E-Learning Value and Student Experiences IntroductIon E-learning is used as a comprehensive term to identify the use of a variety of information and communication technologies to enhance and support learning, often blending their use. Online learning can be defined as an implementation of e- learning using Web-based technologies (Petrova, 2007). Online learning and e-learning are used as synonyms throughout the text. Across universities worldwide, participants’ engagement and achievement and the support provided by educational technology have become the subject of intensive research, development, and discussion (Blinco, Mason, McLean, & Wilson, 2004; Buzzetto-Moore & Pinhey, 2006; Kickul & Kickul, 2006; Lee & Nguyen, 2005; Sharpe & Benfield, 2005). The work presented here has a specific focus on understanding how the quality of student learning and the student learning experience could be improved whilst working within environmental and academic constraints, believing that a better understanding of student behaviour might help course design. The main objective of the chapter is to identify some of the important issues and trends related to the perceived value of e-learning. To this end, the outcomes of two studies of e-learning are revisited and analysed further using a framework, which conceptualises the value of e-learning. Current and emerging trends about the drivers of student satisfaction are discussed and recommendations are presented. BAckground E-learning was first introduced into the undergraduate business programme at the New Zealand university used in this case study as early as 1999. However, since these early adoption days e-learning has become widespread across the whole university and its importance is now recognised as a strategic approach to providing a learning environment that promotes and supports student success. The programme used in this case study is a typical three-year undergraduate programme. A cornerstone of its philosophy is to encourage independent student led learning. Entrants to the programme come from a range of backgrounds. Due to ethnic diversity, some students might have English as an alternative language and even full time students work long hours. E-learning was introduced in an attempt to alleviate some of these problems. However there is evidence to suggest that the continuing effort involved in developing and delivering e-learning courses may lead to a significant demand on academics’ time andinstitutional resources, as the amount of individual attention needed may “rival a one-to-one course” (Tastle, White, & Shackleton, 2005, p. 249). Since 1999, e-learning within the case study programme case has gradually developed into two distinct teaching and learning models of Web-based online learning, known as “flexible mode” and “enhanced mode.” Both models belong to the category of “hybrid” or “blended” learning (Mortera-Gutierrez, 2006; Petrova, 2001) as their delivery format combines face-to-face and online teaching and learning. In enhanced mode, e-learning is used to complement (in-class) and enhance (off-campus) the 3 hours per week classroom teaching by using the institutional e-learning platform (BlackBoard). E-learning activities include exercises and demonstrations; off-campus they are mostly used as a vehicle for questions and answers about the course and assessment. As a rule, in enhanced mode online activities are not formally assessed. In flexible mode, a portion of the face-to-face teaching is replaced by the equivalent time in online activities, performed off-campus, in the students’ own time. Students are given detailed instructions about the e-learning activities they are expected to engage in, and about the expected outcomes. The “flexible” online activities may
E-Learning Value and Student Experiences be either individual or group, and often require significant preparatory research. Typically, they will have a fixed completion deadline, and may be incorporated into the assessment programme. The overall spread of e-learning in the case study programme is relatively high: following their specific study pathway, a typical undergraduate student might be engaged in e-learning in up to 58% of their studies (Petrova & Sinclair, 2005). This rather “massive” advent of e-learning has introduced a significant change to many aspects of the teaching and learning environment, including stakeholder perceptions about its value. e-LeArnIng vALue: stAkehoLder PersPectIves Studies in the area of change processes and management related to the introduction of new educational technologies have found that students might be resistant to change. In an early article on the use of information technology to enhance education in business schools, Leidner and Jarvenpraa (1995) pointed out that there was a need to understand better the role of students in learning models involving information technology, and suggested that students would be “likely to resist the new learning models” (Leidner & Jarvenpaa, 1995, p. 287). Students are identified as one of the recognised stakeholder groups involved in e-learning, therefore any emerging organizational formats developed to accommodate this educational paradigm need to be managed carefully in order to avoid early student disillusionment and the subsequent failure of students to realise the full education potential of e-learning (Hunt, Thomas, & Eagle, 2002; Sharpe & Benfield, 2005). Student participation in e-learning and student perceptions in particular have been the emphasis of research (Hisham, Campton, & FitzGerald, 2004; Lizzio, Wilson, & Simons, 2002; Phillimore, 2002; Swan, 1995; Wells, Fieger, & de Lange, 2005). More specifically Lizzio, et al. (2002) found that student perceptions of the teaching and learning environment and the assessment practice contribute to the development of deeper approaches to studying. They established that positive perceptions of the environment directly influence both measured academic outcomes, for example, academic achievement and also qualitative learning outcomes, workplace related skills. Other studies have highlighted usage patterns in terms of time, place, and functional components (Blinco et al., 2004; Burr & Spennemann, 2004; McKnight & Demers, 2002). An important point made in the reviewed research studies and reports inform the studies presented here: analysis of students’ perceptions in conjunction with factual data can provide a valuable input to the processes of curriculum development and management (Burr & Spennemann, 2004; Buzetto-More & Pinhey, 2006; Kickul, & Kickul, 2006; McKnight & Demers 2002; Sharpe & Benfield, 2005). Two studies were carried out during the period 2003-2005, both investigating the case study programme. Based on the assumption that improving the scholarship of e-learning depends on understanding stakeholders’ perspectives, the overall research framework used in the studies (Figure 1) includes students as they interact with the e-learning platform in the context of courses delivered online, while academics participate in e-learning as course developers and implementers. E-learning is facilitated by the organizational formats and structures of the university. The work aimed to identify and explore criteria for stakeholder evaluation of e-learning, to identify patterns of online platform usage, and to provide a basis for the understanding of student satisfaction with e-learning. Two research questions were investigated: 1. What is the perceived value of e-learning from a stakeholder perspective? 2. Are students satisfied with e-learning and what are the manifestations of satisfaction?