ANALYZING the LEARNING and DEVELOPMENT POTENTIAL of EXTREME LEARNING WEBSITES
The advancement of learning technology during the past decade or two has broadened the possibilities for online learning both in formal as well as informal settings. With a focus on the latter, research in extreme learning explores how people learn or teach with technology in unusual or unique ways outside of traditional educational settings. Given the educational potential of extreme learning, this study was designed to uncover essential characteristics of successful online resources related to more unusual or extreme forms of learning. Specifically, this research aims to identify the high quality extreme learning Websites based on six categories: (1) language learning, (2) outdoor, adventure, and environmental learning, (3) social change and global learning, (4) virtual education, (5) learning portals, and (6) shared online video. Researchers collected and evaluated 305 extreme learning websites under six main categories using 8 structured criteria. The results for different types of extreme learning are compared. In addition, the top 25 rated extreme learning Web sites are introduced. This study is the start of a long-term research agenda to map out different forms of extreme learning. After completing our content analysis, we intend to collect and share stories of extreme learning success so as to provide inspiration and hope to the learners of this planet who lack access to traditional learning settings and delivery formats as well as to those wishing to venture beyond formal classroom settings.
Extreme learning is related to informal and non-traditional learning. Extreme Learning is defined as learning on the Web in unusual or nontraditional ways with technology (Author(s), 2012). This includes learning with technology when in a park, plane, train, boat, car, or hospital or when climbing a mountain, in a war zone, or taking a vacation on a remote island (Author(s), 2009). Extreme learning involves not just learning, but also how people teach with technology in unusual or unique ways outside of traditional educational settings. Extreme learning can involve learning while on a boat at sea near the North Pole or when sailing around the world. It also occurs when tracking the blog and podcasts postings of those in similar adventures such as riding a bike or a car around the world or through the Americas. One’s teachers, guides, and mentors can now come from extreme environments such as Arctic regions, as well as those involved in social change causes while running across the Sahara Desert or bicycling through Mayan ruins.
At the other end of the continuum, extreme learning can include more sedate and passive forms of learning including watching an online video in TED, LinkTV, CurrentTV, or YouTube (Author(s), 2011). Through extreme learning Web resources, those stuck behind prison walls, injured and in a hospital bed, or unemployed and unable to pay for college tuition can learn to be more productive members of society. Others might be in transition from one career to another and find open educational resources and OpenCourseWare from schools and higher education institutions around the planet (Iiyoshi & Kumar, 2008) that arouse new interests as well as personal confidence that one can find learning success. Still others might be retired and offer their educational ideas and mentoring services to anyone interested in the topic. And, as many are aware, there are tens of thousands of people earning their MBA and other degrees and certificates while in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan or while located on military bases around the world.
We are living in an age of open education where anyone can now learn anything from anyone else at any time (Author(s), 2009). Technology, when thoughtfully employed, can empower people. Such empowerment moments can offer purpose and meaning in one’s life. Despite the life altering possibilities, to date, minimal research exists on extreme learning. As such, there is a need to capture snapshots as well as longer views of human growth resulting from extreme teaching and learning situations. First, there is a need to map out the forms and types of extreme learning that are now possible as well as the quality of online resources that can foster it to occur.
Decades of research on technology integration in schools and university settings as well as corporate and military training have rarely explored issues of human development and change. Most often, such research is conducted in a local or extremely narrow educational setting. In response, this research project takes a broader and more global and borderless perspective. Given the educational potential of extreme learning, this study was designed to uncover essential characteristics of successful online resources related to more unusual or extreme forms of learning. Specifically, this research was conducted to identify high quality extreme learning Websites. There are six categories of extreme learning in this investigation: (1) language learning, (2) outdoor, adventure, and environment learning, (3) social change and global learning, (4) virtual education, (5) learning portals, and (6) shared online video.
During the past couple of decades, Internet technology has dramatically changed the way people learn as well as the learning environments where such learning takes place. There are myriad opportunities for personal as well as collaborative learning. For instance, Zaidel and Lou (2010) indicated that personalizing the learning process using the Internet can enhance student performance on academic tasks. Other researchers (Kartal & Uzun, 2010; Kong, 2009; Warschauer & Kern, 2000) contend that Web resources and services provide opportunities to vastly improve the learning experience. They argue that presenting the learning content according to one’s needs and preferences profoundly impacts learning targets.
Adventure learning, a form of non-traditional learning, is defined as “an approach to the design of online and hybrid education that provides students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative learning environments” (Veletsianos & Klanthous, 2009, p.85). Doering and Veletsianos (2008) pointed out that adventure learning, when properly designed and developed, can engage learners in real-world or meaningful situations. When successful, learners “identify and pose questions, analyze data, interact and collaborate with colleagues and experts, and take action within their own community” (Doering & Veletsianos, 2008, p.25). At its core, adventure learning provides students with experiences that are exciting, engaging, motivational, and authentic via the implementation of problem-based tasks (Miller, Veletsianos, & Doering, 2008). While AL offers a starting point for the field of extreme learning, Veletsiano and Klanthous (2009) identified only eleven published papers on adventure learning. Clearly, much more research needs to be conducted and shared.
During the past decade, the forms of learning delivery and opportunities to learn have exploded. One can now learn a foreign language online as well obtain a certificate or diploma for such learning. If basic skills in mathematics or reading are needed, there are dozens of freely available programs, tools, and shared online video resources at one’s fingertips. In contrast, if the goals are environmental or geographic education, there are countless ways in which to now enhance learner appreciation and understanding of the limited resources of Planet Earth. Without a doubt, educators are increasingly called on to properly prepare learners for a global twenty-first century (Merryfield, 2007, 2008; Merryfield & Kasai, 2009). Countless reports suggest innovative activities and curricula that can now connect learners around the world in unique and educationally meaningful ways (Longview Foundation, 2008; Riel, 1993).
As is clear, learning is increasingly informal and self-directed or self-selected. In fact, Cross (2007) contends that more than 80 percent of learning is currently informal. Given the explosion of open educational resources and free curriculum materials found online, it is reasonable to believe that such informal learning numbers will continue to increase during the coming decades (Cross, 2007). A wide range of Web tools, resources, and activities now allow one to learn on demand and just when needed. As the number and variety of learning avenues have exploded during the past decade, there is an increasing need to understand, document, support, refine, and extend these emerging forms of learning. And that is exactly the intent of the current research project.
Despite the growing attention in extreme learning, scant information exists about those using technology tools and resources to teach in unusual or nontraditional ways. As indicated, there are currently thousands of online educators offering their services for free online to help others around the world learn languages, vocabulary, geography, mathematics, and many science-related disciplines. Perhaps more amazingly, many instructors find their teaching opportunities reside in unusual environments like on a boat, car, airport concourse, dogsled, or café (Author(s), 2009).
The list of extreme learning Web sites was developed through two stages. First, a team of over a dozen researchers located, shared, reviewed, and evaluated potential extreme learning sites for a year in order to determine the current state of possible extreme learning websites. After that, a subgroup of four researchers rated 305 extreme learning Web sites using an eight-part coding scheme. This coding scheme was developed by a large research team using a set of technology features and instructional resource characteristics found in the research literature (see Appendix A; Author(s), 2011).
Members of this team used different methods for locating extreme learning sites. These methods included personal subject-matter expertise, extensive Web searching, the scanning of books, blog posts, and technical reports, and soliciting expert and colleague recommendations in order to develop a list of informal and extreme learning websites. The resulting list of resources was categorized six areas: (1) language learning, (2) outdoor, adventure, and environmental learning, (3) social change and global learning, (4) virtual education, (5) learning portals, and (6) shared online video (See Figure 1). While each Website was placed in only one of these six categories, there certainly is overlap in these dimensions. For instance, some social change resources also offer opportunities for virtual education and observing and reflecting upon shared online video.
Figure 1. A visual representation of the dimensions and impact of extreme learning.
Despite the existence of overlap, we defined each category distinctly (see Appendix B). For instance, as detailed in Appendix B, online Language Learning refers to technology-aided language learning with an integration of sound, voice interaction, text, video, and animation. Adventure, Outdoor, and Environmental Learning is a hybrid online educational environment that provides students with opportunities to explore real-world issues occurring in particular regions or places on this planet. In contrast, Social Change/Global seeks to educate and inform people about issues and needs related to social change, including poverty, hunger, AIDS, civics etc. Another category, Virtual Education, refers to learning environments where teacher and student are separated by time or space, or both. Virtual education often entails formal educational activities or credits attached to any learning taking place within. Nonetheless, such education may also be informal or self-paced. Learning Portals refer to centralized learning centers or repositories that contain an aggregation of educational information on a topic, often current or continually updated. Lastly, Shared Online Videos are any educational videos such as YouTube or other Webstreamed videos that can be watched or shared at any time and by anyone with an Internet connection; many can also be downloaded and watched off-line.
After months of fine-tuning, the final version of the evaluation criteria for extreme learning Websites and resources included eight areas: (1) content richness, (2) functionality of technology, (3) extent of technology integration, (4) novelty of technology, (5) uniqueness of learning environment/learning, (6) potential for learning, (7) potential for life changing, and (8) scalability of audience (see Appendix A). Ratings were made on each extreme learning Website through multiple phases based on the eight criteria using a 5-point Likert scale (1 is low; 5 is high). Four people independently rated each extreme learning resources using these eight criteria. Given the use of four raters, a statistical measure of internal consistency, namely, Cronbach’s alpha was performed to determine the consistency among them. The overall alpha coefficient for the four raters was .744.
Result and Discussion
This research offers insights into where and how extreme learning (and associated cutting-edge educational technology) takes place in authentic learning environments; especially that occurring outside conventional perspectives of learning contexts. By identifying, categorizing, and evaluating hundreds of extreme learning Web sites, educators should begin to fathom the potential of extreme learning. As increased awareness and understanding of such extreme learning unfolds, both formal as well as informal learning opportunities will increase. This study provides one window or view of the learning possibilities on the horizon.
To date, four researchers have evaluated 305 websites using the scale. The Websites evaluated included the six categories or types of extreme learning which we identified: 63 language learning, 51 outdoor, adventure, and environmental learning, 57 social change and global learning, 57 virtual education, 38 learning portals, and 39 shared online video. As Table 1 indicates, the shared online video category scored the highest rating (3.25), whereas the social change and global learning category was rated the lowest (2.68). Overall, the criteria related to the potential for learning (3.15) was rated as the highest. In contrast, the novelty of technology was rated as the lowest category (2.66).
Average Website Rating according to Extreme Learning Criteria and Category
Further analysis was conducted based on the eight criteria. As Table 1 reveals, virtual education was identified as the highest in the richness of its content (3.4). Not surprisingly, it is reasonable that the virtual education Websites contain the most credible and up-to-date knowledge considering that most virtual education websites are managed by accredited academic institutions. Outdoor, adventure, and environmental learning received the highest score in terms of the uniqueness of the learning environment and learning (3.7). High scores in this criterion is a signal that much non-traditional, unique, or extreme learning environment is possible. Outdoor sites, of course, take learners outside normal classroom settings and experiences. It is interesting to find that across all rated sites, the novelty of technology was deemed low (2.66). This result implies that emerging and cutting-edge technologies are not typically employed for nontraditional educational purposes. Of course, such a finding runs counter to prevailing notions that the latest technology naturally penetrates into our daily life outside of traditional educational settings.
Findings with categories
Detailed results for each category of extreme learning are provided below. Keep in mind, however, that these are preliminary and tentative results. We are not seeking extensive generalizations based on these initial findings.
1. Language Learning: Given that functionality of technology received the highest rating, technology interactivity and support seems to be one of the most-valued factors in language education. The ratings for the language learning category revealed scores without much fluctuation in terms of the average score in each criterion (2.89). In the language education Websites, the highest score was on the potential for learning (3.1), whereas the lowest score was on the potential for life changing experiences (2.63). Four language learning Web sites were rated among the top Websites, including BBC Learning English, ChinesePod, EnglishPod, and Live Mocha.
2. Outdoor and Adventure Learning: We also explored outdoor, adventure, and environmental learning. This category was tied with virtual education for the highest average overall score (3.01). The highest score for outdoor and adventure learning was on the uniqueness of the learning environment (3.65) and the lowest score was in regards to the novelty of technology (2.57). This finding is parallel to the general notion in which adventure learning is effectively promoted as providing rich, authentic, and meaningful learning environments. Four adventure learning Websites were selected as top rated, including Earthducation, Explore, Jon Bowermaster, and Nautilus Live.
3. Social Change and Global Learning: Most of our scores on the social change and global learning category were below the average scores across all Web sites (i.e., 2.96). The highest score for social change and global education was on the potential for life change (2.93); which was expected. These findings were attributed to the distinctive nature of social change and global learning category. In effect, one of the common features of social change Websites include being inspirational and motivational, rather than directly providing educational materials. Only one Website was selected as a top rated Website in this category, namely, iCivics.
4. Virtual Education: Taking into consideration that many open learning resources include Websites that are freely available and open to the public, such as the popular MIT OpenCourseWare project, the high score in potential for learning (3.39) and content richness (3.39) for virtual education Websites was not too surprising. We believe that the low score on novelty of technology (2.82) was directly related to the fundamental role of virtual education in schools and universities today; such institutions tend to be conservative by nature. Impressively, nine Virtual Education Wedsites were selected as top rated. These sites included Ed Tech talk, the Florida Virtual School, John Hopkins OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare, MIT OpenCourseWare Highlights for High School, NASA for Educators, Open University UK-OpenLearn, and the Smithsonian.
5. Learning Portals: We also rated the Websites that were essentially Learning Portals. Not surprisingly, the highest score for learning portals was on the content richness (3.19). At the same time, the lowest score was for the learning portals we evaluated was related to the novelty of the technology (2.49). Only one Website was selected as a top rated Websites; namely MERLOT.
6. Shared online video: Considering that many online lectures and programs are delivered through video channels and that many high production news broadcasts are now available on the Web for millions of potential viewers, it seems reasonable that Shared Online Video had the highest overall score (3.25). Specifically, the highest rated element for this category was related to the Functionality of Technology (3.41) and the lowest score was on the novelty of the technology utilized (3.00). Six Websites were selected as top rated in terms of shared online video. These sites included Academic Earth, Discovery News Video, Explo.tv, Link TV, National Geographic Education, and Wonder How To Videos.