Thursday, March 27, 2014

Make E-learning the Norm

What struck me about reading some of the literature on e-learning is how old fashioned and timid the approach of academic educators is: justifying why e-learning might be used in some circumstances for some students. Perhaps it is time to flip the discussion and ask why all courses are not designed for asynchronous delivery by default, with synchronous and on-campus elements added, where needed, wanted and affordable.

Simonson (2009) emphasises "the student" as if education was previously about someone else. They identified the type of student who would suit distance education. In terms of technology, they discuss synchronous e-learning before asynchronous, as if education naturally suits the former.

Hughes in "Supporting the Online Learner" frames distance education as something forced on the institution by excess demand or geography. That the student may prefer this mode of education is considered as an afterthought (and that the educator may prefer it is not considered at all). There is then a discussion of the characteristics of the learner who distance education might suit.

This reminds me of discussion of the Internet, email and the web in the mid to late 1990s: there was considerable discussion of the conditions under which these might be useful, by whom and where other conventional means of communication may have limitations. I spent much of my time in the 1990s putting that case, with public servants, military officers, politicians and industry. There was then a tipping point in the early to mid 2000s when these assumptions were reversed and you needed a reason not to use the Internet.

It may be time for a tipping point with e-learning. Courses should be designed, by default, for on-line asynchronous distance delivery. A student could still attend a campus if they wished and could afford it, but they would use the same course materials provided for the distance education students. Some parts of a course might require synchronous mode and a very small fraction would require campus attendance.


Simonson, Michael R (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance : foundations of distance education (4th ed).  Allyn & Bacon/Pearson, Boston Retrieved from

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