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ELearning software is a collection of web-based software that allows students to view information related to their coursework and submit assignments to their professors. Some of this online education software also allows for additional collaboration and learning tools. eLearning software is becoming increasingly important, and is nearly essential for modern education in the digital age. However, this technology is largely unrefined and as such, has problems; problems that can be overcome. Since the popularity and ubiquity of the internet, eLearning software has become relatively commonplace in the education world. An eLearning platform can be found in use at almost every major school around the world. Primary and secondary schools are also adopting the technology at a very fast rate. Since technology is so prevalent in our global society, it only makes sense to incorporate it into the way we educate our people. Online education has been reported to have millions of students in higher education (Allen and Seaman, 2010), and with individual K-12 online schools having around 10,000 students at a time (The Keystone School, 2011), it is safe to assume that there are close to a million K-12 students in an online program. These numbers are only for education in the United States, however. When the global education system is considered, online enrollment could safely be assumed to jump into the tens of millions. Online education is not something to be ignored. Online education is not however, limited to purely online programs. In fact, the majority of the eLearning technology is used alongside existing traditional education programs. Since the technology is widely useful, it would be beneficial to examine its application and effectiveness for both traditional and online education. eLearning software comes in many flavors, with many different companies offering their own products and solutions for schools. Each has significantly different user interfaces and feature sets, as well as strengths and weaknesses. No software is perfect, but some are clearly better than others. eCollege is one such service. Provided by Pearson, eCollege provides a platform that is easy to manage and navigate, though perhaps not very feature-rich. eCollege offers a place for professors to manage their individual classes' resources, providing a grade book, testing, a breakdown of section information, threaded discussion, and some document sharing ability. eCollege is somewhat lacking in the areas of speed, browser compatibility, and communication function. For example, eCollege lacks any sort of notification system, so that any announcements from the professor, replies to threaded discussions, or approaching deadlines are in no way reported to the students or faculty. This is a very common feature not just in other eLearning technologies, but for web technologies in general. eCollege also is considerably far behind its competition in terms of pleasing user interface. The design paradigms are reminiscent of the web as of 1998, and the fonts are by default set to be far too small to be readable on high-resolution screens. Lastly, eCollege has nothing in the way of student collaboration, requiring external services or solutions to be used for group activities. Its competition, Blackboard, is probably the largest and most widely used solution for eLearning. Having absorbed several other eLearning products, Blackboard is possible the most well-established and feature-rich eLearning platform. However, though Blackboard has the most features and options for students, it suffers from an unintuitive, sluggish and clunky user interface. Many of my fellow students who are web designers agree that Blackboard is a poorly designed platform that tries to do too much and needs a considerable amount of polish. There are also some open source eLearning solutions that provide many of the same functionality of the paid varieties. The most popular of which is Moodle. Moodle is a wiki-based eLearning platform that is modular and feature-rich. Moodle's modularity and open source nature allow it to rival other solutions like eCollege and Blackboard. However, Moodle is not as good looking or easy to use and implement as many of the other solutions. It would require a skilled, dedicated administrator to run properly, and as such, it is not used by many institutions. The main thing to consider with these eLearning platforms is that they are merely collections of existing non-education-specific technologies. Really, these eLearning platforms are only unique in that they provide a convenient, central place for these technologies to live. The technologies that eLearning solutions typically include are wikis, document sharing, survey tools, threaded discussions, email, chat, calendar, note taking, and notifications. All these functions are available in other 3rd party software, most of which are not branded for education. Since eLearning software is essentially competing with other software companies, it is important for eLearning companies to focus on convenience and integration of these technologies, since it would be difficult to match the power and versatility of their competition. However, many students and faculty prefer the power of the 3rd party applications, and only use their institution's eLearning software to link to the technology they prefer. eLearning software has many problems brought on by the numerous features they offer. One of which is student attention span. Students, if presented with a multitude of new features to navigate, may become frustrated with the software and not be able to use it effectively. Additionally, if the features are cool enough, the student may become distracted by this shiny new thing and be unable to concentrate on the work at hand. Another problem that eLearning software has is that storing and retrieving information in it is rarely convenient. In fact, most students ignore the majority of the note taking and other features because they are too cumbersome. The truth is that web-based information creation and retrieval is not very mature on the user end for anything other than email. Some 3rd party services, like Evernote and Google Docs, are making great strides to change that, but until they do, eLearning software will always represent the worst of an immature technology. One of the big problems that eLearning platforms face is information security. Student information - which can include private correspondence between students and faculty, surveys with private and/or sensitive information, and even the credentials necessary to access financial information - are just as vulnerable as any other web technology, and must be secured accordingly. Database lockdowns, firewalls and antivirus are all essential to maintaining the integrity of this information. However, hackers are not the only ones that might want this information. The institution, research firms, survey organizations, and even advertizing agencies all want to be able to mine the data from eLearning software. At first glance, data mining in eLearning could be seen as a beneficial thing. After all, it would greatly simplify the surveys necessary for academic research. However, the possible sensitive nature of the student's work and their likely lack of consent for their work to be distributed would mean that researchers would have access to resources they shouldn't. In the name of academic research, some data mining solutions have already been developed and made easy to integrate with existing eLearning platforms (Romero, 2007). Again, this would mean that researchers would have access to all information that a student submits. While a research firm might be able to be trusted, they are usually obligated to make their sources available to the public, meaning that the specifics of student information could become public. The implications of automatic data mining on all student submitted coursework is disturbing to say the least. One of the most neglected needs of eLearning technology is social features. Social features wouldn't just include student to student communication, but also shared documents, notes, teams, and assignments. While these things can be done with email, email is hardly an effective way to accomplish these tasks. For purely-online education in particular, where students are unlikely to be able to meet and share work physically, online collaboration within the eLearning platform is a very large need. Ultimately, eLearning technology is an almost necessary part of education today. All the pieces needed to make it great exist in 3rd party technology. All that is needed is to have an eLearning platform provider leverage them effectively. Until that time, eLearning software will remain limited, and students and faculty will still rely on a mix of their own platform and 3rd party technology.
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On Education and Education Technology
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On Education And Education Technology

Words: 1378    Pages: 5    Paragraphs: 18    Sentences: 72    Read Time: 05:00
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              ELearning software is a collection of web-based software that allows students to view information related to their coursework and submit assignments to their professors. Some of this online education software also allows for additional collaboration and learning tools. eLearning software is becoming increasingly important, and is nearly essential for modern education in the digital age. However, this technology is largely unrefined and as such, has problems; problems that can be overcome.
              Since the popularity and ubiquity of the internet, eLearning software has become relatively commonplace in the education world. An eLearning platform can be found in use at almost every major school around the world. Primary and secondary schools are also adopting the technology at a very fast rate. Since technology is so prevalent in our global society, it only makes sense to incorporate it into the way we educate our people.
              Online education has been reported to have millions of students in higher education (Allen and Seaman, 2010), and with individual K-12 online schools having around 10,000 students at a time (The Keystone School, 2011), it is safe to assume that there are close to a million K-12 students in an online program. These numbers are only for education in the United States, however. When the global education system is considered, online enrollment could safely be assumed to jump into the tens of millions. Online education is not something to be ignored.
              Online education is not however, limited to purely online programs. In fact, the majority of the eLearning technology is used alongside existing traditional education programs. Since the technology is widely useful, it would be beneficial to examine its application and effectiveness for both traditional and online education.
              eLearning software comes in many flavors, with many different companies offering their own products and solutions for schools. Each has significantly different user interfaces and feature sets, as well as strengths and weaknesses. No software is perfect, but some are clearly better than others.
              eCollege is one such service. Provided by Pearson, eCollege provides a platform that is easy to manage and navigate, though perhaps not very feature-rich. eCollege offers a place for professors to manage their individual classes' resources, providing a grade book, testing, a breakdown of section information, threaded discussion, and some document sharing ability. eCollege is somewhat lacking in the areas of speed, browser compatibility, and communication function.
              For example, eCollege lacks any sort of notification system, so that any announcements from the professor, replies to threaded discussions, or approaching deadlines are in no way reported to the students or faculty. This is a very common feature not just in other eLearning technologies, but for web technologies in general. eCollege also is considerably far behind its competition in terms of pleasing user interface. The design paradigms are reminiscent of the web as of 1998, and the fonts are by default set to be far too small to be readable on high-resolution screens. Lastly, eCollege has nothing in the way of student collaboration, requiring external services or solutions to be used for group activities.
              Its competition, Blackboard, is probably the largest and most widely used solution for eLearning. Having absorbed several other eLearning products, Blackboard is possible the most well-established and feature-rich eLearning platform. However, though Blackboard has the most features and options for students, it suffers from an unintuitive, sluggish and clunky user interface. Many of my fellow students who are web designers agree that Blackboard is a poorly designed platform that tries to do too much and needs a considerable amount of polish.
              There are also some open source eLearning solutions that provide many of the same functionality of the paid varieties. The most popular of which is Moodle. Moodle is a wiki-based eLearning platform that is modular and feature-rich. Moodle's modularity and open source nature allow it to rival other solutions like eCollege and Blackboard. However, Moodle is not as good looking or easy to use and implement as many of the other solutions. It would require a skilled, dedicated administrator to run properly, and as such, it is not used by many institutions.
              The main thing to consider with these eLearning platforms is that they are merely collections of existing non-education-specific technologies. Really, these eLearning platforms are only unique in that they provide a convenient, central place for these technologies to live. The technologies that eLearning solutions typically include are wikis, document sharing, survey tools, threaded discussions, email, chat, calendar, note taking, and notifications. All these functions are available in other 3rd party software, most of which are not branded for education.
              Since eLearning software is essentially competing with other software companies, it is important for eLearning companies to focus on convenience and integration of these technologies, since it would be difficult to match the power and versatility of their competition. However, many students and faculty prefer the power of the 3rd party applications, and only use their institution's eLearning software to link to the technology they prefer.
              eLearning software has many problems brought on by the numerous features they offer. One of which is student attention span. Students, if presented with a multitude of new features to navigate, may become frustrated with the software and not be able to use it effectively. Additionally, if the features are cool enough, the student may become distracted by this shiny new thing and be unable to concentrate on the work at hand.
              Another problem that eLearning software has is that storing and retrieving information in it is rarely convenient. In fact, most students ignore the majority of the note taking and other features because they are too cumbersome. The truth is that web-based information creation and retrieval is not very mature on the user end for anything other than email. Some 3rd party services, like Evernote and Google Docs, are making great strides to change that, but until they do, eLearning software will always represent the worst of an immature technology.
              One of the big problems that eLearning platforms face is information security. Student information - which can include private correspondence between students and faculty, surveys with private and/or sensitive information, and even the credentials necessary to access financial information - are just as vulnerable as any other web technology, and must be secured accordingly. Database lockdowns, firewalls and antivirus are all essential to maintaining the integrity of this information.
              However, hackers are not the only ones that might want this information. The institution, research firms, survey organizations, and even advertizing agencies all want to be able to mine the data from eLearning software. At first glance, data mining in eLearning could be seen as a beneficial thing. After all, it would greatly simplify the surveys necessary for academic research. However, the possible sensitive nature of the student's work and their likely lack of consent for their work to be distributed would mean that researchers would have access to resources they shouldn't.
              In the name of academic research, some data mining solutions have already been developed and made easy to integrate with existing eLearning platforms (Romero, 2007). Again, this would mean that researchers would have access to all information that a student submits. While a research firm might be able to be trusted, they are usually obligated to make their sources available to the public, meaning that the specifics of student information could become public. The implications of automatic data mining on all student submitted coursework is disturbing to say the least.
              One of the most neglected needs of eLearning technology is social features. Social features wouldn't just include student to student communication, but also shared documents, notes, teams, and assignments. While these things can be done with email, email is hardly an effective way to accomplish these tasks. For purely-online education in particular, where students are unlikely to be able to meet and share work physically, online collaboration within the eLearning platform is a very large need.
              Ultimately, eLearning technology is an almost necessary part of education today. All the pieces needed to make it great exist in 3rd party technology. All that is needed is to have an eLearning platform provider leverage them effectively. Until that time, eLearning software will remain limited, and students and faculty will still rely on a mix of their own platform and 3rd party technology.
Education Essay 
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Works Cited

Allen, E., & Seaman, J. (2010, November 1). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010. The Sloan Consortium. Retrieved April 2, 2011, from http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/class_differences
Keystone School. (n.d.). How many students are enrolled in The Keystone School? | Online High School and Middle School | The Keystone School. Online High School and Middle School | The Keystone School. Retrieved April 2, 2011, from http://keystoneschoolonline.com/node/487
Romero, C. (2007). Data mining in course management systems: Moodle case study and tutorial. C?rdoba, Spain. University of C?rdoba. Retrieved from sci2s.ugr.es/docencia/doctoM6/Romero-Ventura-Garcia-CE.pdf
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