Designing and Evaluating E-Learning in Higher Education: A Review and Recommendations

Article excerpt

In the past decade, there has been tremendous growth in the availability of college and university courses taught entirely online. In this manuscript, we review issues that impact the effectiveness of such electronic courses. We first address design and delivery issues for online courses. We then present a framework for addressing the institutional, technological, and student issues that should be simultaneously addressed in order for online courses to be effective. We also make recommendations concerning how to evaluate the effectiveness of online courses, and then discuss major constraints that can limit the effectiveness of such courses. We contend that the future success and viability of online coursework depends upon succesfully addressing issues such as those raised in this manuscript.

**********

The world has changed dramatically from earlier ages to today's highly technological world. Similarly, learning has also evolved from the traditional classroom to distance learning and now to online learning, where students learn in "invisible classrooms" (Phillips, 1998; Sutherland, 1999). With the popularization of computer technology for home and office use, teaching methods have changed from plain lectures to multimedia presentations. With the advancement of technology and the Internet, the world has become a vast storehouse of information, and learning is no longer limited by distance, location, or physical existence. Barriers to global learning continue to fall.

With technological changes, educational institutions must keep pace in providing the ideal learning environment to meet changing demands. Information technology has created a bridge, so that many people who want to learn can now become "invisible" students. In this manuscript, we review the use of electronic learning in higher education. We first discuss design and delivery issues. Next, we provide a framework to discuss critical institutional, technological, and student issues that must be addressed for effective online learning to take place. Third, we deal with issues concerning the evaluation of online courses. Finally, we address important additional constraints that can limit the effectiveness of online learning.

Designing and Delivering Learning in the "Invisible Classroom"

Online learning (or E-learning) offers many opportunities that were not possible before. The chance to learn from a reputable university from across the state or country can be extremely valuable. It does not require a typical student to make a major change in lifestyle, nor does it requires the student to forgo a career or relocate a family to pursue his or her educational dream.

Learning in an "invisible classroom" setting promotes unlimited access to information. It can also take away social and physical boundaries (like shyness, gender, race, location, etc.), leaving everyone on a more equal footing for learning. Everyone, far or near, can become a valuable asset for a successful learning experience.

Methods of Delivery

Communication in education has most often emphasized one-way transmission. However, in higher learning, communication should focus on whether the concept or application is reasonable or suitable based on the particular situation. Issues of ethics and morality become central to discussions in the business world (Beauchamp & Bowie, 2004). There are less likely to be "model answers." Instead, answers will depend on the analytical reasoning and sound judgment relevant to each particular situation. In the academic setting, there should be interactive transmissions that promote challenges, relevancy and dynamic creative thinking. In essence, this sets the "Greek philosophical learning arena" within a controlled electronic environment of sharing between learners.

It is crucial to determine whether interactive or non-interactive applications should be used to deliver lessons in order to achieve desired learning objectives and outcomes (Arbaugh, 2000a; 2000b). …