The virtues of online learning

From the introduction to “Students’ evaluations of the use of e-learning in a collaborative project between two South African universities,” by Poul Rohleder, Vivienne Bozalek, Ronelle Carolissen, Brenda Leibowitz and Leslie Swartz, The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 20 August 2007:

Amongst the claims and acclaims made about the virtues of e-learning, Johns (2003, p. 431) ascertains that they can be divided into five categories:

1. Material is made more accessible to learners who can log on at any time which suits them.

2. Web-based material offers the opportunity for learners to explore those areas of the work they find difficult to understand, spending as much time as they wish to with these materials.

3. Web-based material can provide bridges between theory and the world of practice through, for example, organisational sites of social service practice on the web.

4. Web-based learning offers more opportunities for active learning, where students would engage with materials rather than passively receiving knowledge from lecturers.

5. This type of learning offers opportunities for learning activities such as problem-solving and information-gathering skills, and, from a pedagogical perspective, being conducive to ‘‘deep learning’’ rather than ‘‘surface learning’’.1

And that’s not all:

In addition to this, on-line learning allows for the possibility of fast and flexible communication between educators and their students as well as providing students with easy access to information (Curran 2001). However, the mere exchanging or retrieving of information does not in itself imply that learning takes place; rather there needs to be “a critical engagement with information” (Le Grange 2004, p. 89).

… Some studies that report on student perceptions of online courses, indicate that students are positive about e-learning feeling that they learnt from the collaborative and reflective interaction with other students (Littlefield and Roberson 2005; Quinney 2005; Roberts-DeGennaro et al. 2005).

… In the study by Sweeney et al. (2004), some students viewed web-based learning as enabling a certain freedom of speech and offering a deeper learning approach. Others viewed face-to-face work as relatively easy and computer-based work as hard work requiring reflective thinking and a substantial time commitment.

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