The Problem of Analysis of the Temporal Dimension in e-Learning Research

The Problem of Analysis of the Temporal Dimension in e-Learning Research

Begoña Gros (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3978-2.ch018
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Abstract

E-learning is a complex phenomenon that includes technological, pedagogical, social, and management dimensions. The importance of multiple variables and temporal dimensions for evaluating changes and development are crucial elements that are not taken into account in the methods and orientation of most studies. Most established methods of research are not able to analyse complex situations adequately. This chapter describes the problems that arise when standard methods are applied and explores the use of methods that support the analysis of multiple variables and temporal dimensions for evaluating changes and development.
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Introduction: Problematizing The Research In E-Learning

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and learning are co-evolving and it is necessary to take into account the changes occurring over time in any research about ICT and learning. To date, however, this has not been done particularly effectively. This paper provides an analysis of the main problems of e-learning research, focusing on four issues: research questions, areas of research, methodological approach, and level of analysis.

According to Andrews and Haythornthwaite (2007), most research has centred analysis on the impact of ICT in terms of short-term evaluation using control experiments, the typical question being ‘what is the effect of x on learning in this case’? X is usually some specific tool or technology. If we review studies from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, the differences are in the content of x (multimedia, wiki, blog, augmented reality, etc.). The evolution of technology is what determines the research questions. Therefore, there is a constant repetition and only changed the method of learning or technology. We always face the same questions and do not go far enough in either theoretical knowledge or practice.

E-learning is a complex phenomenon that includes technological, pedagogical, social and management dimensions. The conventional research approach used in education has to be revised because it is not fully adequate for studies of e-learning due to the interdisciplinarity of the focus and the importance of taking into account multiple variables and temporal dimensions to evaluate changes and development. Researchers in the learning sciences and education know the importance of time and process in their areas of research. However, there is a lack of evidence of transformation over time.

In terms of research questions, an important problem is that the focus and orientation of much research in this field is based on an illusory understanding of how the use of technology benefits learning. According to Hakkarainen (2010), technology only enhances learning if there is a transformation of social practices. Technology and social innovation are interdependent.

“Technology as such does not determine the nature of its implementation but co-evolves with gradually transforming institutional practices. A simple adaptation does not occur; it is a reciprocal process in which tools facilitate practices and novel practices are created in order to make better use of novel possibilities provided by technologies” (p. 214). This dialectical approach is important for understanding the necessity to problematize the field of e-learning research and to elaborate better methods and instruments for research.

A recent metadata analysis by researchers at the United States Department of Education (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009) found that many of the studies suffered from weaknesses such as a small sample size, failure to report retention rates for students in the conditions being studied, and, in many cases, potential bias from the authors of the studies due to their dual role as experimenters and instructors.

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