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What is Effective e-Learning?

By Murray Bourne, 02 Mar 2005

A lot of what passes for 'e-learning' is really a dumping ground for content (most often PowerPoint slides - ugh.)

Learning should be as authentic as possible, with students learning by solving interesting and appropriately challenging problems. This applies whether it is via e-learning or in a classroom.

Bized of the UK, a "service for students and educators on business and economics related subjects", is certainly moving in the right direction. The site includes:

  • A "Current Topics" section (this moves the learning away from textbooks into the real, changing economy)
  • Data and Company Information sections (authenticity).
  • A PBL (Problem Based Learning) archive, which was small but interesting

My first impressions were not that good. The "Virtual Developing Country" (which turned out to be Zambia) seemed to be just another National Geographic-style expose on an African country - all delivery (as opposed to requiring the student to explore the issues based on some clearly defined problem). They said it would 'help the student complete some worksheets' - I didn't feel inspired to look at those worksheets...

But then I found the virtual farm game (Perl-based), where you are put in the position of managing a farm and making decisions on what crops to plant and whether to use fertilisers or not. At the end of each 'year' you could see how you went and the impact of your decisions. This is good stuff (but I felt it would have been a lot neater if they had used Flash to build it.)

The "Virtual Economy" was also good. You were given the opportunity to do a 'better job than the chancellor of the exchequer' at running the economy and you could 'pull the levers' on tax, spending and other items. I liked the way you were taken through the various floors of the chancellor's building so you were 'situated' in a (kind-of) authentic environment.

The Bugs
They have a few irritating navigation problems.

  1. One of their servers was down and I couldn't do the "Tackling Traffic Congestion" model. Broken links are a constant bugbear - and a big turnoff. Why isn't a technical person monitoring the server...? Why isn't there a notice to users explaining the problem and how long it will be down?
  2. Once you are in a virtual world, "Home" takes you back to the beginning of that virtual world, not the virtual world home (and this is also called "Home"), nor the Bized home (yes, it's also called "Home").

But overall I like their concept and recommend the site.

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