A major shift has taken place while the universities slept. It is being
characterized as the emergence of an asynchronous undergraduate
learning community. The sweeping impact of the importance of this event
is causing a world wide university technological core melt down.
Simple interfaces, such as Internet browsers, are now providing under
grads with free self-paced online courses of real world value. Advances
in voice and pattern recognition technologies can now enable free instantaneous
natural interfaces between and among Internet users all overt the world.
Maaaaking the revooution accessible to everyone, widespread use of wireless
personal digital assistants (PDAs) and embedded screens in cellular
phones already facilitate instant communication networks without walls.
From studies in brain surgery, cognitive science, psychology, linguistics,
and artificial intelligence, theories have emerged about the capacity
of the human brain to learn. In answering the fundamental question of
how we learn, we look to the basic modes of cognition—touch, smell,
sound, vision, and taste—and to the primary educational modes of listening
comprehension, ocular comprehension, and haptic comprehension. Cognition
is a complex process that results from multimodal perception, and research
has shown that cognitive competence presents itself differently in individual
Of the numerous pedagogical models proposed in education science literature,
those developed for online distance education do not take full advantage
of the online medium. In attempting to harness the capabilities of digital
interfaces, the mistake is often made of recreating a classroom-teaching
model within an online learning environment. Online technology designed
to mimic the classroom becomes a restriction and a barrier to the teacher’s
ability to impart knowledge.
A fundamental paradigm shift is necessary to create a pedagogical model
with the asynchronous technological interface in mind. The pedagogy
must allow for flexibility, interactivity, and media-rich and adaptive
environments that both provide individualized learning and are also
accessible to large numbers of learners for collaborations and group
discussions. This learning environment must allow multiple modes of
Hypermedia-based education systems are flexible, with multiple pathways
for cognition and learning. Multimedia enhancements and hypermedia-based
instruction will possess the flexibility required by digital interfaces.
In hypermedia-based systems, multimedia objects in the form of audio
clips for graphical objects, annotated video segments, and online simulations
are presented with an associated database of concepts. The modes of
learning change from textual to audio, and audio to video, and so forth,
as the learner invokes the multimedia objects merely by clicking on
links. This provides the flexibility to acquire knowledge from different
modes, e.g., auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Web browsers are networked
hypermedia interfaces that allow such flexible, multimodal explorations
for a given subject matter.
There is an acute need to define a framework for the educational models
that will provide a basis for the implementation of online education.
The basis of learning starts with cognitive pathways, which we use to
acquire and assimilate information. These cognitive pathways refer to
the sensory perceptions of the human mind and include vision, hearing,
touch, smell, and taste.
The sensory organs provide the necessary stimulus for infants to assimilate
information and the human brain to assimilate knowledge. With the development
of language skills, higher order learning becomes possible. The cognitive
pathways then become text, graphics, audio, video, animation, and simulations.
These cognitive pathways to the human brain predominantly utilize vision
and hearing; however, in a simulated environment it is also possible
to use haptic interfaces as a means of knowledge acquisition.
There are several learning models that can be used for online asynchronous
learning, including apprenticeship, incidental, inductive, deductive,
and discovery. Each model offers a unique way to represent content.
Access to each of the models enables the learner to master the content
The combination of media and pedagogically inspired learning styles
can be represented as a cube (Figure 1) where the media—text, graphics,
audio, video, animation, and simulation—are ordered from simple to complex,
and the cognitive-based learning styles—apprenticeship, incidental,
inductive, deductive, and discovery—also scale by learner involvement.
The third axis describes the paradigm shift from a teacher-centric to
a learner-centric modality of learning
Recent developments in digital imaging, streaming audio and video,
and interactive human-machine interfaces provide a wealth of opportunities
to enhance the learning experience. More important than the technologies,
however, is the context in which the multimedia enhancements are presented
to learners. The design and development of combined media components—text,
graphics, audio, video, animation, and simulations—for enhancing the
learning process will depend on the learning model appropriate for the
delivery of given course content. A list of a few potential multimedia
enhancements might include:
- Audio annotations to graphics
- Graphical visualization
- Audio annotations to video demonstrations
- Video demonstration of graphical elements
- Animated graphical frames (animated gifs)
- Audio annotations for animated graphics
- Animation of physical concepts
- Text annotations to video frames
- Animated simulations
- Numerical simulations for parametric studies
- Graphical simulation of mathematical equations
Video, animations, and simulations offer exceptional potential
for enhancing the interface of education. Experimental demonstrations
and real-life experiences and situations can be captured on video and
provided as digital video.
Video can be a window to the real world for a given theoretical
description. In the past, there were considerable bandwidth, cost, and
quality issues associated with video enhancements. However, with the
development of video compression and real-time video streaming technology,
many of these barriers have been overcome, and the potential for significantly
increased bandwidth is real.
Animations are an inexpensive alternative to the video
demonstration. The animations of physical phenomena or a difficult concept
can bring the point home much more effectively than video clips can.
However, animations are not substitutes for video demonstrations.
Simulations can provide a risk-free environment for understanding
the consequences of parametric variations and can be considered “hands-on
experience” in place of real situations. For example, flight simulators
are used to train fighter pilots, and dangerous or expensive laboratory
experiments can be conducted without risk, and at a lower cost. The
environments created by numerical and animated simulation provide a
unique opportunity to learn while increasing the retention of the concepts.
Standards for Educational Media
In the past decade there have been several proposals for creating a
uniform standard that will provide a basis for universal use, reuse,
and sharing of learning objects. Since the adaptation of models used
in library science to categorize content objects (the Dublin Core),
there has been a movement to create metadata and standards for shared
media—this includes Instructional Management Systems (IMS) metadata
standards, IEEE 1484 metadata and database standards, extensible markup
language (XML), educational markup language (EML), database structures
for educational components (Aviation Industry CBT Committee-Computer
Managed Instruction), and a sharable courseware object reference model
(SCORM). These standards and markup languages will potentially provide
the means to define course structure, objects, and hierarchy.
The goal of standards for educational media is to provide a taxonomy,
methodology, and object structure that will coordinate the development
of online educational courses. Most of these standards are in the evolutionary
stage and the winner in the race to be the de facto standard remains
Toward a Fundamental Change
The paradigm shift in the pedagogical design of online education will
require much more in-depth study and analysis of existing methods and
evolving technologies. Clearly, education delivery is not simply information
transfer. There is much to learn, but we already know much about the
potential of the technology for multimodal delivery of learning material
to a variety of online learners.
Five Fundamental Learning Styles for Online Asynchronous Instruction
A “building block” approach for presenting concepts in a step-by-step
procedural learning style.
Based on “events” that trigger the learning experience. Learners
begin with an event that introduces a concept and provokes questions.
Learners are first introduced to a concept or a target principle
using specific examples that pertain to a broader topic area.
Based on stimulating the discernment of trends through the presentation
of simulations, graphs, charts, or other data.
An inquiry method of learning in which students learn by doing,
testing the boundaries of their own knowledge.