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Schulz, M. E-Learning as a Development Tool. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/52438 (accessed on 21 June 2024).
Schulz M. E-Learning as a Development Tool. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/52438. Accessed June 21, 2024.
Schulz, Małgorzata. "E-Learning as a Development Tool" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/52438 (accessed June 21, 2024).
Schulz, M. (2023, December 06). E-Learning as a Development Tool. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/52438
Schulz, Małgorzata. "E-Learning as a Development Tool." Encyclopedia. Web. 06 December, 2023.
E-Learning as a Development Tool
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In the modern world, there is a need to organize learning quickly and effectively. Due to the current economic climate, competition in the educational market, and demographic decline, there is an increasing interest in e-learning at all levels of education but especially in higher education. E-education provides the opportunity to attract students from abroad, those with disabilities, and those who cannot give up their professional work but want or should continue their education. This way of acquiring knowledge is of interest to various people who want to complete their higher education or gain a new profession. 

education e-learning progress modern education technologies connectivism

1. Introduction

The dynamic transformations taking place in our society, related to the development of technology and the ability to quickly transfer information, also entail changes in the educational area, and thus, there is also a need to adapt the education system to the new circumstances and requirements. Preparing an educational offer for contemporary adolescents and adults cannot ignore these changes. It requires not so much leading the student by the hand and passing ready knowledge, i.e., knowledge structured by the teacher, but above all, self-control strategies used in the learning process and developing responsibility for their own education and development. Education as a goal becomes the preparation of a person who will consciously, safely, and effectively acquire and construct their own knowledge through Life Long Learning and use it in the adaptation process to the dynamically changing reality, using both support from other people as well as available tools. One of the new tools that clearly “creeps” into modern education is e-learning, or, in short, an open, flexible, and diverse form of education in terms of its offer carried out on the Internet on platforms based on philosophy and network logic. E-learning raises a lot of social controversies, both in the teaching environment (at all levels of education) and among students. On the one hand, many things can be said about the advantages of this form of education on the Internet, and on the other hand, there are threats arising from the thoughtless introduction of this new form of learning [1]. Experts from Ernest & Young [2] argue that information technologies can help in acquiring, analyzing, and using knowledge in order to make faster and better decisions and are an excellent alternative to traditional learning, especially where the student cannot afford to give up work or because the form of e-learning is more convenient or simply cheaper for him. The article calls for a wider use of new technologies in order to disseminate the idea of sustainable development.
E-learning, despite some disadvantages (isolation, lack of direct social contacts), is a powerful tool for human development and self-development, providing him with a real opportunity for lifelong education, updating knowledge, and acquiring knowledge in line with market needs, regardless of financial status and life situation. It provides education to those who have difficult access to full-time education.
E-learning does not have to be treated as an addition to teaching but as an independent form of education. The possibility of acquiring knowledge remotely can significantly reduce various forms of social inequality, reduce unemployment, and, consequently, reduce poverty. It fits very well into the idea of sustainable development, contributing to improving the quality of life.
The empirical results filled a gap in the existing literature and enriched our understanding of the benefits of distance education. The obtained results confirmed the belief that this form of education will be an equivalent form of teaching in the future.
The topic is socially important and adds value to education. E-learning creates equal opportunities for development and life for all people, both current and future generations, and shapes their attitudes.
Distance learning creates a new dimension of education. Thanks to easy access, it allows you to break down barriers, creates an original environment, and in addition, it is a great alternative for people who have difficulty accessing education or who finished the formal stage of education many years ago and, for various reasons, are afraid of traditional classes, often in a younger group. It should be added that distance learning also contributes to the democratization of education. It supports the lifelong learning process and, consequently, the process of adaptation to the external reality that is changing according to increasingly less clear rules.

2. Definitions of Academic E-Learning

In Polish, e-learning (electronic learning) or distance learning is translated as e-education [3], distance learning [4], e-learning, or e-education, a learning technology that uses the ability to connect via the Internet, intranets, and extranets [5], or online learning using technology [6]. When larifying the definition of e-learning, it should be noted that we are dealing with e-learning when there is an interaction between the teacher and the learner in the form of feedback. The point is that [3] e-learning should not be equated, as J. Woźniak writes [3], with a “tool for playing pre-prepared content”.
E-learning sources can be the Internet, networks, computers, Web-based learning, virtual classrooms, online tutorials, satellite TV, mobile telephony, audio and video, CD and DVD media, and other devices. The didactic process is carried out using computer systems called e-learning platforms. Moodle, or Open Source Course Management System (CMS), also known as Learning Management System (LMS) and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), has become very popular among teachers around the world as a tool to create dynamic websites for their students. In order to function, it needs to be installed somewhere on a server, either on one of your own computers or at a web hosting company. Many institutions use it as a platform for full online courses and others for blended learning courses. It has many modules like forums, databases, chats, and tests (http://moodle.org/about/ accessed on 10 August 2023). Moodle is the most popular platform in Poland, and SAKAI is the most popular platform worldwide. Each system has many modules that can be configured depending on the needs of the teacher and student. These are tools for synchronous communication, which requires the presence of a teacher and a student (one-to-one model) or a teacher and students (one-to-many model) at a strictly defined time, thanks to which all people involved in teaching have direct contact with each other (education in the real world). Asynchronous communication is strictly individual learning as it does not require the presence of a teacher, although the student is under his or her supervision, but requires a lot of independence and self-discipline from the student, as he or she determines the time and pace of assimilating the material contained in the course. Additionally, he or she has the possibility of self-education and unlimited exploration of the topic of interest contained in the course, thanks to web search, and this additionally affects the acquisition of another skill by the student: a general understanding of network resources and the way they are organized. These tools are beneficial for group work and independent work, and they contain modules for processing and archiving texts and tests to check the acquired knowledge. To sum up, the e-learning platform is a working environment for teachers and students, enabling the distribution and management of e-courses (i.e., classes) and their users (academics and students) [7].
Many universities saw e-learning as a chance to conquer the newly emerging market and initiated extensive activities aimed at preparing the offer. Courses conducted in mixed formats seem to be particularly attractive for universities. The mixed form complements the traditional didactic formula with e-learning. Are we witnessing a revolution that will change the education system? The question arises as to what extent will the role of the teacher change? Hundreds or even thousands of people around the world use online learning. Traditional courses seem outdated and trivial, so e-learning is chosen, which can offer via the Internet, interactive classes, individual teaching, and learning without leaving home [8].
The interest in e-learning in higher education is growing, which is influenced by the current economic situation, competition in the educational market, and demographic decline. E-education gives opportunities to attract students from abroad, students with disabilities, those who cannot give up their professional work and want or should improve their education, parents taking care of children, and middle-aged people who want to complete their higher education or start a new profession. There are many potential future candidates. It is puzzling why some universities are still waiting to introduce blended learning, a form of distance learning which consists of combining elements of traditional learning with elements of distance learning; it is currently a popular form supporting traditional learning. Including e-learning in the teaching process allows you to diversify classes, trainings, and courses conducted in the stationary mode associated with traditional classes in the lecture hall.

3. Mobile Devices and Their Participation in Education

The intensive development of new technologies and IT tools and the increasing availability of modern devices, both mobile and wireless, have revolutionized almost all fields of our lives. In fact, we are increasingly dependent on new technologies that have an increasing impact on changing conditions in social and economic life and education. The current explosion of digital technology not only changes the way we live and communicate, but it also transforms our brain, which is evolving like never before [9]. That is why the modern school of the 21st century needs changes. Above all, modern education is adapted to the requirements of the environment, referring to the multiple intelligences of students [10] and taking into account new trends, which are an important element of the life of the modern generation (the so-called “digital natives”) commonly using the Internet and mobile phones and growing up in symbiosis with the virtual world. (The author of the terms “digital natives and digital immigrants” is the American media researcher Mark Prensky, who, in the 2001 article Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, used these terms for the first time to represent differences between generations.) It requires innovative systems of education, thanks to which students will be able to take full advantage of the developing knowledge of society.
The new approach to teaching should focus primarily on the following:
  • Teaching–learning needs;
  • Key competencies needed in the digital age;
  • Using the potential of modern technology and mobile devices in education;
  • Its place in the academic practice of remote teaching;
  • Modern working methods and forms of classes adapted to the needs and possibilities of students.
The rapidly growing popularity and universality of mobile devices provide not only the opportunity to access unlimited resources for information, processing, and distribution of its products in digital form but also the possibility of creating and sharing knowledge. Students may not only be passive users of the Internet but also creators of its content. Modern information and communication technologies are increasingly embedding themselves into everyday life by engaging their users. An example may be, among others, the growing popularity and development of social networking sites, in which we have full freedom in shaping their appearance and content while at the same time dealing with new categories of network communication: direct, intermediate, and active [11]. In particular, the last one allows users to interact and collaborate in creating content, thanks to which it can be successfully used in education by everyone involved in the learning process, both teachers and learners, as well as employers. The creation of services enables not only the abolition of time and distance barriers but also unlimited access to knowledge and diverse forms of cooperation. It gives us a chance to reach for a new dimension in education, which is now possible anywhere and anytime [12].
Mobility of educational services and extension of the teaching–learning process beyond the traditional classroom are possible, and digital educational media can lead to a significant change in a university and a change for the better. It is only worth it if we skillfully notice the trends and sources of change in the fundamental dimensions of life and adapt them to the practice of education. And although many sympathize with dream teachers approaching this topic from a distance, and achieving goals through learning via mobile devices seems unlikely, it is worth referring to the studies of authors analyzing emerging technologies and pointing to their educational potential. These authors, among the main trends and challenges faced by schools [13] and universities, ref. [14] suggest, among others, the role of open education, the development of electronic books, the development of mobile technology, the application of augmented reality, game-based learning, using distributed tools and services, cloud computing, and the importance of teamwork.
Both schools and universities cannot remain against them. Trends related to the development of new ones cannot be overlooked if one is indifferent to them. On the contrary, they can be an ideal supporting tool in a didactic process adapted to the requirements and predispositions of today’s generations. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that access to equipment and applications will not result in the expected changes if they are not supported by new methodologies and changes in the organization of the teaching process.
Paul Levinson [15], in his book New New Media, helps to understand violent changes in the world of modern media. He points out that the world of new media opens up a huge range of possibilities and, thus, easy access to very different forms that allow you to easily choose the most appropriate one for each user. It should be noted that new inventions do not exclude existing ones; they strengthen the current media, complementing each other and bringing out different potentials.

4. Learning Yesterday and Today

In educational settings, changes in learning usually concern the content of subjects. Its organization has changed, but learning is still acquiring (cramming) content. What is the difference between learning yesterday and today? What should it look like in the digital age? Significant differences between today’s traditional learning and connective learning are shown in the table below (Table 1).
Table 1. Connective Learning [16].
Connectivism assumes that [17]:
  • Technologies affect the way we learn;
  • We do not have to know or be able to do everything; our knowledge can be found in external resources, e.g., in the network;
  • Connecting to these resources triggers our learning process;
  • The ability to make connections is more important than what we currently know;
  • We make our decisions based on the information available to us;
  • Information resources change, develop, and thus influence our decisions.
In the theory of connectivism, the network and its use are a central metaphor for the learning process. Connecting (with someone, with a communication network, with resources) is more important in connectivism than what we know. Knowing how to find what we are looking for is more important than knowing what it is that we are looking for. However, every teacher knows how sometimes it is difficult for a student to find something he does not know. Therefore, the teacher should be a guide because technology can support the competencies possessed by the student, but it will not create them by itself. A good teacher is one who understands more of the same information, is able to interpret it better, and has more doubts and reflectiveness.

5. How to Learn: Traditionally or Connectively?

The emergence of the theory of connectivism has brought a revival to modern pedagogy. Theory is useful in distance education because it better explains the practice of e-learning. On the other hand, it is accused of not explaining the way we learn sufficiently. Connective learning proposes to move away from encyclopedias towards developing the ability to use constantly new information or to find what is needed in order to move away from the culture of “what do you know” (in the traditional school) to the culture of “how do you know it” and “where did you find it”. Connective learning allows you to develop all the key skills that a student should acquire at a modern university.
In the case of the theory of connectivism, its usefulness is indicated, especially in online education, because this concept better explains the practice of e-learning than behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. On the other hand, it is accused of not explaining the way we learn sufficiently. In 2005, Siemens described the theory of connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age [18]. According to him, learning is a process that is not entirely under the control of the learner or the teacher. We do not have to keep everything in mind. The knowledge we possess does not have to be inside us; it can be in resources outside of us, and only connecting to these resources or databases starts the learning process. The very act of connecting becomes more important than what we currently know.
Connectivism emphasizes, first, that learning and knowledge result from confronting different opinions and combining sources [19]. Secondly, it is indicated that thinking itself and the ability to learn are more important than the current state of knowledge of the individual. The most important skill is to see the connections between areas, ideas, and concepts, i.e., synergy. Finally, critical thinking is treated as an integral part of the learning process. It seems that the quintessence of connectivism can be reduced to the words of P. Levinson, who claimed that “no one knows everything. Everyone knows something. Mankind has all the knowledge” [15]. The very process of teaching connectivism can be reduced to the so-called 3D method: whatever, whenever, wherever [18]. In this approach, education is permanent and holistic. We no longer learn “from” places intended for this (university, school, educational center, etc.), but all the time, doing any, sometimes seemingly completely trivial, activities. Therefore, the so-called self-learning of information, [20] which contributes to the self-development of an individual, is very important here. Important teaching skills in the connective model can be reduced to the ability to effectively process information from various sources, search for new solutions, or ask unconventional questions—just generating them can be an important source of knowledge.
Connectivism, one of the current teaching theories, has a number of advantages but also raises a lot of doubts. One of them is doubt as to whether the teaching process can only mean the ability to acquire information by searching for it. The question also arises whether the search system itself is a guarantee of the skillful use of the information obtained in this way. In this theory, which is quite important in my opinion, we are dealing with a certain objectification of the individual in the teaching process. Its role is limited to the efficient use of a computer—a search engine—assuming that it can recognize true information and reject manipulated and false information.
It seems much more important to develop the science of thinking and criticism towards existing sources than the simple process of searching for information.
The main assumption of connectivism is the thesis that all knowledge does not have to be available in the mind because it can be accessed at any time thanks to external sources.
Szpunar [21] seems reasonable: how do we find something when we do not actually know what we are looking for? In a situation where the student does not have an appropriate database, he wanders haphazardly through hyperlinks, not reaching the goal at all because he is not able to determine what exactly he is looking for; quoting the words attributed to Geotheme, “he finds what he knows”. Knowledge is built into a person and not just placed somewhere on electronic or paper pages; there is only information, and here, the role of education appears, i.e., developing the competence to build (own) knowledge by the learner.
“The art of living in a world saturated with information overload is something we are just learning” [22]. Uncritically adopting the idea of connectivism is, in a sense, accepting the canon and way of thinking of digital natives. Many postulates of the idea of connectivism require consideration and inclusion in the traditional teaching model, although one must realize that this will be a difficult and, above all, long-term process. It is worth recalling the assumptions of William Ogburn’s [23] hypothesis of cultural delay, who rightly assumed that the intangible layer—our habits—changes much more slowly than the material layer—in this case, technology.

6. Through Education to Sustainable Development

The concept of sustainable development should be assessed as the only concept providing prospects for human survival on Earth. In order to effectively implement this concept, it is necessary to broaden the field of social awareness with the awareness of sustainable development. This purpose is to be served by the latest information medium—the Internet. Its use can contribute to the popularization of knowledge about this concept and encourage individual inhabitants of the Earth to take a part of the responsibility for the present and the future.
Many scientists from various fields (Z. Piątek [17], A. Papuziński [24], and others) indicate that this is the only concept at the moment that, if implemented properly, can stop the progressive degradation of the natural environment, without significantly changing people’s quality of life. Unfortunately, society does not yet know it, nor does it know the direction in which to follow.
The concept of sustainable development is very capacious in terms of content, as it refers to both social and cultural development, as well as economic development. This development needs to be sustainable, i.e., it is to eliminate the threat of economic and social crises [25].
Socio-economic development should not disturb natural processes and the dynamic balance between them. It should not significantly and irreversibly affect the human living environment; it should proceed in a manner consistent with the laws governing nature, while maintaining the conditions necessary to achieve homeostasis at all levels of the organization of living matter (organism, population, ecosystem, and biosphere).
The term “sustainable development” or “eco-development” is attributed with different content, as evidenced by several dozen of its definitions given in the world literature [26].
Sustainable development is usually defined as “development that ensures the satisfaction of the basic needs of both present and future generations, while maintaining the constant ability of ecological systems to regenerate themselves”. All societies in the world participating in the management of natural resources are responsible for this [27].
When reviewing the definition of sustainable development, several approaches can be observed. The first is the natural approach, which shows the supremacy of natural values in relation to economic and social activity. The second is an economic approach, showing the need to balance economic activity and ecosystem productivity. And finally, the civilization approach, where balance should be achieved with the help of the latest scientific achievements. Therefore, three basic dimensions of sustainable development are indicated, i.e., the ecological, economic, and social dimensions.
The ecological dimension comprises respecting the limits of our planet’s natural resources and biodiversity in order to improve the condition of the environment and ensure the protection of natural resources necessary for the life of today and future generations.
The economic dimension comprises building a strong, stable, and sustainable economy, guaranteeing prosperity and development opportunities for all, in which incentives are created for the efficient use of resources. Sustainable development indicators are an important aspect of the economic dimension understood in accordance with the above definition.
The social dimension comprises creating equal opportunities for development and life for all people, both present and future generations, and shaping human values and attitudes.
The principle of sustainable development was developed in 2015 by the leaders of 193 UN member countries as the document “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It contains 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which identify the most important challenges of our time in five areas: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. The principle of sustainable development aims to support the construction of a better world for the benefit of the inhabitants of the planet.
Creating a fully sustainable model of life, i.e., improving the quality of life of people around the world, without the wasteful exploitation of natural resources requires various actions in individual regions of the world. It is necessary to integrate activities in the field of social and economic growth and equal distribution of benefits as well as protection of natural resources and the environment. The vision of development addresses the most important challenges facing the world in an integrated way, such as the fight against poverty, gender equality, human rights and security, education for all, health, and intercultural dialogue.
The concept of sustainable development sets directions for solving these problems. It is just a pity that it is so uncommon in society. The concept of development is defined in various ways because it is an inseparable aspect of many areas of life.
Sustainable development means subordinating the needs and aspirations of society and the state to the opportunities offered by the environment [28].
Currently, there is an increasing tendency to extend the scope of the concept of sustainable development and refer it to the entirety of human development, the model of man’s relationship with nature, and improving the quality of life [29]. In fact, development leads to faster and faster use of various types of natural resources, and this in turn leads to processes that undermine the mechanisms of self-regulation of natural conditions—that is, maintaining the relationship between capital: economic, human, and natural. Initiatives supporting sustainable development are the task not only of economists, ecologists, or politicians, but, above all, of educators. While at the level of state institutions, the pursuit of sustainable development consists in legislating, other tools of change are necessary in relation to an individual whose behavior is a consequence of life attitude or philosophy. Life attitude is shaped, among others, by school, media, work, people met in institutions, and privately. The key, though not easy, way to change people’s awareness (environmental, consumer, cultural) is education. Hence, university graduates, working as specialists, civil servants, managers, or teachers, naturally become multipliers of knowledge and ideas and models of attitudes, behaviors, and life philosophies. Educational institutions with a complex of facilities and rooms with their equipment constitute an important component of the didactic system: the so-called didactic environment. Both formal and informal education are of key importance in promoting the idea of sustainable development as a change in the direction of socio-economic development.
Sustainable development in education is perceived through the prism of using knowledge resources, sharing it, and reaching those who have difficulty accessing education. The addressees are people of all ages and various institutions and organizations. Education for Sustainable Development is intended to refer to education from an early age to late adulthood. The concept of Education for Sustainable Development indicates the connection of issues related to the environment, economy, and society and their transfer to the teaching–learning ground. The aim is to raise awareness, develop competences, and shape appropriate attitudes and values, including the involvement of citizens in the search for and development of the best solutions relating to the problems of the natural environment, the functioning of societies, and the laws of economy. The implementation of the goals of Education for Sustainable Development is also important for improving the quality of education in schools [30].
Sustainable development in education also means innovation, understood through the introduction of new technologies, such as e-learning, “web 2.0” (acquisition, delivery, and absorption of data, information, and knowledge from open (available) Internet sources, using social media), “web 3.0” (the use of semantic networks and intelligent computer systems to personalize knowledge and services for the recipient), and “open science 2.0” (the main premise of open science is the rebellion against its commercialization, in favor of open models of the distribution of broadly understood science, such as open access to data, analyses, and scientific publications).
Education via the Internet (e-learning) is often perceived as a form of supporting education or as an alternative or new value for traditional education. E-learning is also a response to the community of young people who commonly interact with new technologies (smartphones, the Internet). It has been observed that on the basis of the use of new technologies in education, new variants are included in the traditional division of methods, serving the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competences that may be conducive to Education for Sustainable Development.
In Education for Sustainable Development, it is postulated to use problem-based methods, e.g., simulations of real problems and the possibility of solving them. Methods are based on discussion, conceptual and perceptual mappings, searching for values, creating models, games, and projects. In addition, the introduction of methods based on combining theory with life experience, workplace experience, and practical application is appreciated. It is proposed to introduce methods into the curricula that enable working in a group and/or team, where the teacher is a member or acts as a tutor. In addition, education should be personalized and adapted to the learner’s abilities, using information and communication technologies. E-learning meets the expectations, globalization processes, and civilizational changes that force personal development and continuous improvement, regardless of the place of stay and available time.
Transforming universities in terms of the sustainable development program and its assumptions causes positive changes both in the human capital of a given country and has a positive impact on the economy.
To answer the question of what a sustainable university should be, it is worth considering what sustainable studies can be. This was aptly expressed by the British Department of Education, which stated that a university is not only an institution where they learn to think about current events in various time scales and the impact that humanity has on the environment but also a place where young people additionally learn about examples of good behaviors and can personally experience a sustainable lifestyle. A sustainable university is designed to prepare its students to live in accordance with the principles of sustainable development through ethos, teaching, and practical application of the principles of sustainable development.

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