Does e-learning require a new theory of learning? Some initial thoughts

Richard Andrews

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There are a growing number of texts about e-learning, but most of them address only the problem of how to teach ('e-teaching'). Few address the social implications of e-learning; its transformative effects; or the social, multimodal and technical interplay that affords and directs e-learning, and which is currently reshaping educational practices. In the light of such developments, the research question that needs to be asked is 'does e-learning require a new theory of learning?' This theoretical review sits within the field of education, particularly technology-enhanced learning. But the notion of 'technology-enhanced learning' implies that learning exists, and is somehow 'enhanced' by technology. The line taken in the present article suggests otherwise: that learning and technology are reciprocal and coevolutionary. In a previous work, in the Handbook of E-Learning Research (2007), Caroline Haythornthwaite and I identified the gap in theoretical perspectives on e-learning: "what has been lacking in the literature is a work that emphasizes key theoretical frameworks that underpin the field, addresses the complex interplay of technical, social, and organizational aspects of e-learning endeavors, and the relationship between research, theory, practice and policy.'' Such gaps in the field have provided the starting point for the present article, with its particular emphasis on whether e-learning requires a new theory of learning; or whether it requires merely an extension and 'application' of contemporary learning theories.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal for Educational Research Online
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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