Online learning, or e-learning, can be an interesting way of encouraging employees to collaborate in performing their work (Fichter, 2002). For example, it can help employees to learn quickly and efficiently, without the inconvenience of absence from the workplace. It can take place at the location desired by the employee, for example, at the office or at home, when the employee wants and needs it, and at a suitable pace (Mingasson, 2002). Employees can, therefore, control their learning progress without having to travel to a classroom. Some find online learning less intimidating and less risky than classroom-based courses given by trainers (Fichter, 2002). If online learning is to be effective, however, employees need a high local network capacity, an Internet connection, and a computer support system to ensure that both hardware and software function properly (Muianga, 2005). The purpose of the research described in this article is to examine the impact of interaction efficiency on the ability of teams to work together and on their learning performance. The article begins by examining the main variables of e-learning use, and goes on to propose a model of work team efficiency and performance in collaborative online learning. It also presents the study’s methodological considerations. Pilot projects were carried out in two universities in Québec, Canada. Virtual teams of five students were formed, and an academic task was handed in to the professors in charge of the projects. The students then completed a questionnaire. The article analyses the benefits of using new technology in university-level courses, and proposes avenues for future research.
The Characteristics Of Online Learning
Online learning is an innovative educational approach and, to be effective, it requires appropriate material and social provisions (Henri & Lundgren-Cayrol, 1998). Among other things, the learning process must be designed in a specific and original way, with the learner as the core element in the process (Mingasson, 2002) – hence the importance of emphasizing certain key factors, namely participation, the role of trust, collaboration, and cooperation, and perceived performance (Bower, Garber, & Watson, 1996; Brunetto & Farr-Wharton, 2007; Buskers, 2002; Sherer, 2003). These factors have mostly been studied as part of traditional learning methods, or in isolated cases. We propose a model based specifically on online learning.
Given the need for interaction and communication, individual participation appears to be an important factor in the effectiveness of online learning. For example, in an analysis of online discussions involving a group of students, Giannini-Gachago and Seleka (2005) observed that women participated more than men, and that the discussion was dominated by a handful of students, to the detriment of the others (Hodgekinson-Williams & Mostert, 2005). In addition, the way in which the discussion was incorporated into the course had a significant impact on student participation (Giannini-Gachago & Seleka, 2005).
Accordingly, if participation is to be effective, it should be regarded as an integral part of the e-learning experience, and not as an additional burden. An approach such as this would help achieve more inclusive participation and avoid discussions dominated by a handful of individuals. The trainer could also act as moderator, helping to balance inequities in participation and allowing more time for the students to socialize (Giannini-Gachago & Seleka 2005). Some authors, including Hodgekinson-Williams and Mostert (2005), have also suggested rotating leadership during the course, giving every student an opportunity to take responsibility as the group’s leader. These same authors also felt it was important to provide an explicit procedure for student participation.
Participants must also have a sense of self-discipline to be successful at e-learning (Houzé & Meissonier, 2005), since they do not have the set timetable and direct supervision that they would have in classroom learning. In addition, students need to develop a sense of belonging, so that they do not drop out or abandon their studies (Fraser, 2005).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Collaborative Online Learning: Online learning performed in a group setting; collaboration involves developing a relationship involving all participants (trainer and students) in the creation of knowledge. The group becomes a source of support and exchanges of information between participants, and also plays a motivating role for individual learners.
Web-Based Training: Courses are delivered by computer, via an Internet connection.
Distance Learning: Courses are delivered by video.
Computer-Based Training: Courses are delivered by computer, on a CD-ROM.
Asynchronous Learning: Participants communicate with one another but not necessarily in real-time (e.g., e-mails and discussion forums).
Synchronous Learning: Learning that takes place during a real-time communication (e.g., videoconferencing and chatting)
Blended Learning: A session that combines online learning and face-to-face learning in the classroom
Online Learning or E-Learning: A learning method that provides access to online, interactive, sometimes personalized training on the Internet, Intranet, or other electronic media; its purpose is to develop skills by means of a learning process that is independent of time and location constraints. Learning may be acquired individually or in a group setting.