Prompted by Peter Dillenbourg’s claim (2006) that the e should be dropped from e-learning, so the focus can be shifted to the conditions for learning, Michael Spector and M. David Merrill were specially invited as editors of the journal Distance Education, Vol. 29, Number 2 (August, 2008), which was devoted to this theme. The articles are as follows:

Dillenbourg, P. (2008) ‘Integrating technologies into educational ecosystems’ Distance Education Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 127-140

Goodyear, P. and Ellis, R. (2008) ‘University students’ approaches to learning: rethinking the place of technology’ Distance Education Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 141-152

Sims, R. (2008) ‘Rethinking (e)learning: a manifesto for connected generations’ Distance Education Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 153-164

Luschei, T., Dimyati, S., and Padmo, D. (2008) ‘Maintaining e3-learning while transitioning to online instruction: the case of the Open University of Indonesia’ Distance Education Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 165-174

Keller, J. (2008) ‘First principles of motivation to learn and e3-learning’ Distance Education Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 175-185

Kim, C. (2008) ‘Using e-mail to enable e3 (effective, efficient and engaging) learning Distance Education Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 187-198

Merrill, M.D. and Gilbert, C. (2008) ‘Effective peer interaction in a problem-centred instructional  strategy’ Distance Education Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 199-207

Most of these papers make similar points to the ones made by Richard Clark (1996), that it is the teaching method that matters, not the use of any particular technology, although in one or two of the papers, the argument is made that some technologies allow for new or different outcomes from face-to-face teaching. What is surprising is that for a journal on distance education, few of the papers discussed the value of access and flexibility provided by technology, and only one came up with a brief and rather sketchy alternative learning environment to the campus-based institution, based on mobile learning (Sims).

While I agree completely with M. David Merrill and the other authors that general principles of good teaching, such as appropriate teaching methods, motivation, and learner-centredness, apply as much to technology-based learning as to face-to-face teaching, it is a mistake to assume therefore that no special attention needs to be paid to the use of technology. Technology allows for radically new learning environments that move away from a building-centred approach, and there are aspects of teaching with technology that are fundamentally different from classroom teaching, such as access, flexibility, and cost.Therefore I really have a problem with removing the e from e-learning, unless it becomes e4 – with ‘electronic’ added.

However, read these interesting articles for yourself! Unfortunately, though, the journal Distance Education is not available online and a subscription is needed.


Clark, R. (1994) ‘Media will never influence learning’ Educational Technology, Research and Development, Vol. 42, No. 2, pp. 21-29

Dillenbourg, P. (2006) Keynote at ASCILITE 2006 conference, Sydney, Australia


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