E-Learning for Teachers in Hong Kong
Online learning is becoming increasingly popular for both leisure courses and professional qualifications, but in Hong Kong a distance learning alternative has been available for teacher education for over twenty years. In this time, the process has been refined and the courses adapted to meet the changing needs of students. The benefits and advantages of the online courses may offer some clues as to why online learning is being embraced by Chinese universities. So how does online learning for teacher training work and are students happy with the system?
Why Online Learning for Teachers?
The system arose as a solution to a practical problem of how to raise the standard of primary education in Hong Kong. The first courses were offered by the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong, now the Open University, in April 1994 to enable teachers to gain a degree level qualification in teaching, helping them to develop and become better educators. There are several advantages of this model over traditional on campus courses. Firstly, schools do not need to replace the student teacher as they can continue to work while studying for the qualification. Secondly, college educated teachers are able to stay in more remote areas and do need to move to more urban areas for study. Thirdly, the system also has lower running costs as, once established, the cost of enrolling more students is minimal. Most importantly, the system seems to work for teachers too, as it allows greater flexibility to study, particularly for those with contractual and familial obligations.
Does the System Work?
Research into the efficacy of online courses for teacher education show generally favourable results. Questionnaires indicate that 98.4% of those surveyed felt the course gave them greater insight into educational issues, while 94% agreed that the course had helped them to become independent learners. This is a quality that the authorities would like to see fostered in young students so it is encouraging if teachers possess the qualities themselves. While most people found that e-learning had helped them in the classroom, many still felt they would like more face-to-face time with tutors in tutor-led discussion. It is hoped that those studying online will come to value peer-led discussion and group projects and use these techniques in their own classrooms. The flexibility of the course is applauded by all and the standards of education in Hong Kong continue to rise so it would appear that distance learning is serving the needs of the education system admirably.
How Can This Success Be Replicated?
If online learning is helping to improve the teacher education in an island region like Hong Kong, it seems likely that the model could be used successfully in other fields. The trick is determining in which fields the current on-campus model of education is failing to meet the needs of society. MOOCs (massive open online courses) have been gaining in popularity for the last few years. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's course, 'The Science of Gastronomy' had 83,000 students signed up online, for example. These courses rarely come with a qualification attached, but do tap into the thirst for knowledge experienced by large sections of society. It seems unlikely such courses would be so popular if attendance was in-person as it simply wouldn't be so convenient to learn.
It has been possible to improve the schooling of thousands of Hong Kong youth by focussing on the potential of convenient online courses to improve teacher education. While many student teachers continue to value face-to-face tuition, their ability to accept and appreciate alternatives points to the likelihood that this mode of learning will continue to gain traction in our society. As our lives are increasingly dependent upon technology, blended education and internet technology might be the bridges we need to continue our policy of open access to education in Hong Kong.
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