Volume 10 Issue 5 - September 4, 2009 PDF
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A key step to understanding paradigm shifts in e-learning: Towards context-aware ubiquitous learning 
Gi-Zen Liu1and Gwo-Jen Hwang2,*

1Department of Foreign Languages & Literature, National Cheng Kung University, 2Department of Digital Learning Technology, National University of Tainan
gizen@mail.ncku.edu.tw, gjhwang@mail.nutn.edu.tw *

British Journal of Educational Technology, 2009, Vol. 40, Issue 6, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00976.x (SSCI)

 
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The photo of Gi-Zen Liu.
The photo of Gwo-Jen Hwang.
Electronic learning (e-learning) has become widely accepted in both entirely online learning environments and in blended learning contexts (Mayadas et al., 2009). In a broad sense, e-learning is used to describe the way people use an electronic device (usually a computer) with learning technology (LT; Rushby & Seabrook, 2008) to develop new knowledge and skills individually or collaboratively. Mobile devices with LT, such as PDAs, smart phones and portable computers, constitute various forms of wireless environments that foster two-way, real-time communications among users, as well as between the user and their context, and can have many functions to promote mobile learning (m-learning; Rushby, 2005). Since the early 2000s, new forms of mobile technology containing additional sensor devices have been providing new directions for technology assisted learning, and this has led to context-aware ubiquitous learning (u-learning; Hwang et al., 2007; Yang, 2006), which enables users to interact and learn with sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) embedded objects in their surroundings (Curtin et al., 2007). Context-aware ubiquitous technology is continuing to develop and spread, and its applications have begun to influence learning in various fields and disciplines (de Jong et al., 2008).

Although Taiwan is very competitive with regard to research and development and gaining patents in the ICT industry, its achievements are still unsatisfactory when it comes to making good use of such devices in various contexts (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2008). In order to better prepare for the cutting-edge context-aware u-learning that is being developed as part of government-funded, national e-learning research in Taiwan, we first identify the similarities and differences among conventional e-learning, m-learning and context-aware u-learning in terms of theoretical and practical variables. To date there has been no research published concerning the paradigm shifts in e-learning leading to the development of context-aware u-learning, and thus we propose a set of significant values based on the relevant literature to guide the development of context-aware u-learning applications. In addition, we present a context-aware u-learning case to demonstrate how it can be used in real-life contexts. Finally, the research agenda along with some concerns are presented, followed by the conclusions to this work.

Paradigm shifts from e-learning to m-learning to context-aware u-learning

When applying a new type of LT, we may need a new paradigm for guiding the use, design, implementation and assessment of the technology (Richey, 1998; Rushby, 2005). E-learning has become prevalent in all kinds of learning contexts since the mid-1990s, and Yang, Okamoto and Tseng (2008) observe the LT field and indicate that context-aware u-learning is an emerging computer supported learning paradigm. Based on this trend, we are experiencing a paradigm shift from conventional e-learning to m-learning (Rushby, 2005) and another from m-learning to context-aware u-learning (Hwang et al., 2008). The theoretical framework given in Figure 1 may help readers identify the important factors constituting a context-aware ubiquitous learning environment, and give a clearer picture of these shifts.
Figure 1: The components of paradigm shifts in e-learning

To prepare for the latest shift to context-aware u-learning, we first identify the similarities and differences among conventional e-learning, m-learning and context-aware u-learning in terms of the theoretical and practical variables in Table 1.

Table 1: The similarities and differences among e-learning, m-learning, and context-aware u-learning in terms of theoretical & practical variables
Theoretical & practical variables
Conventional networked e-learning
M-learning
Context-aware u-learning
Distinct features of learning
Distance free, holistic learning, synchronous and asynchronous accessDistance free, holistic learning, synchronous and asynchronous access, situated in authentic environment, timely access to learning informationDistance free, holistic learning, synchronous and asynchronous access, situated in authentic environment, timely access to learning information, adaptive and active learning support
Major LT tools
PC, notebook computer, and Internet-supported devicesMobile devices (e.g., PDA, cell phone portable computer) with wireless communicationsSensor technologies (e.g., RFID readers and tags, GPS) with mobile devices and wireless communications
Locus of control
Internal, based on learner perspectiveSelf-directed userActive userActive user or sensor-motivated user
External, based on tool applicationGuidance based on online behaviorsGuidance based on wireless, networked  learning behaviorsGuidance based on online and authentic learning behaviors
Major sources of information
Wired serversWireless servers and authentic objectsWireless servers and authentic objects with embedded sensors
Applicable academic and industrial fields
Almost every field and disciplineLearning declarative knowledge, such as the observations and classification of a set of target objectsLearning procedural knowledge, such as learning to complete a complex experiment
Instructional modes
One-to-one, one-to-group or group-to-group learning activitiesOne-to-one, one-to-group or group-to-group learning activities with authentic context information for declarative knowledge, such as observation and classification of real-world learning targets.One-to-one, one-to-group or group-to-group learning activities with authentic context information for procedural knowledge, such as the skills or ability to complete a complex experiment with several items of equipment
Assessment modes
Value-based, synchronous or asynchronous judgment from self, peers or instructors, or artificial grading from the learning systemValue-based, live judgment from self, peers, instructors, or artificial grading from the learning systemValue-based, live judgment from self, peers, instructors, or artificial grading from the learning system, especially suitable for evaluating real world learning activities
Learning Scenarios
Passive online learning contextReal world and passive online learning contextReal world and more active online learning context
Related pedagogical theories or tutoring strategies
Almost all kinds of pedagogical theories or tutoring strategiesAlmost all kinds of pedagogical theories or tutoring strategies, especially project-based learning, authentic learning, scaffoldingAlmost all kinds of pedagogical theories or tutoring strategies, especially project-based learning, authentic learning, scaffolding, cognitive apprenticeship

Values and directions for guiding potential context-aware ubiquitous learning for learning, teaching and research purposes

Richey (1998) identifies values as personal interests as well as beliefs and ideals, all of which help the researchers guide the selection of the important components used in this study. Since context-aware u-learning is different from conventional e-learning and m-learning, in order to identify potential ways to realize context-aware u-learning in the research, we review the literature and provide a summary of the recognized values associated with this technology with regard to learning, teaching and research.

Conclusions

With more new values being identified in LT (Liu, 2008; Rushby & Seabrook, 2008), interested researchers may better explore formal and informal complex learning with mobile LT (de Jong et al., 2008; Kim et al., 2008) and context-aware u-learning with RFID technology (Curtin et al., 2007). In addition, related applications of Global Positioning System (GPS) are also worth investigating, if the research can be expanded in this direction. We sincerely hope this work will help interested stakeholders better understand and even contribute to the paradigm shifts in e-learning, and also shed more light on the growing field of context-aware ubiquitous learning.

Please see the original paper published in BJET for references or contact the author.
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