Higher Education is education beyond high school or post-secondary education or tertiary education. It is often delivered at universities, institutes, colleges, schools, academies, or seminaries. Students in higher education institutions are usually adults in the age range of 18 to 40 years.
This age group is technology suave. They watch news online, manage their bank accounts online, fix hospital appointments online, make restaurants bookings online, pay bills online, book tickets online etc. A good number of them hold smart phones that are connected to Internet. So for this age group most of the services are handled using a mobile phone as an access gadget.
With future technological developments, a few years from now all new phones will be smart phones just like all new computers today are flat screen computers. So mobile learning is going to be reality too as most phones will be connected to Internet.
As already noted, the majority of the students in higher education are the youth and always calling for changes in the education delivery to conform to the current era. Today, we also have a working population on the move than ever before and therefore have no time to physically attend to any form of education as a way of capacity building. With such forces coming into light and the increased demand for flexible education, the future of higher education delivery is either online or blended (i.e. a mixture of face-to-face and online) education.
Electronic learning (E-learning) is enabling students to study anytime, from any place and anywhere. E-learning is the use of electronic media, educational technology and ICT in education. E-learning includes numerous types of media that deliver text, audio, images, animation, and streaming video, and includes technology applications and processes such as audio or video tape, satellite TV, CD-ROM, and computer-based learning, as well as local intranet/extranet and web-based learning. E-learning can occur in out of the classroom. It can be self-paced, asynchronous learning or may be instructor led, synchronous learning. E-learning is suited to distance learning and flexible learning, but it can also be used in conjunction with face-to-face teaching, in which case the term blended learning is commonly used.
E-learning is being supported by the creation of Electronic libraries and virtual classrooms. An electronic library or digital library is a focused collection of digital objects that can include text, visual material, audio material, video material, stored as electronic media formats, along with means for organizing, storing, and retrieving the files and media contained in the library collection. The electronic content may be stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks. Any higher institution of learning worth its name has an electronic library to supplement the physical library. All world-class universities have transformed their physical libraries into electronic libraries and students and staff access all library resources online.
Furthermore, virtual classrooms are gradually replacing physical classrooms. Just like in a real-world classroom, a student in a virtual classroom participates in synchronous instruction, which means that the teacher and students are logged into the virtual learning environment at the same time. Many schools/universities and businesses have rolled out virtual classrooms to provide synchronous distance education. Virtual classroom software applications often employ multiple synchronous technologies, such as web conferencing, video conferencing, live streaming, and web-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to provide remote students with the ability to collaborate in real time. To enhance the educational process, applications may also provide students with asynchronous communication tools, such as message boards and chat capabilities.
As once mentioned by the CEO of CISCO Systems Inc, the next big killer application of the Internet will be education. It is also assumed that 50% of the employees, their skills become outdated in 3-5 years while working with an organization. Therefore this requires them to go back to school to have further training. Leaving their jobs to go for further education becomes almost impossible and therefore alternative means are needed to build capacity for such people.
In any revolution there are leaders and in this case of education revolution MIT and Harvard University are leading. MIT was the among the first Universities in the world to open up its course content through the MIT Open Courseware, which is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. Again, under the Harvard-MIT initiative, Harvard University and MIT provides Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) to thousands of students across the world for free. Harvard is doing it through Harvard Extension School. MOOCs are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. Through MOOCs, the best Universities in the world like Harvard and MIT have opened up their education to the rest of the world. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for students, professors, and teaching assistants.
Despite all these examples that show e-learning is going to dominate the future of higher education delivery many people are still skeptical. To the those still in doubt let me state some reasons why is e-learning is an immediate solution for future education:
(i) It is ubiquitous: Education can be undertaken from any where, at any time and at each stakeholder’s (teacher and student) convenience;
(ii) One teacher can be utilized to teach as many students as possible;
(iii) E-learning provides numerous learning activities to both students and teachers virtually;
(iv) E-learning empowers the weak learners to learn much better irrespective of the environment they may be;
(v) Resources such e-text books can easily be shared with a big population without any worry of thefts, spoiling and loosing out on borrowing time; and
(vi) E-learning is found to be engaging, entertaining, enriching, exchanging, embedding, empowering and extending. With the traditional form of education both students and teachers can hardly acquire this package effectively.
However, the critical success factor in successful e-Learning is the skill of the teacher in creating environments that combine learner support, on- and off-line activities and resources, and ideas to stimulate peer to peer communication. With such a requirement, all teachers of higher education need to have a revamp in their teaching skill to be able to succumb to this new mode of education that will never leave higher education the same.
In Uganda, Uganda Technology And Management University (UTAMU) is one of the Universities that has revolutionised higher education by adopting e-learning as the core part of its higher education delivery. The UTAMU Hybrid Model developed by JT Lubega et.al has effectively been adopted by several Universities as a best practice in regard to streamlining e-learning in the higher education system.