How e-learning can improve student’s autonomy and foster active participation

Interview with Julian Hoffman, associate professor in marketing at EM Normandie Business School

You have recently developed an e-learning course in marketing for EM Normandie Business School. Can you tell us about your experience with this new way of teaching?

The school is transforming suitable courses that have so far been set up as face-to-face teaching courses into e-learning-based courses. In my case, I have turned my lecture “Introduction to Marketing“ into an e-learning course. Generally, e-learning courses not only enable students to access content but also to work on the assignment ubiquitously, as lectures can be taken any number of times while practical examples can be accessed online by being easily embedded in the course. Most importantly, e-learning courses can leverage students‘ autonomy.

Can you expand on that last tought?

Thanks to e-learning, students can not only determine the pace of the lectures on their own, but also adapt its content to their individual needs. Thus, they can engage with specific parts of the course based on their previous knowledge and expertise. This is a strong advantage that creates a higher willingness to participate in the lecture and become loyal customers of the course – if you allow me to use marketing terminology from the actual lecture.

Is that the only dimension of increased autonomy?

Far from it! Sitting in a classroom enforces the teacher to tell the students more or less word-by-word about the content that should be transmitted, which, at first sight, can seem easier for students to process. In reality, it is quite difficult to sustain a 90-minute course or more with continuous focus. On the opposite, e-learning-based courses are designed to encourage students to engage with the concepts and tie together red threats. Of course, this does not mean that students are left alone; e-learning courses are designed so that students are guided throughout the chapters. Small tasks, such as small case studies or practical examples, are implemented in order to facilitate engagement with the resource materials. Thus, by turning them from more passive-audience in a classroom into more active participants, the content is elaborated and processed on a much higher level.

Does that mean students will never get to meet their teacher?

No, of course not. There are several ways for teachers to turn from lecturers to active members of the group. For instance, students can post their answers, comments, own examples etc. in a forum with multi-layered sections and subsections that turn into a platform of lively discussion among the course participants—and the teacher is simply one of them. Other very effective tools are webinars and video conferences that can be implemented throughout the year. Thanks to these instances, an e-learning course can become very lively.

Do you see any disadvantages to e-learning courses?

An e-learning course is not entirely without pitfalls. For instance, it relies heavily on the active participation of class members, which means their intrinsic motivation needs to be activated. However, the benefits of e-learning by far outweights its drawbacks, as it provides an excellent way of creating a win-win situation between teachers and students.

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