I have to thank my friend and fellow educational adventurer, Jon Harman, for pointing me in the direction of a very interesting discussion document from the International Forum of Educational Technology & Society (IFETS). The document entitled ‘A Theory for eLearning’ lamented the lack of established eLearning theory and called for a deeper understanding of the term and its place in the educational landscape. Although the discussion document was written in 2003, when I read it earlier this month I still found that a lot of the discussion points are still relevant in 2016. ‘eLearning’ is still a term that is poorly defined and used by many to label any learning methodology that involves a computer, whether connected to the internet or not.
The discussion paper begins with a question: What is a ‘theory’? It describes a theory as “a set of hypotheses that apply to all instances of a particular phenomenon, assisting in decision-making, philosophy of practice and effective implementation through practice.” The paper then makes an attempt at defining some common terminology and follows that with a list of 10 hypotheses for eLearning that make interesting reading. I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with every one of them, so much so that they now have a place reserved on the wall of my office alongside my manifesto of educational beliefs.
The choice of eLearning tools should reflect rather than determine the pedagogy of a course; how technology is used is more important than which technology is used.”
This is a point that I’ve made frequently throughout my career as a curriculum and instructional designer. You write the pedagogical principles first and then, only then, look for the most appropriate tools to create the ecosystem for learners to learn. Too many institutions buy a shiny new toy first and then look at ways to use it, many of them inappropriate to the programmes and courses they wish to deliver.
Please take a look at the discussion paper and let me know your thoughts. Do the hypotheses still hold true 13 years after they were written? Could they be added to? Is the use of eLearning so commonplace that it has no significantl meaning anymore?