E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice

E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice

E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice

E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice


There is currently a technological revolution taking place in higher education. The growth of e-learning is being described as explosive, unprecedented, and above all, disruptive. This timely and comprehensive book provides a coherent framework for understanding e-learning in higher education. The authors draw on their extensive research in the area to explore the technological, pedagogical and organisational implications of e-learning, and more importantly, they provide practical models for educators to use to realise the full potential of e-learning. A unique feature of the book is that the authors focus less on the ever-evolving technologies and more on the search for an understanding of these technologies from an educational perspective. This book will be invaluable for researchers, practitioners and senior administrators looking for guidance on how to successfully adopt e-learning in their institutions. It will also appeal to anyone with an interest in the impact of e-learning on higher education and society.


The goal of 'e-learning in the twenty-first century' is to provide a framework for understanding the application of e-learning in higher education. We view e-learning as that learning facilitated on-line through network technologies. This does not preclude any number of other technologies or approaches, including components of face-to-face educational experiences. However, we will confine our discussion to those learning activities conducted through electronic means on-line.

Various authors have described the growth of e-learning as explosive, unprecedented, amazing, and disruptive. in fact, there are those who argue that we are experiencing a revolution in higher education (University of Illinois 1999). Others suggest that e-learning technology is unique (Harasim 1989) and represents a new era of distance education (Garrison 1997a). Regardless of the rhetoric, what has changed is the 'speed and power of communications and the expanded capacity to send, receive, and use information' (Ikenberry 1999:57) and the capacity to bridge time and space for educational purposes.

While lifelong learning has become an imperative, and communications technologies are transforming higher education, in most instances 'the revolution proceeds without any clear vision or master plan' (Ikenberry 1999:58). Considering the massive adoption of e-learning, what is surprising, and cause for concern, is that we know so little about the use of this medium to facilitate learning (Gilbert 2000). To date, published research and guides consist of innumerable case studies and personal descriptions and prescriptions but little in the way of rigorous, research-based constructs that lead to an in-depth understanding of e-learning in higher education.

Considering the ubiquity of e-learning, and the enormous opportunities and risks that it presents for higher education, we need more than a fragmented approach to studying and understanding this phenomenon. Is e-learning to be used simply to enhance inherently deficient existing practices (e.g., lecturing)? Or does this technology have the potential to transform the educational transaction towards the ideal of a community of inquiry (Garrison and Anderson 2000)? Such questions can only be addressed and

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