In an earlier posting, the State of e-Learning, 2008, I suggested that e-learning was failing to meet expectations in higher education. In that posting, I reported that David White, Director, EU Commission DG Education and Culture, Lifelong Learning, in his keynote presentation Innovative Learning for Europe at the 2008 EDEN conference in Lisbon, expressed his concern about the lack of return on investment. He pointed out that national governments and the European Commission have invested over a billion dollars in ICTs for education, but have seen little change or improvement as a result.

The other, related, issue is the lack of innovation. The World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Committee on Technology and Education at its meeting in Dubai (November, 2008) commented:

‘Education is in a state of transition from a traditional model to one where technology plays an integral role.  However, technology has not yet transformed education’.

In particular, although there are many innovative ‘projects’, often dependent on the work of inspired and hard-working individual instructors, and although many institutions have put in place learning technology and faculty development initiatives, there appears to be little systemic change (see Sangra, 2008). As the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) puts it: ‘The growth of e-learning has not significantly altered the way in which Canada’s institutions organize or deliver learning.’ Nor is this peculiar to Canada.

More recently, we have had the CCL report that concluded that Canada is falling behind other countries and the adoption of e-learning is slower than predicted – both of which statements are made without any conclusive evidence (see my review of the report). However, perception is as important as reality in this business, especially when investment in technology is dependent on public funding and support. In any case, Terry Anderson commented in his blog that he was saddened by Canada’s ‘lost decade in e-learning‘.

Thus, while plenty of evidence (e.g. Allen and Seaman, 2008; Instructional Technology Council, 2008) can be provided to show that computers and the Internet are now widely used by a majority of faculty and students in post-secondary education, there is also at the same time widespread dissatisfaction with the results.

What I want to do in the next few blogs is examine:


Allen, I. E. and Seaman, J. (2008) Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008 Needham MA: Sloan Consortium

Canadian Council on Learning (2009) The State of e-Learning in Canada, Ottawa: Canadian Council on Learning

Instructional Technology Council (2008) Tracking the Impact of e-Learning at Community Colleges Washington, DC: Instructional Technology Council

Sangra, A. (2008) The Integration of Information and Communication Technologies in the University: Models, Problems and Challenges (La Integració de les TICs a la Universitat: Models, Problemes i Reptes) Unpublished Ph.D., Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain

White, D. (2008) Innovative Learning for Europe, EDEN Annual Conference, Lisbon

World Economic Forum (2008) Report of the Global Advisory Committee on Technology and Education Dubai: World Economic Forum


  1. As an avid HE watcher – well, anything to do with ICT and e-Portfolios – I am saddened by what I observe. Generally speaking there appears to be far too much research which is no more than re-inventing the wheel. – You in your small silo and I in mine!

    Rather than being the great pillars of innovation, of clear thinking and practical application, of thinking outside of the box, far too often the research is only based upon the incestuous opinion of those who are equally like-minded.

    No more is this true than in the world of e-Portfolios. The basic tenets of the e-Portfolio are that they should be portable, lifewide and lifelong. In almost all of the research that I have read all I find is an intense promotion of the e-Portfolio as a tool for PDP, of coursework assessment or as a test exercise of technical competency in html. Thus the first three Prime Directives (of my list of ten) are almost completely ignored.

    I say this because I look to the HE community with their ideal opportunity to think through issues without the pressures of a full time job. My expectation is that the HE community should not only enhance their own expertise in e-learning but that some real gems of this expertise might just be applicable to mainstream education.

    Not withstanding the few colleges that are attempting to redress these issues, quite simply, I believe that the millions spent on subsidising the intellectual interests of undergraduates places a moral responsibility upon the HE sector. Not only is e-learning failing in higher education, the very arbiters and publishers of discovered wisdom are failing all other sections of our learning society.

    Ray T

    • Hi, Ray.

      Thanks for this comment. I fully agree with your comments about the purposes of e-portfolios. I’ll be coming back to this issue when I look at what true innovation would look like.

      I always appreciate your comments,


  2. Stephen Downes comments on this post []:
    Tony Bates notes, “The World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Committee on Technology and Education at its meeting in Dubai (November, 2008) commented: ‘Education is in a state of transition from a traditional model to one where technology plays an integral role. However, technology has not yet transformed education.'” Perhaps not, but one wonders whether that is the fault of educational technology, or whether that is the fault of governments and entities like the World Economic Forum. Because from where I sit, far from the seat of power, I see a lot of transformation and change, but also, a lot of resistance and caterwauling from the top. he writes, “Terry Anderson commented in his blog that he was saddened by Canada’s ‘lost decade in e-learning’.” From my perspective, in my work, it has been a very productive decade. Yes, I understand the concerns being raised by Bates – but in the analysis to follow, let’s look at all sides in the discussion.

    In response to this, Claude Martel commented:
    Actually it depends on where you gather your statistics. Many universities still resist the new technologies like E-learning and want to protect their brick and mortar model of education.

    A few Universities have been rapid to embraced the new model of delivery (Memorial, Laval, Athabasca …) and have opened up amazing new markets locally and internationally. On the other hand the demand for online accredited programs has grown exponentially. This creates a large gap in the education market that many private program and more aggressive college and universities have been very happy to fill. Just do a web research for MBA program and do not be surprise if you find more online programs the traditional ones (including Harvard.

    I think there is still a lot of magical thinking in Universities where it is believed that online learning will be a passing fad, but with technological demands of the new generations that are coming to higher education and the workplace, it is a bit delusional to think that these technologies will just go away. With global availability of credited and non credited program, learners from everywhere have much more choice then their local institutions.

    Have a look at England and Australia where they have created national policies for distance learning. The real question should probably read: “Is higher education missing the boat by failing to recognize the importance of the different types of distance learning as the demand grows exponentially?

  3. At least in undergrad programs, I think that a lot of students that try out e-learning get frustrated because of the delivery format. I completed most of my undergrad online via UMUC and EOU. I did my entire Masters degree in the classroom. I have worked for a top MBA program in Paris. I work for a technology company that provides technology solutions to Higher Education. From my own experiences as a student and with what expertise I have from the other side of the coin – I can say that the systems are disparate. Information is often present online in a format that is complicated to navigate. Websites often require updates by the IT staff and not those administrating the program creating a long lag in the delivery of information online – or updating outdated information. I think what is lacking in most cases, is cohesiveness in the way the student experiences the online environment. If they find it too frustrating to apply, enroll for courses, take courses (get curriculum, lectures, contact students and the professor) and resolve academic issues – they will give up. From the school perspective if the school dashes into technologies like using ipods, videotaping lectures, offering online courses, making the application and enrollment an online process (newer for at least French schools) then they will create a lot of discord and distraction. They will have a fast rate of abandonment which will mean slower adoption rates.

    They need a strategy and they need to clearly plan how each service will interact with the other.

    In the specific case of managing the content – I’d like to share a whitepaper that explores using OpenText / RedDot CMS as a content management system. It’s interesting. I learned a lot.

  4. Hi, Kimberley. Your raise some interesting points, and many thanks for sharing the Open Text whitepaper.

    In response, I’ll make three comments.

    1. I agree that fully online learning or distance education does not suit everyone, or all situations. There are times and situations where students will need the help and support in a personal, face-to-face context, if they are to learn. Similarly, there are students who learn much better in an online context.

    2. Nevertheless, the way e-learning is designed can make a huge difference in student satisfaction and ability to learn online. Thus well-designed courses can get over many of the problems you raised; poorly designed online courses will often discourage even highly motivated learners.

    3. I know several institutions where they are using OpenText or WordPress instead of a learning management system, allowing students to contribute much more to the content of a course through the creation of e-portfolios, collaborative projects, etc. For instance, University of British Columbia’s Masters in Educational Technology has a course ETEC 522, designed in WordPress. I think we’ll see much more of this over the next few years.

    Great comments and thank you



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