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A BETTER, COLLABORATIVE AND PARTICIPATIVE E-LEARNING

Introduction 

In the actual word the time is a very precious resource. More and more time is dedicated to activities that could give immediate satisfaction. Is learning such an activity? Apart from nice slogans like continuous learning or learning from cradle to grave, classic learning processes, with physical presence in the classroom are more and harder to follow. Studies made on people that have a workplace and are wishing to acquire a new competence which could give them advancement in the hierarchy -of course together with all the advantages have shown that at least 65% of them could not afford more than 1day/month absence from work. On the other part, e-learning is seen often as a little boring, being no more than a better Power-Point exercise. The same statistic relevant lot have mentioned that 35% could not focus on a more than 25 pages learning module.45% of the interviewed working people had shown that they could not find a constant support behind the e-learning and 56.5% had said that e-learning had not offered them a satisfactory challenge for their knowledge level.
The present paper tells the story of a research done between December 2011 and February 2013; research focused on the improvement of the quality and desirability of a specific e-learning module through an interactive development process using ontological models and scenario generators.
Ontological models are allowing the learner to particulate its learning module and more, to become a part of the module development process. The learner could instantiate some of the model classes or could add new classes and add content in the e-learning module in connexion with the instances or classes added. If his/ hers qualifications are high enough and if the added knowledge is empirical one ,then the proposed system would not wait for the tutor confirmation but would add this knowledge to the system, letting the users to decide if this knowledge is useful or not.
Scenario generator adds a bit of colour to the e-learning process, letting the students to explore different ways of thinking and also lateral thinking. A worst case scenario is given initially; the students are developing with the scenario generator alternative realities. For example, a worker alone in the workplace and working seven hours till now at a lathe was not conscious that the processing tool had a tiny crack and increased the processing speed-having parts of the tool projected into him. What if there was there a second worker, more experienced and fresher? Or what if there was a younger and inexperienced worker?
The e-learning module that was used in order to experiment on in this research was developed on the basis of the eduknowledge concept and is oriented around Health and Safety at the workplace. Here we have well established knowledge bases and a very large pool of empirical knowledge

1. Objectives

The objectives of the presented research are centred on the desire to improve the e-learning process in order to make it more attractive for the users that are working but willing to get new competences.
The main objectives are:
1. To analyse how is perceived the e-learning process by a specific category of users- the users that are working but willing to acquire new skills without taking part physically at the class
2. To get the positive feedback and use it in order to improve the e-learning process.
3. To develop new assistant instruments for e-learning.
4. To include such instruments in the improvement of an optimised e-learning module.
5. To test the results of the optimised module on a relevant statistical population.

2. Methodology

The used methodology was centred on a few simple questions:
-who were the learners and what are their learning goals?
-when are they considering that these goals are realised?
-is the existing e-learning structure the best for them?
-will it add value for the safety teaching process?
-how could we find what is good inside the existing modules of e-learning and what should be improved?
-could we find a certain cognitive presence among our learners or are they just readers of the content?
-is there a social, work-together presence in participating at such classes?
In order to understand the needs of a better, optimal e-learning development we have asked actual users (students of various safety classes) and would be users to assess an existing e-learning module and to feedback the likes and dislikes. The module was of 20 minutes long and at the end of it was a short test with multiple answer questions. Our statistic relevant group was composed by 500 users that were divided on 3 age groups, one of users between 19-30 years, one including  users between 31-50 years and one of users between 51 and 70 years. There were 180 people in the first group, 220 people in the second group and 100 people in the third group. After assessing the first e-learning module we collected and processed their opinions using a survey with Likert like scales. We found that 78% of the members of the first group found that the module was boring, other 20% found it acceptable and 2% found it covers what were they expecting from an e-learning module. The results at test for the first group were 85% took the test. In the second group a number of 30% found the module boring, 25% acceptable and 45% covering their expectations. The per cent of the test passing was here high- 100%. The last group had about 5% of participants considering the module boring and 95% finding it covering what they desired.
We have considered their opinions and have developed on their basis a second e-learning module, using ontological models and also the scenario generator.
One of the most important findings was that the first group was not exactly understanding 100% of what was presented in the first e-learning module. There were presented usual safety notions but without a detailed explanation and without underlining their provenience.
In order to improve this aspect, the ontological models were developed so as to give the learner a better view of the introduced aspects. Another problem that has appeared during the analysis of the first group feedback was that they have asked for hands on training and practical examples in order to illustrate what they have learned. The general safety training curricula was conceived without too many examples and hands-on work with the idea that all this would be done at the workplace.
We have developed the scenario generator exactly in order to support the lecturer to generate a lot of examples and interactive applications before starting the class having a general profile of the students and using structured knowledge bases in order to fill in the scenarios. After developing a new module, with the same content but tailored taking into account the groups feedback the participants were invited to interact with the improved module. Finally, another checklist was given to ask the groups about the new module.  We found now that over 80% of the participants, from the three groups were satisfied with the improved module as considering their goal for the followed safety classes and over 95% of the participants were satisfied with the new module by comparison with the first version. We found that older students are more sensible to perceptual challenges, to the challenging nature of their work and also to the challenges of working with younger participants. The proposed system would be commercially available in 2014.
The final product would be integrated into a hybrid platform that would offer support for the specific safety learning process. The final product would have a limited free access.

3. Technology Description

The scenario generator is a discrete event simulation model [1] with a network of pathways, pathways that are describing specific situations at the workplace [2]. Pathway service points can be associated with specified constrained resources.
The scenario generator was developed in order to give the e-learner a hands-on approach in its learning process. Before starting the class the tutor is checking the learner profiles, the learning context and if he has enough proper examples and case studies to work with. If not, the scenario generator helps him to build the needed examples. Figure gives a functional schema of the scenario generator.
The scenario generator- having as the central piece the scenario developer- gives the individualisation of the learning process- developing scenarios from the existing experience of the trainees. If no such experience exists, it is supposed that a generic scenario should be used, improved and re-stored for the usage of the trainees in the knowledge base. Various templates are used in order to present the learning content to the users in an optimal way.


Figure 1 Functional schema of the scenario generator

The scenario developer uses specific tailored templates in order to build a scenario framework. This framework could be filled in with existing content- from the knowledge base or could get content from the tutor [3]. Some of the most important templates to be used in building a scenario are:

Human Factors- describes the employees at the workplace together with their supervisor- a list of  typical workers is available, from the electrician to the mechanic- in order to build a realistic team.
Machines- all kind of machines and hand tools could be added here, together with specific defects.
Facilities- the facilities that could be part of an unpredicted event- that could turn into an incident or an accident- could be entered here.
Work environment- the most important (from the safety point of view)
Context of activity [4] - defines the context of a specific task and workplace.
Some aspects from the Scenario Generator are presented in the next images.



Figure 2 Scenario Generator User Instructions


Figure 3 Scenario Generator Human Factor template

The ontological models were developed because the desire of the global image- including all the relevant aspects- for a safety practitioner. Speaking of various notions the student is interested to know their origin, the relationship between various terms, etc. Generally there is no sufficient time in the class to explain all of these notions- so an ontological chain of notions is the best solution for this problem. Introducing new knowledge through the ontological chain could be very rewarding for the teacher because the students are being challenged to search and find new notions, enriching their knowledge.
The ontological models were developed using Protegee – the free tool  of the Stanford University.
Some aspects of the development and usage of the ontological models are shown in the next figures.

Figure 4 Ontological risk tree

The figure shows the accessing of an ontological tree.
As seen in the figure, it is possible to define branches of the tree as needed. For example, for the branch ”Risk practice areas” other dependent branch could be ”Classrooms or e-learning solutions”.
Figure 5 shows the knowledge inside one of the tree branches.


Figure 5 Accessing knowledge from one of the tree branches

The user could join in the development and implementation of the ontological trees as the process of new e-learning modules development is under  way.

4. Developments and Results

On the basis of the above mentioned work there was developed a prototype that was tested in a complex environment in the period of January-March 2013. The prototype was found by the testers as fit for the safety training using just the online approach and also a mixed approach (class plus on line).Some images from the developed prototype are given below.

Figure 6 Main screen of the developed prototype


Figure 7 Safety assessment using the prototype


Figure 8 Prototype screen

5. Business Benefits

Business benefits are important for those institutions that are willing to train in the safety area using e-learning techniques and especially the improved modules that are including ontological models and the scenario generator. E-learning is essentially better for safety training than the training at class, taking into account the fact that the most interested would be students could barely be present at a traditional class . The amount of presented knowledge could be improved in the e-learning solutions, giving more to the student. The problem that was analysed – and solved partially in this research was how to make such classes interesting, interactive and not just a simple formality.

6. Conclusions

Starting from a Power Point like e-learning module, during our research we found that in the safety training there is more needed in order to keep the students interest and also obtain effective results. During our research we found that more than 75% of our statistic significant lot of 500 students were not happy with the old e-learning structure.
We have developed two distinct instruments in order to respond to the feedback of the users- one, the scenario generator allowing a hands-on approach and improving the e-learning with a lot of examples and use-cases, the other one – ontological models being used in the definition of the main content.
Our work will continue in order to develop at least 10 complex e-learning modules that would be used in safety training for medium and high education. The Safety Generator would be improved in order to allow its usage also by the students, not only by the tutor.
The ontological framework of development could be also taken over by other domains, realizing in this way an inter-domain approach.
 

References

[1] KuljisJ, Paul R, Chen CM. Visualization and simulation: Two sides of the same coin?
Simulation 2001; 77(3-4):141-152
[2] Brailsford S, Lattimer VA, Tarnaras P, Turnbull C. Emergency and on-demand health care:
Modelling a large complex system.J Oper Res Soc 2004; 55:34-42.
[3] Davies R. An assessment of models of a health system.J Oper Res Soc 1985; 36(8):679-686
[4] Rohleder TR, Bischak DP, Baskin LB. Modeling patientservice centers with simulation and
system dynamics. Health Care Mngt Sci 2007; 10:1-12.

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