I was recently asked three excellent questions by Elizabeth O’Neill, of EducationDynamics.

  • How does e-learning lend itself to specific epistemologies or pedagogies (e.g. social constructivism and connectivism)?
  • Do you view e-learning as a curricular choice or an instructional one?
  • As more and more colleges look to implement online offerings, how important is it that instructors understand the Internet as more than just a means of delivery?

Here’s my response:

  • I’ve written extensively about different epistemologies in Chapter 2, Bates, A. and Poole, G. (2003) Effective teaching with technology in higher education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. More recently, I have looked at the impact of web 2.0 tools in a forthcoming book: (in press) ‘Understanding Web 2.0 and its Implications for E-Learning’ in Lee, M. and McLoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning: Applying Social Informatics for Tertiary Teaching Herschey, PA: Idea Group Inc. Basically, e-learning can be used to support either an objectivist or social constructivist approach to learning (or other epistemologies as well). On balance, though, I believe that learning management systems tend on the whole to be used by most instructors in a more objectivist way (although discussion forums allow for more constructivist teaching), while web 2.0 tools certainly encourage a more learner-centered, social constructivist approach. (However, only if courses are deliberately designed to exploit this characteristic or ‘affordance’ of web 2.0 tools). Basically, the design of a course reflects the (often unconscious) epistemological position of the instructor/course designers.
  • The decision to go to e-learning is both a curricular and an instructional decision, although again in general, the tendency is to see e-learning as mainly an instructional or ‘delivery’ decision. However, if it is accepted that all students need to know how to use ICTs in their disciplines (which in most cases they do), then e-learning becomes a curriculum decision, as well  – even more so if the technology tools are deliberately chosen and used to support a particular epistemology. One reason why there has been such slow uptake of web 2.0 tools is that they do not readily support an objectivist approach to teaching, and this still remains the predominant epistemology in many North American programs (even in the humanities and social sciences).
  • Instructors should certainly know how to use the Internet and computers, but much more important is that have a good understanding of epistemologies, learning theory and instructional design; alternatively they need to be prepared to work collaboratively and respectfully with those that do have this knowledge.



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