Education is a key factor for sustainable development (Chimombo 2005). The significance of education, especially in developing countries, is increasing because of progressing pressure to catch up with the developed world regarding, for example, global competitiveness (Hawkins 2002). Predictably, educational settings are different in developing countries than in developed countries, such as low quality of education and narrow possibilities in attending schools in rural areas because of far distances and high opportunity costs (Ibid 2005). Chimombo, 2005 opines that country-specific circumstances have to be improved regarding compulsory and free education to foster general access to education. In Article 26 of the 1948 UN universal declaration of human rights the right of obligatory and free education for everyone is already committed (UN Human Rights 1948).
Every year, more of the world’s people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases and its use becomes more integrated to all that happens in the globe. Connectivity to this network has becomes key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for individuals. Kenya has defined a national ICT policy with a view of creating an e-enabled and knowledge-based society by the year 2015. Just like the technology has changed the world, it is now changing the learning and teaching environment.
A broad range of learning approaches exists already, for example, e-learning, blended learning (Maier, 2007), and distance learning which utilize information and communication technology (ICT). The use of ICT can benefit, for example, students in rural areas by having them attend classes as distance learners and motivating them to learn like the “Group Learning Sets” (GLS) initiative offers. Regarding this, the potential of e-learning seems very assuring, but because of gaps between developed and developing countries knowledge transfer is not only difficult but also costly.
E-learning denotes the use of ICT by teachers and learners. Schmidt 2005 holds that e-learning consists of conventional training, such as courses, ad-hoc training, selected learning objects, formalization through document collections and community formation which can be achieved via social software.
According to case studies, there are already a number of e-learning programs offered in developing countries (Kohn et al. 2008). These programs are developed by various national and international initiatives, for example, the group learning sets initiated by Computer Aid International in collaboration with Kenyatta University. The growth of e-learning programs according to Lockwood and Gooley, 2002 is driven by the need for and potential of providing education in less expensive ways, increased access to information, effective learning and greater flexibility.
Stephenson, 2001 posits that there is little systematic research into the overall effectiveness of e-learning as a learning medium despite the great interest in it. He acknowledges that while there is much more work to be done, a variety of e-learning courses aimed at making sustainable development a reality have been developed and demonstrate how e-learning can reach thousands if not millions of minds and potentially plant the seeds of change.
Fry 2000 and Wild et al. 2002 describe E-learning as the delivery of training and education via networked interactivity and distribution technologies. Other authors notably Roffe, 2002; Schank, 2002; and Sambrook, 2003 see e-learning simply as learning and communication exercises across computers and networks or for that matter any other electronic sources.
Khan (2005) pointed that E-learning has been described in various ways as learning using a number of different technologies and methods for delivery e.g. Computer Based Training (CBT), Internet-based training (IBT), Web-based instruction (WBI), advanced distributed learning(ADL), distributed learning (DL), distance learning, online learning (OL), mobile learning (or m-learning) or remote learning and learning management systems (LMS).
In the 70s and 80s distance learning became popular and was done via mail until the rise of Internet usage. In late 90s the digital learning environment was heightened and World Wide Web started as a distributed learning mechanism to support on campus student and distance learners. With the use of this delivery technology learners can get a range of resources like discussion forums, multimedia, chat, video conferencing and electronic black boards (Gulatee and Combes, 2007).
In E-learning system, students are able to interact anytime from wherever with different instructional material (text, sound, pictures, video and so on) through Internet. In addition, learners can communicate with teachers and classmates both individually and as a group discussion with the use of message boards, instant message exchanges and video conferencing (Al-Ammari and Hamad, 2008).
Khan 2005suggests that e-learning system is used for an open, flexible, and diverse E-learning environment. Moreover E-learning system can be analyzed as an inventive approach for delivering, learner-centered, interactive, and facilitated learning environment to anyplace, anyone, anytime by utilizing the features and resources of different digital technologies along with other types of learning materials suited for an open, distributed, and flexible learning environment (Ibid, 2008).
Computer Aid provided over 1,500 PCs to Kenyatta University. Many of these computers are being used for the university’s cutting edge e-learning project, which is enabling rural students to pursue university courses remotely. Kenyatta University has made its courses accessible to people living and working in those communities. In particular, the university is targeting people who are already engaged in work that is vital to the social and economic development of rural and marginalised areas. These ‘key workers’ include nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs and agricultural advisors. The University is encouraging students to study together and benefit from each other. In order to facilitate this collaborative learning, the University through the help from ComputerAid further put in place mechanism of providing students with computers. Students are encouraged to form small learning groups of five or six students called Group Learning Sets (GLS).
The importance of education is increasing because of increasing pressure to catch up with the developed world regarding, for example, global competitiveness (Hawkins 2002). Before the introduction of e-learning many people who wanted to obtain university degree had to compete for the few places that were offered by the public universities. Those offered places had to apply for study leave as they had to go through the traditional learning system. This kind of further education system was characterized by limited number of students that could be absorbed per an academic year and consequent removal from their places of work for the duration of their study.
From the reviewed literature, it can be deduced that there seems to be no research studies on the joint contributions of e-learners’ socio-demographic, hours spent online/offline and prior computer skills variables to their academic performance. Whereas, researchers and theorists (Coldeway, 1986; Calvert, 1986; Garrison, 1987; Kumar, 2001) have stressed the need for a comprehensive approach, taking into account all the experiences of e-learners as well as the unique aspects of e-learning environment. In addition, it has also been observed that little research has been devoted to exploring factors that predict the academic performance of e-learners (Cookson, 1989) while those that even exist concentrated largely on demographic correlates as a component in their studies (Kumar, 2001).
Several studies have been carried out on academic performance especially on conventional students, but not much on e-learning students within the Kenyan educational system. The need to sever this ground so as to extend the frontier of knowledge in order to help improve the unimpressive e-learners’ academic performance necessitates and serves as the motivating factor for undertaking the present piece of research so as to fill the existing important research gap.
This study sought to establish whether the “Group Learning Sets” offer its beneficiaries ability to develop the associated concepts; does e-learning help the students improve their grades, skills, values, procedures and technology necessary to apply in their jobs. The study endeavored to answer the following questions, what role does prior computer skills play in improving student’s performance: In so doing, the study sought to measure the ability of the students to use e-learning tools such as internet/intranet, computers, and software for particular purposes. What is the role of personal characteristics on academic performance? To measure personal characteristics the study sought to identify variables such as gender, students with special needs, gifted students, and religion these helped the researcher know such personal issues that may influence a student’s usage and acceptance of the technology as may be informed by individual’s socialization. Lastly, what is the impact of hours spent online/offline has on students?
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