• Kyodo News

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About 40 percent of Japan’s public and private universities and colleges had introduced e-learning systems by the end of the 2006 academic year, underlining a rapid increase in the number of institutions that are tapping into electronic education, the National Institute of Multimedia Education said in a recent report.

Proponents say e-learning enables schools to attract working people, who have less free time than full-time students. However, the schools themselves are responsible for shouldering the costs of developing the necessary infrastructure and teaching materials.

By the end of the 2006 academic year in March, 298 universities and colleges, both public and private, had introduced e-learning, providing education via personal computers, hand-held devices and the Internet — more than double the 129 institutions that provided e-learning in academic 2002, according to the survey.

Universities and colleges use a variety of methods to offer e-learning courses.

Cyber University, a school based in Fukuoka that opened in April, offers lectures on demand via the Internet. Students can ask teachers questions by posting them on electronic bulletin boards.

Hokkaido Information University in Ebetsu, Hokkaido, offers 21 courses, including English, via the Internet through a correspondence program dubbed Infinite Campus. About 2,500 students take the courses every year.

In Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa Institute of Technology has made about 15,000 volumes of video material available for students via its local area network. Supplementary materials can also be downloaded from the network.

Tokyo Medical & Dental University has developed a simulation detailing the medical data of patients, including blood pressure and pulse. Students studying the data are asked which drugs should be administered and in what dosages.

Doshisha University in Kyoto is providing some of its computer-related lectures on the Net. Last year, students who took the Internet version of the course fared better than those who attended the lectures, the school said.

“One factor to explain the difference is that students taking the course via the Internet can hear the parts they don’t understand over and over,” a Doshisha official said.

Despite the purported benefits of e-learning, schools have to shoulder a heavy burden in areas such as investment in infrastructure and development of teaching materials.

The polled schools that have not introduced e-learning cited “a lack of budget,” “a lack of personnel to provide technical support” and “a lack of infrastructure” as reasons for not providing e-learning. “To make e-learning more common, we need a more organizational approach,” said an official of the multimedia education institute.

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