyone through its actions and innovations, the goals of the HP LIFE e-Learning program include helping to create jobs and stimulate economic growth. 

Emphasis on increasing completion rates
Keeping students on the track to earning a degree or even certification has become a pronounced concern in recent years. While community colleges provide accessible, affordable education, it is paramount that students finish their studies in a timely fashion to prepare them for the careers they hope to pursue, including, for many, the start of entrepreneurial endeavors. Our survey looked at how community college faculty members are using e-learning as a cost-effective means to achieve this institutional objective. 

“Keeping students on track to earning a credential, whether that be a degree or certification, has become a national interest in recent years,” said NACCE President and CEO Heather Van Sickle. “While community colleges provide accessible, affordable education, it is paramount that students walk away with credentials that are meaningful in the workplace and that they are prepared for the careers they hope to pursue, including, for many, the start of entrepreneurial endeavors. Our survey looked at how community college faculty members are using e-learning as a cost-effective means to achieve this completion objective.”
 
“Among other benefits, e-learning gives community colleges the ability to broaden access and deepen learning experiences for geographically far-flung students, including those who reside in rural areas,” said Jeannette Weisschuh, Director, Economic Progress Strategy at HP. “E-learning also enables them to provide more access to educational materials for students who need further support. We’re proud HP LIFE e-Learning is a part of this new style of teaching and learning.”

e-Learning is being used in more than half of community colleges and trending upwards

The rapid development of e-learning tools holds the potential to dramatically shift how education occurs on community college campuses. In a National e-Learning Landscape Survey of community college faculty commissioned by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship and HP, we learned that e-learning is being used in more than half of community colleges. They’re benefiting from their ability to teach geographically far-flung students, including those who reside in rural areas or even outside their normal service territory. E-Learning is also enabling them to provide more access to educational materials for students who need further interaction in order to take in the breadth of their studies. 

e-Learning is broadly defined
Before going further into the study it is necessary to explore what e-learning is; it’s a ubiquitous term that is defined broadly. A whole new crop of acronyms has been developed – MOOCs, OERs, and LMS – to categorize it. e-Learning itself is a hard concept to narrow down as the proliferation of technology that dictates its definition is constantly changing. It means many things to various audiences within the academic community. While some emphasize e-learning’s educational means others define it through its numerous technological mediums.  

The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning defines e-learning  as being “part of the new dynamic that characterizes educational systems at the start of the 21st century, resulting from the merger of different disciplines, such as computer science, [and] communication technology.” Respondents in the National e-Learning Landscape Survey defined e-Learning broadly as well:  

“E-Learning is utilizing online tools that deepen understanding of course materials and give opportunities for other learning styles to be utilized.”

“Using technology to enhance student learning, no matter the modality (face to face, hybrid, compressed video, or online).” 

“The use of technology to provide educational experiences that are creative, reach students with a variety of learning styles, provide flexible scheduling options for faculty and staff, without sacrificing quality of instruction.”

Use of online courses at community colleges is increasing: 
  • More than half of respondents use some form of technology to enhance student learning:
    • 68% use YouTube videos
    • 52% use online course modules, among others. (Among the users of online course delivery, 66% report moderate to high usage.) 
    • 53% use Blogs / Online Discussion Groups (53%) and
    • 40% use Online Simulations or Tutorials (40%).

Currently, 31% of community colleges courses are taught as hybrid courses or purely online.  Respondents estimate that in two years 39% of the course will be taught using those modalities.  The growth in the use of online learning reflects a few trends: colleges use online courses to meet student needs for flexibility and self-paced learning as well as the use of online courses to free up classrooms. It could also be faculty preference. While only 6% of faculty prefer teaching online, 38% prefer teaching hybrid and 26% face to face.

The breakout of teaching modalities taught at community colleges is shifting online:
  F2FPrimarily F2FHybridPurely Online
  Currently     45%16%13%18%
  In 2 years 35%16%17%22%


Educators Value e-Learning as a Tool for Their Students
  • 84% of respondents confirm their outlook that e-learning is a valuable educational tool with 44% of agreeing and 40% strongly agreeing with this statement. 

  • 66% are avid users with 30% indicating they’d strongly agree and 36% agree. 

  • 82% said “I like to learn about all the new types of e-learning tools available for use in higher education.” (46% strongly agree and 36% agree).

  • More than half (56%) of teachers prefer to use teaching modalities that have some form of online component: 38% prefer hybrid, 12% prefer primarily face-to-face but with some online supplements; and 6% prefer purely online structures. Some 5% are okay with any modality.

  • 91% of respondents are open to considering alternative methods of teaching, and 83% would be able to integrate an effective, free, e-learning module that worked for their course.

Use of Online Learning for Entrepreneurship Education
More than 70% of the time, community colleges advocate the use of technology in business settings and processes, business ventures, and in teaching entrepreneurship. Fifty-four percent of study respondents are teaching  business/entrepreneurship related courses. Of these teachers, 75% say it would be easy to incorporate entrepreneurship-related curricula in the classes they teach. 

Even among the teachers who are not specifically teaching entrepreneurship, a wide margin are open to the possibility of adding entrepreneurship-related curricula to their classes. Among survey respondents 15% teach other technical courses but are not specifically business/entrepreneurship courses (e.g. trade courses, engineering, sciences, economics, IT).  Of these, 53% say it would be easy to incorporate entrepreneurship-related curricula in the classes they teach.

Despite the availability of online courses in entrepreneurship, teachers are still essential in students’ entrepreneurial learning experiences. Forty-nine percent say that students regularly come to them for support in starting a business, while some 45% say past students have similarly sought such guidance.

Very Few Barriers to Adoption
Most respondents have no hesitations in incorporating new e-learning tools. However, some of the most cited concerns are: doubts in capability/reliability, acceptance of both students and teachers, and lack of resources such as time, ICT access, and technical support. Moreover, about 10% have little control over materials used in classes.

Fortunately, access to technology is not a barrier for the majority of students. According to study respondents, students generally have high access to technology for their e-learning courses either in or out of school. Respondents estimate that 65% of community college students have low to no difficulty in accessing online course content. 

In Conclusion
All in all, the study shows that technological advances are benefiting the educational landscape in unprecedented ways. We now have quantitative proof that increasing numbers of community college faculty are employing e-learning to help their students become better prepared for success. 

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