Terrence R. Redding

The Internet is making new forms of learning possible. An annual “Global Learn Day” has been held for some years. This “Celebration of ­Distance Education and Technology”, held worldwide over a period of 24 hours each year, is attracting more participants every year. Terrence R. Redding describes what it is about. The author is CEO-President and founder of OnLineTraining Inc. in Florida. You can contact him at the following e-mail address: redding@oltraining.com

Global Learn Day, a 24-Hour Celebration of Distance Education and Technology

Global Learn Day

(GLD) is a 24-hour, non-stop, live, interactive web-cast that is part global celebration, part conference, part experiment, and part exploration. The purpose of Global Learn Day is to applaud and showcase pathfinders who use new technologies to improve lives in every nook and cranny on the globe. Those who bring you this event are called GLDers, a courageous bunch who all year long answer the call when the mountain is too steep or the chasm too deep.

How

GLD uses the web, streaming audio and text chat to allow presenters from around the world to share their unique projects and ideas interactively with participants. GLD opens in the South Pacific where the planet begins the new day. After we uncork the champagne in Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand and Guam, our Clipper, The Franklin, takes passengers west through country after country all the way to Hawaii... the long way around.

At each port Harbour Masters lead discussions about both the problems and the opportunities of electronically delivering education from anyplace to anywhere. During Global Learn Day you can learn from, and dialogue with leading educators who are working for affordable and accessible education for all. This interesting and dynamic conference invites those interested in distance education to participate and to share questions and ideas. It is an opportunity to meet and to make interesting friends worldwide. Many have said that this 24-hour conversation has greatly enriched their lives.

Each year the total content of Global Learn Day is archived. This means that all the presentations from each year can be accessed after the end of Global Learn Day, at any time, year after year.

History

In the first year, 78 different countries participated in GLD. Global Learn Day II was a series of smaller excursions experimenting with various formats, technologies, and topics. By GLD III the total number of countries participating exceeded 100 and one author estimated the total number of participants to have exceeded 170,000.

This Year

This year GLD V involved 138 countries and was carried live on public and educational radio stations in the South Pacific, Europe and South America. Except for technical difficulties in Delhi, GLD V would have been carried live on Indian television with an estimated viewing audience of between 4 and 40 million.

Next Year

Global Learn Day VI is expected to involve over 140 countries, reach over 200,000 educators worldwide and have a radio audience in excess of 400,000 and a television audience in India in excess of 100 million (Franklin Institute, 2001).

The Experience

Global Learn Day provides those interested in distance education over the Internet with an opportunity to celebrate education and share their knowledge, and the experiences of others on a global scale. During a GLD conference, you can hear speakers clearly via RealAudio, Media Player, or other forms of streaming audio; view PowerPoint presentation slides or web pages directly on your computer screen; and exchange ideas with other participants and presenters in the Java chat room. You can even pose questions to the presenters through a moderator, and hear the answers shared worldwide via the streaming audio. In some cases, you are also able to see presenters via streaming video.

Over the past five years the author has come to prefer the format of the online conference over physical attendance - you have a more comfortable seat, can often hear and see the content better, and may actually have more access to presenters and other participants. You will miss the face-to-face social interaction, but you will also not be distracted by it. In the 24 hours of GLD, you travel around the world and hear from some of the brightest and most innovative distance educators working today, all from the comfort of your home, using a computer with a simple dialup connection to the Internet. Internet technology is not yet capable of transmitting the sensations of touch and smell, but in many other ways Internet technology is far superior to the more traditional means of participation in educational forums.

Implications

Nor is distance education via the Internet restricted to conferences. The company with which I am associated, Online Training, Inc. (OLT), delivers educational content exclusively through Internet technology to individuals in need of basic education or continuing professional education. (These individuals often do not conform to the expected standards of age, grade, or development.) For example, OLT has been developing and marketing a basic adult education program for the General Educational Development (GED) market. Our enrolment profile shows an almost equal distribution among US students pursuing a GED, students overseas who need to pass the GED in order to qualify for college in the US, and young students ranging from those with learning disabilities to those who are “gifted”. Some are home-schooled; others pursue online courses while attending public or private schools. One in particular comes to mind: his speech is difficult to follow, with extended pauses between phrases. In additional classroom, he might not do very well - he communicates too slowly to interact effectively with other students. Online, however, he can take as long as he needs to put his thoughts in writing.

In this respect and others, online education has fewer barriers and presents wider access to potential student populations than do traditional schools. Students who require special accommodations in a traditional setting (and who therefore may be at a disadvantage) may experience things more effectively online. Whatever the disadvantage - age, sight, height, mobility, speech, hearing - it often disappears online. For example, a person either too young to drive or too old to be able to drive to and from class can learn from the comfort of home. A person with limited sight can use screen magnification to increase the size of font until it is readable (a function built into Apple computers and available as an option for Windows), and blind individuals can use text-to-speech software (also built into Apple computers and available as an option in Windows) to gain access to education online. Height or size is not an apparent barrier for most, but for the very short or the very tall, the effect of personal appearances on self-esteem can be a problem in the traditional classroom, but no problem at all online. Issues associated with mobility, speech, and hearing can also be addressed for the student seeking educational opportunities online.

Impact

Eleven years ago at an educational conference, a NASA scientist described the development of a special wheelchair for Stephen Hawkins, a scientist suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease who can neither walk nor speak. This wheelchair provides Hawkins with access to the Internet and the ability to write manuscripts and generate artificial speech. Last year, I witnessed a presentation by Hawkins, who used the artificial speech from the synthesizer in his chair-mounted notebook computer. He described being able to access the various research telescopes of the world via the Internet. He then spoke on the most recent discoveries by the Hubble Space Telescope and their implications for theoretical astrophysics and humanity’s understanding of the universe.

Eleven years ago, there were few that considered the implications of the Internet as a distance education tool. I was not among them. However, Hawkins’ wheelchair has allowed one of the greatest minds of our generation access to knowledge and the ability to share his understanding with millions - if not billions - of his fellow human beings. Such a contribution, as well as the potential it represents, cannot be ignored. As the wheelchair is wired for one man, the Internet holds the value of a billion human minds online. The technology that allows one person to share knowledge also has the potential to empower billions of human minds in the same manner. And while courses delivered via the Internet are often devalued as second-rate by traditional faculty and by a public that views distance education as a poor alternative to attending class on campus, courses without distance education (DE) components may one day be considered second-rate.

I am reminded of the commercial for the United Negro College Fund that concludes with the sentiment that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” How many minds will be educated at a distance that might ­otherwise not be educated at all? What contributions might these minds make to the human race? Today, most of the world is not “educated.” Access to education, the cost of its distribution, and lack of physical transportation to and from educational sites each presents real problems to both individuals and nations. However, the very foundation of formal education will be affected by the distribution of educational content and ease of communications brought about by the advent of the Internet. There has been a fundamental paradigm shift. The basic cost of distributing information has shifted from the institutions of education to the consumers of education. Today, through the Internet, consumers of education have an increasing opportunity to shop for the knowledge they need. In this environment, maintaining academic quality will become an increasingly important issue.

Conclusion

Formal education requires a firm foundation: a frame of reference, theory, concept, and structure. However, none of these things is static. Formal education requirements change over time, and the pace at which they are changing is increasing. The Internet provides a means by which these structures can be discussed and understood on a global scale.

In Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980), Toffler discusses the implications of technological change for humanity. Future Shock explores people and groups who are overwhelmed by change; The Third Wave offers hope by describing individuals who thrive on change. The first wave of change was associated with agriculture; the second wave was industry-based. The third and current wave is technological - individuals who would ride it successfully must be able to effectively use the Internet. The ability to transfer educational content between any two places in the world via the Internet represents a fundamental change in communications. The ability to gather huge volumes of information from authoritative and current sources is changing the way we conduct inquiries and research. No longer is education tied to an institution’s library or bound by the physical limits of a classroom.

No one can predict the outcome of the advent of the Internet as a distance education medium or the potential power it will unleash in humanity. Its impact may well be more profound than the advent of the printing press. Our task as educators should be to ensure that as many people as possible have access to the mind-expanding power of the Internet.

Future Considerations

I know of no better way to celebrate humanity’s continuing conquest of knowledge than to encourage people to celebrate learning through the interconnection of the planet during Global Learn Day. The Global Learn Day project offers us a vision of how the Internet can expand our minds and be used in distance education. Global Learn Day occurs Columbus Day weekend each year, and begins with the rising of the sun in Guam, proceeding for nearly 28 hours around the globe and ending with the setting of the sun in Hawaii. Whether you are interested in distance education for yourself or for an organization, consider taking the opportunity to experience it first-hand during a Global Learn Day. GLD is an event every educator, training developer, teacher, instructor, and user of Internet technology should experience.

We are in a period of rapid transition. Today, individuals with access to the Internet use it as a tool to gather huge amounts of information quickly on topics of their choosing. And increasingly, educators and students are using the Internet to enrich learning experiences. The number of institutions offering distance education courses online provides students with tremendous choices, while the quality of educational experiences continues to increase.

GLD serves as an exhibit. It also serves as an experiment. It both showcases current distance education possibilities on the Internet and provides a common global educational experience to people internationally. GLD uses leading-edge technology to web-cast this event via the Internet so that anyone with a current browser, an ordinary computer, and a 14.4 modem can participate. We have the capacity for as many as 100,000 viewers to participate interactively, simultaneously. To date, there has never been an Internet conference with this kind of global audience participation. Who today can say how far-reaching and in­fluential this increase in access will be on individuals and all of ­humankind?

This year during Global Learn Day V we patched in the scientists at the South Pole, via a link from a ham radio station to a phone bridge into the Internet. We included participants from the University of the South Pacific via PEACE Sat, had a dialog on Globalization with academics in Pakistan, addressed conflict prevention, and conflict resolution with the members of the Bosch Foundation in Stuttgart, Germany, and discussed distance education with solar powered distance educators in Ghana, all during a 24-hour conference that linked the planet in the celebration of education.

For the first time a public radio station in Dublin, Ireland, interacted live on the air with academics in the USA to discuss the implications associated with lifelong learning and continuing adult education - a new topic in Ireland.

Each year Global Learn Day will attract an increasing number of participants. You are invited to be numbered among them.

For more information on GLD, please visit the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Global Education at www.bfranklin.edu

References

Benjamin Franklin Institute (2001). Statistics released following Global Learn Day V, ­October 2001.

Toffler, Alvin (1970). Future shock. New York: Bantam Books. 43rd printing.

Toffler, Alvin (1980). The third wave. New York: Bantam Books. 7th printing