This post was written by Michael Stewart

How Effective is Cutting Edge Technology in eLearning?

 Online Learning: is delivery more important than content?

Welcome back to part two of this series. In this post IDI Director Michael Stewart continues to explore the conflicting issues of form and function within the sphere of eLearning in higher education. If we embrace eLearning do we have to sacrifice content for the sake of slick delivery? Keep reading to find out.

Form and Function

The concern here, in regards to eLearning, is that the vehicle for delivery becomes more important than the content it carries; a particularly worrying notion within the field of online education. Consumers can be seduced by the style of the vehicle; attracted by the form rather than the function it supports. But this issue is not solely concerned with the proposed replacement of the lecture theatre and classroom with the razzmatazz of what may amount to something approaching an academic amusement arcade. I agree that we should provide our learners with an immersive learning experience where it is appropriate. My concern is that total immersion could remove the element of distance, which is an essential part of the learning process. Distance enables the learner to consider, assimilate and reflect on the educational experience.

An example of elearning technology: IDI student using virtual reality goggles for online learning

There is a balance required in the degree to which the learner engages with, and/or in, the learning materials; between the intensity of total immersion and the superficiality of the automatic, instinctive or conditioned response.It is vital that we, as educators, achieve clarity of purpose; what are we aiming to achieve, how are we proposing to achieve it and why are we opting for a particular form of provision?

What kind of response do we expect from the learner? Beyond that which we state as the assessable aims, surely we are aiming to encourage reflection, integration and application?


Reaction without reflection is training; in other words, a Pavlovian response. Education suggests a process that involves imparting and assimilating skills and techniques that have application beyond the immediate learning experience; the learner understands that these can be applied in circumstances that are external to the environment in which they were acquired.

Depending on the circumstances involved, it may be preferable to pursue the training delivery method. Examples could include memorising instructions or directives, reacting appropriately to an alarm, rapidly executing an instinctive response or behaving correctly when confronted with a potentially threatening situation.However, if the aim is to provide an educational experience, it is surely preferable that participants within any course of study engage with the materials as part of a cognitive process.

an example of elearning: two female students learning online using a computer

The application of cutting edge technologies in education will only be effective when they are used to provide or enhance an educational experience that is part of a pedagogy based upon robust educational principles. Anything else and we’re in danger of being in the aforementioned amusement arcade.

In the third part of this article, we’ll discuss the fundamentals of effective online provision:
• Establishing the learning objectives; what do you want to teach?
• Preparing the learning materials; with what will you supply your students?
• Sourcing the most appropriate means of providing the learning experience; how will you deliver these?
• Deciding what you want the students to learn; how will you assess any outcomes?

Next week

Next week, Michael will continue his exploration of how eLearning material is currently delivered and how we can learn from the work of educational psychologists and philosophers from previous generations.


If you enjoyed this post be sure to subscribe to our blog and don’t miss the third installment of this series on eLearning! Be sure to check out part one of this series The Digital Side of Education: Seduced by Technology and our blog Online Learning: Life on the Open Road or a Wrong Turn?

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