Lessons from Pedagogy for e-learning

Two thesis related posts in a day, I must be on a roll. This post actually marks a milestone, the following rough bit of material is the last bit of original writing I’ll need to do for chapter 2. What remains will be tidying up, fixing typos/spelling/grammar, “concludings” and some major cutting. Sadly chapter 2 currently stands at 200+ pages and will need some major cutting I think to be a reasonable size. That’s a job for another day.

The following is meant to abstract some lessons for e-learning based on the literature around pedagogy reviewed in early sections (e.g. the one from earlier today. It continues my focus on diversity and change being key characteristics of e-learning, an observation that highlights a mismatch with the standard product and process being used for e-learning.

As I near the end there are an increasing number of cross references from this material to earlier material. Sorry, haven’t gotten around to linking them on the blog. This is likely to be only somewhat less annoying than the poor grammar and dyslexic typing.

Lessons from Pedagogy for e-learning

The above brief overview of the Pedagogy component of the Ps Framework forms the basis for the identification of four lessons for e-learning within universities from the literature on pedagogy. The first of these is that learning is an inherently diverse human activity. The second is that e-learning is only a relatively new human activity and is still changing and adding to the diversity of learning. The third lesson, and one based on this observation of increasing diversity, is that there is no silver bullet, no one universal approach to learning or to e-learning and that instead e-learning should perhaps be focusing on its ability to support this diversity. The final lesson is that any change in learning and teaching at university is reliant on changing the conceptions of the academics.

Learning is inherently diverse

Dede (2008) raises the question of whether or not there is just one pre-eminent way of learning/teaching for every student, for every subject, for all legitimate purposes of schooling? Like everything else in education, a balance is needed – one size does not fit all – even in online settings (Cuthrell and Lyon 2007). Different learners bring to the learning experience: different learning objectives; different prior knowledge and past experience; and, different cognitive preferences (Dagger, Conlan et al. 2005). The diversification and massification of the student body has led universities to shift their education rhetoric from a notion of “one size fits all” to a concept of tailored, flexible learning (Lewis, Marginson et al. 2005). Learning should not be one size fits all and can be customised to meet local requirements and this deviation from a standard model should now be seen as a strength (Cavallo 2004). A “one size fits all” approach ignores the importance of disciplinary culture (Jones 2009). There is no one best way of developing instruction (Davies 1991). Dede’s (2008) answer to his question is that given the spectrum of learning theories, it would appear that “learning is a human activity quite diverse in its manifestations from person to person”. He goes onto suggest that the field of instructional design can only progress if it recognises that learning is a human activity quite diverse in its manifestations from person to person and even from day to day (Dede 2008).

E-learning is new and changing

While, to some extent, Bates (2004) statement that e-learning does not change the fundamental process of learning in that students still need to read, observe, think, discuss, practice and receive feedback. However, e-learning is creating a new environment within which learning and teaching operates and is contributing to the creation of and need for new knowledge about learning and teaching. There is little understanding of the affordances of different technologies and how these might be exploited in particular learning and teaching contexts (Conole and Dyke 2004). There is a need to engage with the affordances and constraints of particular technologies to understand how new technologies can meet specific pedagogical goals of specific content areas (Mishra and Koehler 2006). The rise of e-learning is calling for and generating more than knowledge simply to inform instructional design theories. With the example of connectivism, it is possible to see new knowledge, enabled or required to some extent by the rise of technology, being generated at the other three levels of learning theories identified in Section 2.1.2.

E-learning, diversity and silver bullets

The diversity inherent in learning is not matched by the theories and philosophies around the use of information and communication technologies to support learning. Such approaches treat learning as a simple activity that is relatively invariant across people, subject areas and educational objectives; and, so most widely used instructional technology applications have less variety in approach than a low-end fast-food restaurant (Dede 2008). The apparent high costs of developing educational materials means, that at least for for-profit organizations, a “one size fits all” approach produces economies of scale that is likely to prevail over the potential of online technologies to support customisation for the needs of individual learners (Cunningham, Ryan et al. 2000). This tendency towards one size fits all is contributed to by successive generations of pundits espousing ‘magical’ media, the single best medium for learning or the universally optimal way of learning (Dede 2008).

The difference and diversity inherent in learning challenges managerialism – a rising trend within higher education as shown in Society in Place (cross reference) – which generally seeks to elide ambiguities and to standardise individuals and experiences (Danaher, Luck et al. 2004). The managerialist approach to standardisation is well served by the monolithic or integrated product model on which learning management systems are based (cross reference to procurement and software section in Product). Innovation and diversity are served less well by such a product model. Dede (2008) argues that

from an instrumental perspective, the history of tool making shows that the best strategy is to have simultaneously available a variety of specialized tools, rather than a single device that attempts to accomplish everything.

Improvement comes through changing teacher conceptions

Even with the diversity in learning and the change created by the introduction of e-learning, the practice of learning and teaching in universities remains much the same. While e-learning has provided a new medium, must teaching remains old wine in new bottles (Bates 2004). As shown in section 2.1.4 (e-learning usage from past experience) the majority of academic staff still rely on old, familiar pedagogies rather than actively engaging with the new affordances offered by technology. This is something that is only going to change when the university context encourages, enables and perhaps even requires, changes in the conceptions of learning and teaching held by academic staff. The on-going introduction of new technologies is unlikely to ever bring about such change.


Bates, T. (2004). The promise and myths of e-learning in post-secondary education. The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective. M. Castells. Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar: 271-292.

Cavallo, D. (2004). "Models of growth – Towards fundamental change in learning environments." BT Technology Journal 22(4): 96-112.

Conole, G. and M. Dyke (2004). "What are the affordances of information and communication technologies?" ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology 12(2): 113-124.

Cunningham, S., Y. Ryan, et al. (2000). The Business of Borderless Education. Canberra, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs: 328.

Cuthrell, K. and A. Lyon (2007). "Instructional strategies: What do online students prefer?" Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 3(4).

Dagger, D., O. Conlan, et al. (2005). Fundamental requirements of personalised eLearning development environments. World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2005, Vancouver, Canada, AACE.

Danaher, P. A., J. Luck, et al. (2004). Course management systems: Innovation versus managerialism. Research Proceedings of the 11th Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C 2004), University of Exeter, Devon, England, Association for Learning Technology.

Davies, I. (1991). Instructional development as an art: One of the three faces of ID. Paradigms rgained: the uses of illuminative, semiotic, and post-modern criticism as modes of inquiry in educational technology: a book of readings. D. Hlynka and J. Belland, Educational Technology Publications: 93-106.

Dede, C. (2008). Theoretical perspectives influencing the use of information technology in teaching and learning. International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education. J. Voogt and G. Knezek. New York, Springer: 43-59.

Jones, A. (2009). "Redisciplining generic attributes: the disciplinary context in focus." Studies in Higher Education 34(1): 85-100.

Lewis, T., S. Marginson, et al. (2005). "The network university? Technology, culture and organisational complexity in contemporary higher education." Higher Education Quarterly 59(1): 56-75.

Mishra, P. and M. Koehler (2006). "Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge." Teachers College Record 108(6): 1017-1054.

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