Lecturers give full marks to e-learning

Universities that allow students to study online are seeing better teaching and improved results, showing that ICT continues to have a key role to play in education

Computers and the Internet are playing a vital role in improving teaching at the UK's universities and colleges, according to latest research that says Britain's lecturers are giving their backing to e-learning.

The survey of 150 lecturers from higher education institutions across Britain found that 85 percent of them believe e-learning is improving access to education, and 94 percent think that a mix of online and classroom-based teaching is more effective than classroom teaching alone.

Ninety percent of those interviewed said they had seen an increase in the number of students successfully completing their courses following the introduction of e-learning.

E-learning allows students to access educational material via the Internet at home, or from the institution's own network of PCs. An online course lets students work at their own pace and at a time that suits them, encourages them to use the Internet for research, and means they can keep in contact with teaching staff by email.

"Online learning has the potential to bring new opportunities to higher education. More and more students are now studying part-time, or are unable to attend every lecture because of conflicting demands on their time," explained Stuart Hirst, Teacher Fellow at Leeds Metropolitan University.

"It is no longer sufficient to offer only face-to-face teaching and assessment, and without online facilities, the problems of student retention and decreasing success rates would be exacerbated," Hirst added.

The study was carried out by WebCT, which sells a range of e-learning services.

With Britain's universities and colleges under pressure to increase the number of students going through higher education, many are finding it hard to prevent an increase in the percentage that drop out and don't finish their course.

If e-learning can help towards achieving the government's target of getting half of all young people into higher education, and also keep them there, then many universities may be prepared to spend more on PC terminals, networks, and Web-based course material.

BETT, an annual trade show for information and communication technology services in education, is taking place at Olympia in London between 7 and 10 January.