We have developed a prototype for a new kind of e-learning called HEROS
(Higher Education Re-usable Objects in Statistics): a non-linear learning
object based learning system. It lets students design their own individual
research based course in statistics and mathematics in a way which suits
their level and learning style. We are developing new approaches to using
the ideas in the system and are studying the merits of the different
approaches. We have recieved DKK 3 million from the Ministry of Science,
Technology and Innovation to develop a continuing education course in
basic statistics and to develop a university course in mathematics - both
based on the principle in HEROS.
Statistical e-learning: Non-linear learning using learning objects
Students nowadays - whether university students or other kinds - differ much more than before. Some are very good, and some have substantial difficulties even with basic concepts. Moreover, they have very different learning styles. Some learn best by first being exposed to theory and afterwards seeing examples, while others prefer the opposite order of presentation. Similarly, some prefer visual and graphical learning, some like to see theory written down in formulas, while others get the most out of listening to oral presentations.
Using "Leaning Objects" enables each student to design her own course, and ensures that she gets course material at the right level and in the style that suits her best. Learning objects represent a relatively new method of subdividing courses into smaller modules. According to David Wiley's contribution to the Educational Workshop in the 16th APAN Meeting a learning object is defined as follows: "Any digital resource that can be reused to support learning. The term "Learning Objects" generally applies to educational materials designed and created in small chunks for the purpose of maximizing the number of learning situations in which the resource can be utilized".
Traditional learning - e.g. by reading a book or following a lecture - is linear. You start at page 1 or on the first slide and continue on - hopefully understanding a little bit more for every page or slide. To learn in this way is one example of a learning style among many. However, experience and theory suggest that different people learn in different ways. Another way of learning - which is not supported by reading a book - is by obtaining a lot of information before suddenly understanding the whole. Books and lectures can be good instruments for learning but should not stand alone. To combine them with a more "anarchistic" and non-linear kind of material can improve learning by individualizing it and making it more fun. With learning objects you can build your own course to suit your individual learning style, providing you with optimal learning.
Another reason for proposing a new generation of courses is that we are now faced with a generation of students who are used to exploiting the possibilities of the computer. Thus, a new type of education that will reflect a rethinking of content, form and duration is needed. In the future, education will be in the form of "voucher systems". As a student, you get a set of vouchers and use them to attend the specific chunks of a study programme you need - whenever and wherever it suits you. If the providers of education are to meet the requirements of such systems, the task of developing new courses and tailoring them to individual students has to be easy to manage.
Working with learning objects offers a wide range of flexibility for both the course providers and, as described, for the users. Creating new courses is much easier and more fun if there is a bank of learning objects where you can find most of the topics you need. It is a lot more manageable to make new learning objects, when you have new ideas on how to explain something better or just different than you did before, than rewriting your old book.
The course system we have developed for the second generation courses is called HEROS (Higher Education Re-usable Objects in Statistics). A course consists of a collection of learning objects glued together using the e-learning authoring system "Lectora" - a tool made by Trivantis. The heart of the system is a hyperbolic graph or a map which gives an overview of the course, and makes it possible to navigate around in the system. The topics are arranged in different "clouds". One cloud consists of different introductions to the system, one is the company's motivations for the course, one is examples from the company, one is an exam, and further clouds consist of statistically oriented topics.When you click on a learning object you enter it and are able to play around e.g. listening to presentations, watching videos, reading, playing with applets and much more.
So far, we have created an introductory course in statistics using HEROS. The course has run twice as a continuing education course for engineers in a global company - the first run was for a Danish audience and the second run for an European audience. The course starts with an introduction - face to face when this is possible; when there are students from abroad we start with a video meeting instead. The students then play around with the system for one month. During that time they work in groups, receive supervision from coaches, and have e-mails from the coaches on things they have to do - all to keep them on track. The course ends with a multiple choice exam and an oral presentation - in person or on the web - of their group work.