Academic journal article Journal of Distance Education (Online)

Strengthening Deeper Learning through Virtual Teams in E-Learning: A Synthesis of Determinants and Best Practices

Academic journal article Journal of Distance Education (Online)

Strengthening Deeper Learning through Virtual Teams in E-Learning: A Synthesis of Determinants and Best Practices

Article excerpt

Introduction

E-learning has transformed traditional ways of learning in higher education. It is defined as:

An approach to teaching and learning, representing all or part of the educational model applied, that is based on the use of electronic media and devices as tools for improving access to training, communication and interaction and facilitates the adoption of new ways of understanding and developing learning. (Sangrà, Vlachopoulos, & Cabrera, 2012, p. 152)

Notably, e-learning encompasses some key characteristics of both distance learning and online learning and underscores the integration of "pedagogy, instructional technology and the Internet in teaching and learning environments" (Carter & Salyers, 2015). Globally, e-learning is gaining popularity as its potential contributions to economic and social development are recognised. In Canada, e-learning's provision of the needed flexibility (i.e., any time, any place) is recognized as a fundamental vehicle for fostering a lifelong learning society (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009). According to the Contact North 2012 report, it is estimated that between 875,000 and 950,000 registered online students at colleges and universities in Canada take a purely online course at any one time. In the US, in 2012, over 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course, an increase of 570,000 students over the number reported in the previous year (Allen & Seaman, 2013).

However recent reports have revealed some countries are not performing to expectations in their e-learning endeavours. For example Canada is reported as trailing behind the efforts of other countries in e-learning, with Canadian post-secondary institutions lagging behind those in many other countries in incorporating online components into their programs, and elearning in workplace training is not yet a standard feature (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009). The same report, however, highlighted the importance of e-learning to Canadian social and economic development and called for a coherent framework to shape e-learning's development in Canada, noting, among other things, the need for concerted efforts to fill gaps in research and harness the potential of technology to meet the needs of learners (ibid.). This is aptly stated, as there appears to be a scarcity of research on e-learning in Canada (Salyers, Carter, Carter, Myers, & Barrett, 2014; Kaznowska, Rogers, & Usher, 2011). A stronger understanding of online learning is therefore essential for the future success of education and training.

From the outset, e-learning has been hailed as offering the "potential to enable student centred learning through the realisation of constructivist teaching principles" (Edwards & Bone, 2012, p. 2). However, this potential has not been realized since most studies describe current activities in e-learning as mostly replicating or transferring traditional existing teaching and learning approaches into e-learning environments (Salmon, 2005). In Canada one of the major barriers to the development of e-learning is noted as "the poor design and quality of some early stage online courses and the low level of student engagement these engendered" (Contact North, 2012, p. 17). In other words, educators are striving to conceptualize how teaching and learning can be enacted in e-learning settings whereby data, information, knowledge, and the capacity to socially shape such data, information and knowledge tends to define the learning experiences of many students (Edwards & Bone, 2012). Moreover, there has been an increased focus on deeper learning in higher educational settings, in particular, a focus on the skills and knowledge that reinforce each other and together promote deeper learning (Chow, 2010). Deeper learning, as presented by the Hewlett Foundation, prepares students to master core academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, have an academic mindset, and learn through selfdirection. …

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