RECURRENT THEMES IN E-LEARNING: A Narrative Analysis of Major E-Learning Reports

By Waight, Consuelo L.; Willging, Pedro et al. | Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

RECURRENT THEMES IN E-LEARNING: A Narrative Analysis of Major E-Learning Reports


Waight, Consuelo L., Willging, Pedro, Wentling, Tim, Quarterly Review of Distance Education


INTRODUCTION

E-learning, sometimes referred to as online learning, Web-based learning, distance learning, and technology-based learning, among other names, is a concept that has garnered significant global attention (Gotschall, 2000; Hall, 1997). Though the history of e-learning (primarily distance learning) dates to the early 1950s and even before (Clark, 2000; Rosenberg, 2001; Saba, 1999), not until the last 8 years has it become a momentous, collective imperative of several entities. This broad attention to e-learning has resulted in numerous e-learning reports. In doing extensive Web searches for e-learning reports, the researchers estimate that more than 250 e-learning reports, excluding white papers, have been released worldwide over the last 3 years by governments, business, academia, and professional associations.

PROBLEM STA TEMENT

The significance and relevance of technology and education has gained momentum; research on e-learning is imperative. The discourse on e-learning has focused on topics such as the effectiveness of e-learning (Harasim, Hiltz, Teles, & Turoff, 1996; Strommen & Lincoln, 1992; Webster & Hackley, 1997), evaluation of distance education (Clark, 2000; Magalhaes & Schiel, 1997; Thomas, 2000), e-learning issues (Banas & Emory, 1998; Jonassen, 1992; Sherry, 1995), comparison of traditional and online learning (Ponzurick, France, Russo, & Cyril, 2000; Saba, 1998), and learning needs of organizations and their human resources amidst the technological, social, and economic forces affecting the world (Gotschall, 2000; Karon, 2000; Wentling, Waight, & King, 2002). Though not exclusive, and with little synthesis existing among these topics, the importance and challenges of e-learning is omnipresent.

Because e-learning is imperative for government, business, academia, and professional associations, and because these institutions are major players in the advancement of e-learning, it is important to recognize and synthesize what these institutions say about the purpose and features of-and trends in-e-learning. This basic information can be the foundation for focusing research on e-learning. Thus, this narrative analysis of e-learning reports focuses on the following questions:

1. What is the purpose of e-learning reports?

2. What are features of e-learning?

3. What are the trends affecting e-learning?

CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND

E-learning is the acquisition and use of knowledge distributed and facilitated primarily by electronic means. This form of learning currently depends on networks and computers, but will likely evolve into systems consisting of a variety of channels (e.g., wireless, satellite), and technologies (e.g., cellular phones, personal digital assistants) as they are developed and adopted. E-learning can take the form of courses as well as modules and smaller learning objects. E-learning may incorporate synchronous or asynchronous access and may be distributed geographically with varied limits of time (Wentling, Waight, Fleur, Wang, & Kanfer, 2000).

The history of the technological revolution reveals that of all the sectors of society, education has lagged in its integration of information technologies (Strommen & Lincoln, 1992). The initial slow integration of technology into education can be a derivative of the early visions of distance education. Matthews (1999) indicated distance education was first and foremost a movement that sought not so much to challenge or change the structure of higher learning, but to extend the traditional university and to overcome inherent problems of scarcity and exclusivity.

As we moved into the twenty-first century, this vision of distance learning changed, as the delivery of education now extends to commercial centers. Along with personal productivity software, Windows environments, local area networks, client-server computing, the Internet, intranets, and extranets has come the introduction of personal digital assistants (PDAs), and mobile and wireless technologies. …

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