Factors That Influence Student E-Learning Participation in a UK Higher Education Institution

Article excerpt

Introduction

E-learning is a concept derived from the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to deliver teaching and learning. A common definition states that e-learning in higher education is a technique to enhance learning and teaching experiences and is used to educate students with or without their instructors through any type of digital media (Christie & Ferdos, 2004). E-learning has also been defined as learning and teaching facilitated online through network technologies (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) and described as utilising many ICT technologies (Kahiigi, Ekenberg, Hansson, Tusubira, & Danielson, 2008; Laurillard, 2004). E-learning can either be used to replace traditional face-to-face teaching completely, or only partially, for example, the use of ICT is sometimes introduced as an additional resource alongside traditional teaching methods. A major advantage of ICT is that accessing online learning resources is flexible and fast and has no geographical barriers (Concannon, Flynn & Campbell, 2005; Sivapalan & Cregan, 2005).

According to Dalsgaard (2008), e-learning technology offers a wide range of opportunities for development of education, and the major advantages of the use of e-learning are independence of time and space and individuality, e.g., courses can be adapted to the individual student and materials can be reused or rearranged.

The higher education sectors have been concentrating on increasing the use of online applications of e-learning by using the internet to enhance education (Arabasz & Baker, 2003). With the rapid growth of e-learning, computers are now used by students in many different educational processes and are considered to be valuable tools to enhance learning in higher education. Wenger (1998) has argued that participation is an intrinsic part of learning; hence a key challenge for e-learning is to enhance student participation (Bento & Schuster, 2003). It is believed that learner participation may be enhanced by the use of computer-mediated media in both traditional and e-learning settings (Haythornwaite, 2002; Leidner & Jarvenpaa, 1995). Online learner participation has been defined as a process of learning by taking part and maintaining relations with others, a complex process comprising doing, communicating, thinking, feeling and belonging, which occurs both online and offline (Hrastinski, 2008). Hrastinski (2009) provides a review of the literature in the area of online learner participation and claims that participation and learning are intricately interrelated and that, in order for learners to take full advantage, the participation experience needs to be satisfactory.

Davies and Graff s (2005) study measured students' access to communication areas and the group area and used this measure to represent the degree of participation. Their findings concluded that students who failed in at least one module interacted less frequently than students who passed all their modules. Another study by Sivapalan and Cregan (2005) found that students who demonstrated an active participation in online activities scored better marks. It has also been suggested that participation has a positive influence on learner satisfaction (Alavi & Dufner, 2005) and retention rates (Rovai 2002).

Vonderwell and Zachariah (2005) found that online learner participation is influenced by technology and interface characteristics, content area experience, student roles and instructional tasks, and information overload.

The literature shows that online participation is associated with student achievement, and the motivation behind this study is to try to determine if particular groups of students are not making sufficient use of online learning, so that these groups of students may be further encouraged to use online activities in order to enhance their overall learning experience.

The aims of this study are (1) to describe students' usage of various types of e-learning activities in higher education; (2) to investigate whether any demographic or study-related factors impact on how regularly students participate in e-learning activities; (3) to determine underlying constructs or classifications of the different types of e-learning participation; and (4) to determine which demographic or study-related student characteristics are independently associated with the underlying constructs of e-learning participation. …