Web article 22 December 2004
Online technologies are used in a growing number of organisations for training, work, communications and information search and management. eLearning environments yield the best results when they are integrated into the core activities of an organisation. The old saying “a good servant but bad master” also holds true here.
eLearning has been used in Sitra’s training projects for some years. Virtual teaching was introduced in 2001 in, for example, economic policy training, and today, the Futurenet learning environment is also used in the Competitive Innovation Environment project. The results of the Web-based economic policy training have encouraged the Sitra training team to develop new pedagogic tools.
This led to the invention of the economic policy games that support genuine decision-making and problem-solving skills; the employment simulation was launched in spring 2004 and entrepreneurship games in the autumn. The games have also been introduced in international forums and have been positively received thanks to the reliability and pedagogic innovativeness. Several polytechnics are, in fact, planning to include the games in their teaching. “Polytechnics are particularly interested in the games because they help delve deeper into the otherwise theoretical contents and apply these theories in practice and problem-solving situations,” says Tuovi Allén, Programme Director at Sitra. Sitra’s training participants are mainly directors, experts and decision-makers in politics, labour organisations and businesses. The participants use the interactive course contents to rehearse genuine decision-making situations and deepen their knowledge through audiovisual lectures, learning materials and group work. The participants’ performance is evaluated by a panel consisting experts in economic policy. In the employment game the player assumes the role of the Ministry of Labour and faces difficult labour policy decisions and, as an entrepreneur, ponders on how to take the business into global markets. Participants search for information from a variety of sources, as well as the experts who are featured in video clips.
Allén finds that the eLearning environment is well-suited to economic policy training. “It is a difficult subject,” she admits, “and there are no simple yes/no answers. eLearning allows the participants to work more like a researcher rather than a student, making them actively search for, apply and produce information.” eLearning seems to be gaining ground after certain teething problems. The spread of Web-based tools is accelerated by the progress of Web communications in general. “eLearning is perfect for continuing, further and adult education, but naturally it can’t replace face-to-face teaching. It is, however, excellent for situations where the students live in different parts of the country,” Allén says. Sitra also uses the eLearning environment to some extent in its own activities. Allén and Tapio Anttila, Sitra’s R&D director, feel that eWorking would be a more apt term than eLearning, however.
It reflects not only the increased employment of Web tools in everyday operations but also the more profound change in the working process.
“We have moved in a healthier direction. eLearning is no longer magic and the hype has died down, which makes it easier to see the true benefits of these tools. We have to bear in mind that the only purpose for these tools is to create added value for their users – they are not an end to themselves. There is after all no shortage of technological innovations. The important thing is to apply equipment and knowledge also in eLearning.” At worst, eLearning tools are simply ’pasted’ onto an organisation and the employees are informed of this by a curt e-mail. At best, however, learning that utilises the Web and is based on equal interaction between learners, or ‘dialogue-based learning’, offers many benefits encouraging people to adopt the principle of lifelong learning.
“For example, to be successful in digital business one cannot rely on technology alone, social and organisational innovations are needed, too,” Anttila says. In the light of the experiences accumulated at Sitra, Web-based tools have made work more efficient. “This is a very cost-effective way of doing things once the start-up costs have been covered.” The feasibility of the Web environment requires active trainers. Allén keeps a close tab on the work of her students and is in regular contact with them through the Web. She also maintains and updates the links and contents and organises training sessions. “The Web has not made face-to-face interaction any less significant.” The educational characteristics of virtual learning environments have been studied to some extent. Some scholars think that virtual environments can broaden an individual’s cognitive resources – in other words, a virtual desktop can help one perform more demanding tasks that would otherwise be possible. According to the theory, a virtual desktop helps us think more analytically and manage a wider set of variables and larger mass of data as part of the source material can be easily stored in a file close at hand instead of keeping everything in the active memory. Web-based learning environments and group work also create new social networks with which interaction is parallel and students can agree on deadlines for their exercises more flexibly than with real-time sessions. Allén says that because the network functions through an extranet service it also serves as a networking forum for Sitra’s partners. “And it is a most useful tool for introducing and implementing Sitra’s new programmes,” Anttila adds.
By: Verkkotie Oy, Elina Ranta