Introduction to service-learning and distance education
In the past decade, the popularity of online learning has grown significantly. The introduction of online education has the power to influence and redefine traditional higher education. Its positive judgement lies within its flexibility, which is necessary based on the discernible changing student demographic. A significant number of university students are no longer young adults who freshly graduated from high school. Even if they are, they no longer have the possibility to be full-time students because of the pressure of gaining work experience. Therefore, many of the students are working part or full time in addition to pursuing their education. Furthermore, some of those who are not fresh high school graduates are also parents and decide to continue their studies later in their lives. A reason for this is the emerging demand for a highly-skilled workforce. University students wish and expect their education to help them obtain the required qualities and qualifications that the world of work requires. These are some of the reasons for the changes happening in the format of course delivery: overcoming geographical boundaries, flexible time-management and serving the needs of a newly emerging student category.
Although online education has the potential to bridge many problems, there is something in which it lacks, and that is community building. Germain focuses on the phenomenon of distance learning and the issue of blending traditional student community services into it. After years of prosperous application, the book, Integrating Service-Learning and Consulting in Distance Education, presents a service-learning model which allows students to function as a beneficial consultant to organizations.
Integrating Service-Learning and Consulting in Distance Education is one of the two books written by Dr. Marie-Line Germain, researcher, teacher and award-winning Associate Professor in the field of Human Resources and Leadership. She has also published numerous research articles and presented them internationally as well as receiving several national awards. Besides her work as a researcher, she fills in a leadership role at Research and Professional Associations, while she also founded HR Consulting Initiative in 2011. Furthermore, Germain is a Visiting Scholar-professor in many countries, for example, China, Finland or Japan.
Overview of the book
The book processes the question of implementing service-learning into online education and creating the notion of e-service learning in eight main chapters. It also explains the background and the future of Germain’s e-Consulting Model and its’ application and results to the reader. The first chapter deals with the topic of distance education. It focuses on current and expected future trends and how distance education is executed in public and for-profit universities in the United States and other countries. Furthermore, the first chapter explains the evolution starting from Web 1.0 and the same evolution that education went through consequently. The second chapter’s main goal is to familiarize the reader with service learning in general and the emergence of e-service learning. It approaches the topic from several sides, such as the limitations, benefits and acquired skills through e-service learning. The third chapter connects the phenomenon of service-learning and consulting. It examines the different forms of consulting: internal or external; in-person or virtual; pro-bono or paid, while also presenting the five consulting stages. In the fourth chapter, the composition of the team is displayed along with the possible barriers. The fifth chapter’s focus is on explaining the three-step e-Consulting Model, created and tested by Germain. The following sixth chapter introduces the case study, while the seventh analyses the benefits of e-Service Learning and e-Consulting, but also acknowledges the limitations. Lastly, Germain makes her recommendations for a successful e-Service-Learning Integration. The recommendations highlight three important sub-areas to take into consideration when incorporating the tool of e-Service Learning: competencies, key elements and roles and responsibilities.
Students could use the e-consulting model to develop a marketing plan for a large organization, an advertising campaign for a small business, a nutrition plan for a school in Haiti, or a compensation analysis for a local hospital.
(Germain, p. 150, 2019)
Students can practice the e-Consulting Model at all levels in consulting projects. With the solution of e-consulting, the location of the organisation, of the campus and the student are no longer an issue since it can be done remotely. Moreover, it can solve the issue of traditionally in-person internships as well.
In general, the applied method, the case study, was a large-scale study. It involved a high number of participants, across 17 different states, over a long period with the inclusion of many different organisations. Also, the notion of e-consulting is gap filling and a genuine and current topic. It is also important to highlight that the study set the goal to not only create and test an idea that can be a solution to locational and distance issues but also to have a good cause that is in line with the participants’ ideologies. For the current generation of university students, it is important to practice social responsibility and support non-profit organisations on a pro bono basis. Besides the fact that the case study was created with a good cause, it also serves one. With the application of e-consulting, organisations anywhere in the States or abroad can be reached. Therefore, it makes the initiative globally impactful.
Along with the structure and the methodology of the book, it is essential to mention the style and the visualization. The quality of the digital version is impeccable, the design is minimalistic, the images are of good quality, and the different sections are well separable and understandable. Orientating in the book is simple. The language of the book is comprehensible.
Contextualization and conclusion
The appearance of online education and, in parallel with that, the growing need to transfer service-learning to the online sphere has been a decisive task of education in the past years. Along with that phenomenon appeared the need for remote consulting. The book focuses on the implementation of the two issues jointly by creating an e-consulting experience for the students in the frame of their coursework where they work together with organisations and apply the same consulting process that is used by professionals. The book highlights the skills an effective consultant should possess, and the main functions consultants have.
Although the future of education and the directions it will take is hard to predict, there is a tendency that suggests the prosperity of goal- and career-oriented learning or even the emergence of self-paced learning. Furthermore, experts believe that online training and for-credit courses and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) will be an important part and addition to traditional classroom learning and a tool for successfully competing in the professional sphere and keeping up with developments in the workplace.
Therefore, the creation of an effective e-service learning method that can replace traditional on-campus learning and implement service-learning in online training fill not only an educational gap, but also a methodological gap between consulters and organizations while also tackling the issue of geographical constraints. E-service learning benefits students as well as stakeholders, promotes an easily accessible service for everyone and adds a hitherto unknown dimension to online education.
Integrating Service-Learning and Consulting in Distance Education, written by Marie-Line Germain and published in 2019, is a forward-looking book in the field of service-learning. It provides a new model and valuable results to the research area of human resources and leadership. Moreover, the book significantly compliments the existing literature in the discussed area.