Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Motivations of the Online Student

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Motivations of the Online Student

Article excerpt

The great end of education is, to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; to train it to the use of its own powers, rather than fill it with the accumulations of others (Tyron Edwards 7809-7894)

Introduction

Why is higher education using online learning systems? Proponents of the uses of the Internet in delivering education make many claims. Generally these claims are that online learning can increase the quality of learning experiences, that online learning can react more effectively to global competition in education, online learning can remove barriers of circumstance (time, place etc.) and is more flexible and accessible, more relevant to the times, and is more cost-effective than face-to-face learning, further, there are productivity gains to be made for the learning institution in instruction delivery costs (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Green & Gilbert, 1995; Kanuka & Kelland, 2008; McCarthy & Samors, 2009; Wong & Tatnall, 2009). Similarly Bates (1997) cites the most commonly given reasons for using technology in education are "to improve access to education and training; to improve the quality of learning; to reduce the costs of education; to improve the cost-effectiveness of education" (Bates, 1997). We are also told (Franklin & Van Harmelen, 2007) that the implementation of Web 2.0 technologies across English universities will influence every aspect of higher education including teaching, learning and assessment and so on, ending with a call for more case studies of Web 2.0 usage in higher education. This is echoed by Kirkwood (2009) who appeals for further studies of how online learning is actually being used by students (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Green & Gilbert, 1995; Kanuka & Kelland, 2008; McCarthy & Samors, 2009; Wong & Tatnall, 2009).

The literature is full of indeterminate, mixed research results and accounts of the successful (and less successful) adoption and implementation of technology in teaching, learning and administration in one form or another over nearly a 20 year period. Donnelly and O'Rourke (2007) on evaluating current online learning research and literature state the obvious, that online learning and forms of blended, hybrid models of online learning have been widely adopted across higher education institutions and have therefore reached a certain level of maturity, yet these researchers claim:

* Improved learning and cost savings have yet to be universally proved

* Expected wide benefits have not materialized (Donnelly & O'Rourke, 2007).

Many claims about online learning stem from a fundamental belief that traditional face-to-face teaching is inherently inefficient and that cost savings can be made (Bates, 1997; Twigg, 2003). There is also an unsupported assumption that students would dearly love the opportunity to study at their own pace in their own homes at the time of their choosing and that online learning technology will enable this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As with many universities today, at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT University), every course is required to provide a basic level of support using the online system that is called the learning hub. While there is no question that distributing teaching materials online is considerably more efficient for both academics and students in classes with large cohorts of students (Cohen & Nachmias, 2006; Twigg, 2003), there are doubts about other aspects of replacing face-to-face teaching with the Internet.

Agreement about cost savings and how to measure them in higher education is also indeterminate and variable, some propose that delivery is cheaper for small face to face classes compared to online small classes, however for cost savings to be made in e-learning, implementation must happen across a large number of courses catering to large numbers of students (Cohen & Nachmias, 2006). …

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