E-learning is generally regarded as using information and communications technologies for teaching and learning. These technologies may include, but are not limited to, the following: presentation technologies (e.g., PowerPoint), the Internet, videoconferencing, e-mail, specialist disciplinary software, learning management systems such as WebCT, simulations, and educational games. E-learning may involve such hardware as computers, personal digital assistants, and cell phones. The media used can combine audio, video, images and text in a variety of combinations and using a range of approaches. E-learning should be regarded as a facility or set of tools, not a particular teaching method. Indeed, e-learning may be used to support almost any kind of instructional approach, positive or negative. Examples of using e-learning constructively include approaches which combine more traditional teaching practices with information and communications technologies. For example, an instructor might use the Internet during his or her lecture to access online animations that supplement the class presentation. A course website might contain activities that facilitate active learning. Communications applications such as online discussions groups might be used to enable collaborative problem solving among groups of students who have difficulty scheduling meetings. Instructors of fully online courses typically use little if any face-to-face instruction and depend almost entirely on e-learning.
The degree to which e-learning is used by instructors varies widely due to a number of factors including their personal teaching preferences, the nature of the subject matter, the students involved as well as the availability of technical and instructional design support. Quality instruction remains the paramount goal and e-learning should never be used for its own sake. The E-Learning Committee identified the following factors that contribute to the need to transform teaching and learning in higher education:
evolving nature of “basic skills” required to be competent professionals
the opportunities provided by the increased effectiveness and reduced costs of information and communications technologies;
pervasive use of information technology by students leading to changes in learning preferences;
synergy of teaching and research;
growing demand for alternative learning models to improve learning and increase accessibility;
greater availability of electronic learning resources and scholarly publications.
The combined effects of these five factors make it paramount for the University to reevaluate and update its strategy for e-learning. E-learning enables greater flexibility in terms of where and when students can participate in learning activities. As a result, those involved in discussing the advantages of using e-learning often concentrated on how it reduces barriers to accessing educational programs. However, from a pedagogical point of view, the focus of e-learning is not on access, but on learning. E-learning provides learners with the opportunity to be more active and to take greater responsibility for their own learning. It also gives faculty a wider variety of tools for facilitating participation and collaboration.
The E-Learning exists in the context established by the vision, mission, and goals of the University. Information and communications technologies are praised for their capacity to span distance, connect communities, provide information, and rapidly transmit huge volumes of data. E-learning is an integrated application of these technologies. As such it has the potential to influence how all the academic themes of the University are realized.
Need for Reforms in Tertiary Education to Address New Challenges. Quality assurance can play a key catalytic role in initiating reforms to revitalize weak tertiary education systems. Despite variations in cultural and political preferences, differences in leadership styles within governments as well as varying stages of development, there is emerging consensus that traditional academic controls are inadequate for responding to today’s challenges and that more explicit assurances about quality are needed (El-Khawas, DePietro-Jurand, and Holm-Nielsen 1998).
New Methods of Delivery Challenge Traditional Approaches to HE Development. Recent advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) have prompted changes in the modes of delivery for education. The use of different forms of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) is on the rise, making it possible to teach and learn from anywhere in the world irrespective of one’s geographical location relative to the source of delivery. On-line education is growing, even within regular “brick and mortar” institutions. These new methods also render tertiary education “borderless”-students have options for access to higher education beyond their national boundaries and providers of HE can reach students anywhere in the world without having to secure clearance from any local authority. This is a positive development, especially for countries which cannot afford to invest in brick and mortar institutions (for example, small countries, weak economies) to meet the growing social demand. However, in the absence of an effective QA system, consumers lack a reliable basis for choosing between different borderless offers, and governments would not have a mechanism for holding these providers accountable for the quality of their programs.
In Africa this trend is expressed in the growing attention accorded to building capacities for distance education. The region now hosts four open universities, with plans to establish at least two more in the near future. Likewise, the provision of education “at a distance” by traditional universities is steadily expanding. In Tanzania, the Open University of Tanzania (OUT) is now the largest university in the country-only 15 years after its establishment. The African Virtual University which was initially incubated in the World Bank is now a well recognized leader in open and distance e-learning (ODEL) in Africa with a network that spans over 20 English and French-speaking countries. Though some familiarity with quality assurance processes for traditional (print-based) distance learning systems has been acquired on the continent, the new modes of delivery pose a challenge because there neither standards nor expertise are currently available to regulate quality.