Borrowing from business to improve e-learning
Adopting an innovative approach to e-learning, the Ped-Care project has applied business techniques to education, creating a system that not only aids students’ but also reduces the burden on teachers.
[ClickPress, Fri Jul 01 2005] Developed over two years by 10 partners in Europe, the EU-funded project borrowed from the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) techniques used in the business world to develop what it calls a Learning Relationship Manager (LRM), a collection of e-learning tools that facilitate student-teacher communication and interaction. The LRM can be used in conjunction with existing Learning Management Systems to ensure a more efficient use of e-learning technologies.
“We took a different methodological approach to e-learning by transferring business techniques to the realm of education and we showed that such an approach works,” explains Miguel Arjona, the Ped-Care coordinator at Altran SDB in Spain. “Instead of using economic data as in CRM systems, we used pedagogical data, effectively replacing business customers with students.”
Whereas businesses using CRM systems track customers based on their income and past purchases among other factors, the Ped-Care LRM works by monitoring a student’s performance based on their test results, study reports etc. By doing so, the system compiles detailed information on the progress students are making, providing educators with the ability to help them more efficiently and offer more personalised educational services.
At the heart of the Ped-Care system are the Pedagogical Pursuit and Evaluation Manager, which analyses students’ performances, and the Pedagogical Segmentation Manager, which breaks student populations down into groups based on pedagogical criteria defined by the educator, permitting learning activities to be brought closer to the needs of each individual student.
“By having all this information at hand, educators can use the system to carry out what in business terms would be called marketing campaigns, but which in this context could be the teacher suggesting to students in need of support that they collaborate with other students or attend a certain conference,” Arjona says.
Learners also have the ability to access over the Internet an easy to use pedagogical search engine that is tailored to their individual profiles, ensuring that the key goal of personalisation in e-learning is met through the system.
However, the Ped-Care analysis tools are essentially transparent for students – “they have no reason to know they are there,” Arjona notes – with the key advantages more evident for educators.
One of the main – and most innovative – aspects of the system is the Intelligent Messages Manager (IeMM), which reduces the burden on teachers by assisting them in managing questions from students sent via email, SMS and other technologies. The IeMM captures the questions sent to the teacher and analyses their content through semantic analysis to select the best answer from the knowledge base of the educational course the student is on. The proposed answer is then forwarded to the teacher for confirmation before being sent to the student.
“University professors can frequently receive 200 or 300 messages and questions from students each day, especially ahead of an exam or at the beginning of terms. By analysing and suggesting responses automatically the system allows professors to concentrate on educating students rather than acting like secretaries,” the project coordinator says. “Many questions from different students are often the same, while others are administrative queries, which the system would filter and send on to the right department.”
Though the IeMM could be fully automated and respond to questions without human intervention, Arjona notes that the project partners viewed confirmation by the educator as essential to ensure the correct answer is provided given the complexity and diversity of the messages they receive.
Even so, the system dramatically accelerates the response time while freeing up teachers to concentrate on other activities. The answers are also compiled into a Frequently Asked Questions database that can be accessed by students, reducing the burden on teachers yet further.
These time-saving features in particular were highly rated by educators who tested the system in trials carried out across Europe, which covered a variety of educational sectors from correspondence students on long courses working in isolation to professional learners on short courses working in groups.
“We evaluated the system on seven different courses with around 300 students, ranging from post-graduates and entrepreneurial women in Spain to industrial workers in Sweden and unemployed people in Greece,” Arjona says. “The response was overall very positive, although we found the system provides the most benefits when used on distance-learning courses with many distributed and isolated students over a longer period of time.”
Since the end of the project, several components of the system have gone on to be used in commercial applications developed by Altran. According to Arjona, a full-fledged e-learning system based on the project results will remain pending until the “e-learning market matures.”
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