Guri-Rosenblit, S. and Gros, B. (2011) E-Learning: Confusing Terminology, Research Gaps and Inherent Challenges Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 25, No.1
Following its admirable policy of ‘publish-when-ready’, the Journal of Distance Education has recently released this article which challenges several of the assumptions often made about e-learning. In particular, it argues that:
- The development of a clear and coherent conceptual framework for e-learning research is hampered by the multitude of different terms that are used to describe the use of digital technologies to support teaching and learning.
- It is naïve and unrealistic to assume that the use of e-learning, however it is defined, in and of itself will transform students into autonomous and self-directed learners.
- There are substantial gaps in e-learning research, particularly at the institutional and system-wide level.
- Both e-learning research and practice face inherent challenges. We need to fully understand the benefits and limitations of implementing e-learning, in relation to costs and learning effectiveness, and the potential impact on access and the ability to improve or worsen the digital divide.
Although many instructional designers and distance educators will find most of this article all too familiar, it should be required reading for proponents of open educational resources. The authors take a strong, empirically-based research approach that challenges for instance the assumption that students will become self-learners merely by providing excellent content (the authors might also have looked at the assumption that students will become self-learners merely by participating in social media groups.). The authors argue for instance that:
putting the students in the center of the learning process, and assuming that the information and communication technologies have the power of turning them into self-directed and autonomous learners have turned out to be quite naïve and unsubstantiated assumptions. Most students, even digital natives that were born with a mouse in their hand, are unable and unwilling to control fully or largely their studies. Teachers should not be seen only as guides on the side. They have a tremendously important role in implementing the wide range of possibilities enabled by the new technologies. However, their roles are not self-evident. Materializing the potential of the technologies in learning/teaching settings does not mean just transplanting the practices of face-to-face encounters to the technological milieu.
The argument is really for betting training of instructors, taking account of not only new technology developments, but also many years of research into the effectiveness of learning through media. At the same time, it is also clear that we do not have enough wide-focus research on recent e-learning, its costs and effectiveness.
I will be doing a blog shortly about the need for and problems with research into the costs of e-learning.