Higher education and e-Learning in Macau

What is e-learning (Electronic teaching)?

It is now agreed that e-learning constitutes a paradigm shift in vocational education and training resulting from the transformation of the planetary society that experiences one of the most radical technological revolutions in its history. It is an interactive and distance learning modality using multimedia and internet technologies, which didactic resources are presented in different media, and in which, if there is a teacher, the communication takes place synchronously (in real time) or asynchronous (with flexible schedule). Such a transformation poses a number of challenges to educational policy makers as well as to teachers - starting with the rethinking pedagogy, going through training in the use of computer resources, and to a reflection on the restructuring model of the educational act, so that they can respond to technological and social challenges we experience.

The existence of degrees, masters and even PhD via e-learning, is an example of the adaptation to the profile of students who have established professional paths, but are motivated to knowledge consolidation in their areas of choice in a virtual teaching environment.

One of the e -learning virtues is the networking dynamics (the primacy of interaction) that allows collaborative experiences rich in diversity and specificity brought to the group by each of the students, as a carrier of knowledge, skills and accumulated intelligent capital, resulting from its background and professional experience. We would say that e -learning teaching is a "business project" of knowledge among actors in the world of work, who have chosen to upgrade their scientific and professional competencies in learning dynamics more in line with the rhythms of the real professional world.

Another of the virtues of this type of teaching is to allow students flexibility in time management (the primacy of flexibility) to follow different learning paths according to their work pace, professional, family and even geographical constraints. Another advantage is the cost-saving economy (the primacy of resource savings): savings in commute to the teaching location, use of new technologies at low cost, self and hetero control and individual and group evaluation.

Currently, economically and technologically advanced societies use e-learning (academic institutions, governments, companies and civil society in general) for different purposes. The approach to e-learning in these contexts differs substantially from formal education; historically, it is organized into themes or independent curricular units. Instead, many e -learning courses are based on content units, known as learning objects. By structuring learning content into common blocks that can be reassembled and customized according to particular contexts and needs of the student, the purpose is to encourage the reuse of common elements, reduce costs, simplify content creation, and improve quality. The assumptions are based on the fact that e -learning systems allow the re-use of content without compromising the context and themes, whenever a student goes through various modules or disciplines.

E -learning and the new student-society profile

When we evaluate the interest and opportunity of e-learning in higher education, we take into account the profile and characteristics of the contemporary learner and the technological environment in which they move - and this is transversal to all age groups.

As I wrote elsewhere, "Regardless of the different sensitivities of different speeches on the importance of new technologies in [formal] school, it is agreed between managers, educators, politicians and parents that current curriculum and current school practices do not provide the necessary skills that will enable them to be prepared to face the challenges of the 21th century". According to The CEO Forum on Education and Technology, 2000, "only 30% of teachers facilitate and use the Internet in student research, only 27% use it to solve problems or analyze data and, finally, only a small group of 16% of teachers employ these tools to plan their lessons. "

Now the current student is an experienced user of the new technologies and spends a significant part of his time with social networks; he is technologically curious and eager for novelties. On the other hand, the various mobile devices they manipulate provide them the possibility to learn new things whenever and wherever they want, so that mobile learning is appreciated and belongs to the daily life of this student. In addition, he is independent and likes to have a voice in what he learns. This explains why he chooses technological learning modalities as he participates in the process and is motivated to find knowledge and achieve his goals. If this teaching-learning model attracts young people, it will do so more significantly with adults with background and professional experience, motivated for self-formation.

In this sense, e-learning will tend to grow: Mobile learning, MOOCs, Gamification, Tutors or Social Learning will predominate in 10 years. Virtual technologies and wearables will have a significant niche, potentially undermining conventional teaching and diminishing the importance of written materials; although inseparable from it, e-learning may be beyond traditional teaching.

On the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, e-learning and MOOCs are supported academically and politically, with social and media visibility, targeting primarily a professionalized and senior adult population. In China, according to data from 2018, the www.icourse163.org Plataforma collaborates with more than 120 universities, offering 1,822 courses, covering professional curriculum in higher education, vocational education, innovation and entrepreneurship.

In a recent study, Zheng, Chen and Burgosa (2018) argue that over 51% of universities in China support MOOCs as an opportunity to introduce changes in education, especially in higher education - although many of them need to be improved, namely in support of individualized and self-adaptive learning, exploration of business models, innovation in technological applications and theories of on-line learning, development in the internet + model, improvement of autonomous learning of students and in systems of quality assurance and certification of credits, resolution of IP problems, among others (idem, op. cit.). These authors consider that the development of MOOCs in universities requires the active participation of all stakeholders. But, according to the survey, the interest of students, management, and teachers comes in decreasing order: that is, teachers, the crucial group for the growth of MOOCs, are the most indifferent to the subject.

In Hong Kong, th Open University leads distance education, having graduated 7306 students in 2017/2018, 90% of whom are employees. The revenue from the tuition fees were about HK $ 1 billion.

What about Macau? Macau, like the Open University of Hong Kong (established in 1989), created in 1992 the International Open University of Asia (UAIA), in partnership with the Universidade Aberta, the only public higher distance-education institution in Portugal. UAIA has played a significant role in training local and cadres of Portuguese-speaking countries in diplomatic and consular service, namely in China. In 2011, UAIA was renamed as the University of the City of Macau and in 2014 extinguished e -learning teaching - which, in addition to being a setback, opposite to the current trends in universities in the world, and particularly from the interior of China, caused unpredictable losses, not only for the students of the Portuguese-speaking countries in Asia, but also for the citizens inserted in the local labor market, with expectations of progression or professional updating that only e -learning teaching could provide.

The UAIA has come a long way for 20 years and has accumulated a remarkable experience, unique in Macau, of distance learning, with the support of the Portuguese Universidade Aberta, which has greatly benefited hundreds of professionals. It shall now start again from scratch to keep up with what has been done in the past by the university world of all countries, including the universities of the Mainland.