What can history tell us about e-learning and its future?

The following contains some initial thoughts about what might turn into a paper for ASCILITE’09. It’s likely that I’ll co-author this with Col Beer.


The idea of this paper has arisen out of a combination of local factors, including:

  • The adoption of Moodle as the new LMS for our institution.
  • The indicators project Col is working on with Ken.
    Both Col and I used to support staff use of Blackboard. This project aims to do some data mining on the Blackboard system logs to better understand how and if people were using Blackboard.
  • Some of the ideas that arose from writing the past experience section of my thesis.

Abstract and premise

The premise of the paper starts with the Santayana quote

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The idea is that there is a long history of attempting to improve learning and teaching through technology. There is a history of universities moving to new learning management systems and staff within those universities using learning management systems. In fact, our institution has over 10 years experience using learning management systems. Surely, there are some lessons within that experience that can help inform what is being done with the transition to Moodle at our institution?

The aim of the paper will be, at least, to examine that history, both broadly and specifically at our institution, and seek to identify those lessons. Perhaps the paper might evaluate the transition to Moodle at our institution and, based on that past experience, seek to suggest what some possible outcomes might be.

As you might guess from some of the following and some of what I’ve written in the past experience section of my thesis, I have a feeling that as we explore this question we are likely to find that our institution has failed Santayana’s advice on retentiveness and that the institution may be repeating the past.

Given that some of the folk directly involved in our institution’s transition to Moodle read this blog and we’ll be talking about this paper within the institution, perhaps we can play a role in avoiding that. Or perhaps, as we dig deeper, the transition is progressing better than I currently perceive.

In reality, I think we’ll avoid making specific comments on what is happening in our institution. The transition to Moodle is being run as a very traditional teleological process. This means that any activity not seen as directly contributing to the achievement of the purpose (i.e. that is not critical) will be seen as something that needs to be curtailed.

Connection with conference themes?

The paper should try and connect with the themes of the conference. Hopefully in a meaningful way, but a surface connection would suffice. The theme for the conference is “Same places, different spaces” and includes the following sub themes (I’ve included bits that might be relevant to this paper idea)

  • Blended space
    What makes blended learning effective, why, how, when and where?
  • Virtual space
    What is the impact, what are the implications and how can the potential of this emergent area be realistically assessed?
  • Social space
    What Web 2.0 technologies are teachers and students using? How well do they work, how do you know, and what can be done to improve and enhance their use?
  • Mobile space
  • Work space

Not a great fit with the sub themes but I think a connection with the theme in a round about way. Perhaps the title could be “E-learning and history: different spaces, same approaches” or something along those lines. This might have to emerge, once we’ve done some work.

Potential structure and content

What follows is an attempt to develop a structure of the paper and fill in some indicative content and/or work we have to do. It assumes an introduction that will position e-learning as a amnesiac field. This suggestion will be built around the following and similar quotes

Learning technology often seems an amnesiac field, reluctant to cite anything ‘out of date’; it is only recently that there has been a move to review previous practice, setting current developments within an historical context…many lessons learnt when studying related innovations seem lost to current researchers and practitioners. (Oliver, 2003)

I should note that the following is a first draft, an attempt to get my ideas down so Col and I can discuss it and see if we can come up with better ideas. Feel free to suggest improvements.

History of technology mediated learning and hype cycles

The aim of this section is to examine the broader history of technology-mediated learning going back to the early 1900s and drawing a small amount of content from ????.

The main aim, however, is attempt to identify a hype cycle associated with these technologies that generally results in little or no change in the practice of learning and teaching. It will draw on some of the ideas and content from here. It will also draw on related hype cycle literature including Birnbaum’s fad cycle and Gartner’s hype cycle.

E-learning usage: quantity and quality

This section will provide a summary of what we know from the literature and also from the local institution about the quantity and quality of past usage of e-learning. With a particular focus on the LMS.

Col’s indicators project has generated some interesting and depressing results from the local system. For example, out institution has a large distance education student cohort. A group of students that rarely, if ever, set foot on a campus. They study almost entirely by print-based distance education and e-learning. Recently, Col has found that 68% of those distance education students have never posted to a course discussion forum.

Paradigms of e-learning and growing abundance

The aim of this section would be to suggest that the focus on the LMS is itself rather short-sighted and does not recognise the on-going evolution of e-learning. i.e. that we’re not going to be stuck in the LMS rut for long term and perhaps the institution should be looking at that change and how it can harness it.

This section will draw on the paradigms of e-learning. It may also draw on some of the ideas contained in this TED talk by Chris Anderson around the four key stages of technology and related work.

Thinking about this brings up some memories of the 90s. I remember when friends of mine in the local area would enroll at the university in order to get Internet access and an email address. I remember when the university had to discourage students from using outside email accounts (e.g. hotmail) because they didn’t provide enough disk space.

This was because email and Internet access inside Universities was more abundant than outside. Those days are long gone. External email providers like hotmail and gmail provide large disk quotas for email than institutions. For many people, it’s increasingly cheaper to get Internet access at home. At least it’s cheaper to pay for it than pay for a university education you don’t need.

Diffusion, chasms and task corruption

Perhaps this section could be titled “Lessons”.

The idea behind this suggested section is starting to move a little beyond the historical emphasis. It’s more literature and/or idea based. So I’m not sure of its place. Perhaps it’s the history of ideas around technology. Perhaps it can fit.

The idea would be to include a list of ideas associated with e-learning:

Predictions and suggestions

This is getting to the sections that are currently more up in the air. Will it be an evaluation of the transition or will it be simply a list of more generic advice. The generic advice might be safer institutionally, better fit with the conference themes, and more more generally useful.

An initial list:

  • The adoption of Moodle will decrease the quality of learning and teaching at our institution, at least in the short term.
  • Longer term, unless there is significant activity to change the conception of learning and teaching held by the academics, the quantity and quality of use of Moodle will be somewhat similar, possibly a little better (at least quantity) than that of previous systems.
    Idea: Col, can we get some of those global figures you showed me broken down by year to see what the trend is? i.e. does it get better or worse over time?
  • Strategic specification of standards or innovation will have little or no impact on quantity and quality, will perhaps contributed to a lowest common denominator, and will likely encourage task corruption, work arounds and shadow systems.
  • Increasingly, the more engaged academics will start to use external services to supplement the features provided by the LMS.

I’m often criticised as being negative. Which is true, I believe all of my ideas have flaws, imagine what I think of the ideas of others! So, perhaps the paper should include some suggestions.

  • Focus more on contextual factors that are holding back interest in learning and teaching by academics. (See technology gravity)
  • Recognise the instructional technology chasm and take steps to design use of Moodle to engage with the pragmatists.
  • Others??


Oliver, M. (2003). Looking backwards, looking forwards: an Overview, some conclusions and an agenda. Learning Technology in Transition: From Individual Enthusiasm to Institutional Implementation. J. K. Seale. Lisse, Netherlands, Swets & Zeitlinger: 147-160.

Institutional e-learning strategies

The following contains the next section from chapter 2 of my thesis and the section on Processes. It follows on from the section on institutional learning and teaching strategies and seeks to talk a bit about institutional strategies for e-learning.

As with other posts of this type, this is a version 1 draft. It will have some/many rough edges.

Institutional e-learning strategies

By 2003 a survey of US university leaders found that most saw e-learning as a critical long-term strategy (Allen and Seaman 2003). The OECD (2005) found that most universities initially lacked a coordinated e-learning strategy and tend to rely on emergent faculty-led initiatives before finally adopting a more integrated institution-wide approach. A range of authors (c.f. Forsyth 2003) suggest that it is time to consider e-learning as an integral part of academic activity that needs to be routinely supported and consequently has become almost obligatory to add e-learning to mission statements and strategic plans. In large part because the rise of the industrial e-learning paradigm is creating a growing perception of the need for institutional strategies to guide the implementation of e-learning.

It is necessary for management to have a clear view of the purpose intended through the introduction of e-learning in order to determine the necessary work (Klink and Jochems 2003). Full exploitation of e-learning resources by universities could be made more effective through the development and implementation of a coherent and comprehensive e-learning strategy (Dearing 1997). The rapid evolution of information and communications technologies demand a process of strategic transformation in universities (Duderstadt, Atkins et al. 2002). Any project aiming for large-scale usage of e-learning requires a holistic approach from the outset (Klink and Jochems 2003). If technology is to deliver what it promises then the onus is squarely on the institution to incorporate technology as part of a plan with specific, rather than vague, outcomes (Forsyth 2003). A number of studies have highlighted the lack of institutional e-learning strategies as a barrier to more widespread adoption of e-learning (Lisewski 2004). While not the only factor necessary for successful e-learning adoption, institutional policies are essential components of successful organisational change and act as an expression of senior leadership commitment (Czerniewicz and Brown 2009).

There are a number of approaches to developing e-learning strategies. For example Australian universities have been found to be developing either stand-along strategies or incorporating such strategies within other existing institutional strategies associated with learning and teaching or information technology (Inglis 2007). Salmon (2005) suggests that there are two approaches used to institutionalise e-learning: large scale centralisation and incremental staff-based change. Stiles and Nichols (2007) suggests that large-scale institutions are more likely to effectively diffuse e-learning through large-scale centralisation, while smaller ones will use incremental staff-based change. Klink and Jochems (2003) offer a list of issues that should be addressed by strategic plans including: objectives, deliverables, deadlines, appointment of a change manager, budgets and evaluation.

Informal examination and formal research indicates that institutions use one or a combination of three main approaches to the strategic introduction of e-learning (Stiles and Yorke 2006):

  • Funding projects by innovators/enthusiasts;
  • Top-down ‘revolutionary’ change driven by a directive central strategy; and
  • Make the technology available and promote take up.

Regardless of the approach adopted outcomes are essentially the same (White 2007) with only partial levels of success (Stiles and Yorke 2006). While the prevalence of institutional e-learning strategies is growing, there is evidence to suggest that such strategies are at an immature stage of development (Inglis 2007). Stiles and Yorke (2004) suggest that strategic approaches are typically characterised by:

  • Failure to address change management;
  • No consolidation of progress made;
  • Failure to learn from experience as an organisation;
  • Staff development for eLearning seen as a ‘one-off ’;
  • Lack of ‘follow through’; and
  • Little or no evaluation.

The factors identified as important to the effectiveness of e-learning are not those found to be most prevalent in institutional e-learning strategies (Inglis 2007). E-learning often arises in response to political and economic drivers that can result in strategies that underestimate required changes in organisational and professional practice (Stiles and Yorke 2006). E-learning strategies of Australian Universities have a greater emphasis on technical and administrative issues, including the implementation of a centrally managed learning management systems and planning associated with organisational processes associated with the central management of e-learning, than on pedagogical issues (Inglis 2007). By allowing strategies to be driven by technology institutions can find that business and educational processes have become constrained by their adopted technologies (Stiles 2004).

The problems with e-learning strategies move beyond low quality implementation of a teleological approach. The following seeks to suggests that it is the teleological nature of the strategic approach to e-learning that creates significant problems. The emphasis on large-scale centralization approach to the diffusion of e-learning used by larger institutions can frustrate meaningful incremental change (Nichols 2007). If it is to respond and adapt to the diverse and ever changing need of learning and teaching a technology strategy should, like a biological ecology, be open, complex, adaptive and have sufficient robustness and diversity (Duderstadt, Atkins et al. 2002). However, a strategically-oriented centralised approach (i.e. a teleological approach) doesn’t need to rule out localisation or further innovation (Nichols and Anderson 2005). Sharpe et al (2006) illustrate how e-learning strategy can employ both top-down and bottom-up approaches to enable and support localisation.

The adoption of learning management systems as the primary component of e-learning strategies (Inglis 2007) suggests an almost “faddish” approach to decision making (Jones and Muldoon 2007). In conditions of uncertainty about technologies organizations may rely on imitation to guide decision-making (Pratt 2005). Imitation is a component of management fashions, fads and bandwagons where a relatively transitory collection of beliefs can legitimize the exercise of mindlessness with respect to innovation with information technology (Swanson and Ramiller 2004). Pratt (2005) suggests that the Australian university sector’s adoption of e-learning during the 1990s is an example of “fashionable” adoption of technology. Joining a list of fads adopted by higher education (Birnbaum 2000).

In relation to institutional strategies for learning and teaching it was suggested that the search for a single blueprint was flawed, even naïve (Newton 2003). Similarly, there is no ready model or single clearly successful path for institutional e-learning strategies that will ensure e-learning is embedded (Oliver and Dempster 2003). E-learning, for a variety of reasons, is characterised by high levels of variability, change and uncertainty (Jones, Gregor et al. 2003). More broadly technological innovation is said to be underdetermined in that there is no single “best solution” (Allen 2000). With those who support a social shaping perspective suggest that e-learning in universities can follow many paths (Dutton and Loader 2002). Information technology is one of a number of components of an emergent process of change where the outcomes are indeterminate because they are situationally and dynamically contingent (Markus and Robey 1988). Ongoing change is not solely “technology led” or solely “organisational/agency driven”, instead change arises from a complex interaction among technology, people and the organization (Marshall and Gregor 2002).

In identifying what might lead to successful embedding of e-learning Oliver and Dempster (2003) suggestion that the operational context is crucial to the choice of approach. A clear and honest analysis of the starting context is as important as understanding the purpose of a strategy (Stiles 2004). Sharpe et al (2006) echo the requirements of a teleological processes when they agree that consideration of the context is essentially to planning any institution-wide change program. This perspective places less emphasis on context than the ateleological approach. With an ateleological process the attention paid to the context moves from consideration given during the planning stage to the primary consideration during the entire process. Dron (2006) provides one example of how teleological processes limit contextual knowledge when he observes that the greatest control within large scale e-learning implementation is supplied by administrators and that this limits the part played by learners and teachers and results in outcomes that “may be less than ideal for local needs”.

Macpherson et al (1997) identified very early on in the adoption of e-learning that few existing staff have the necessary knowledge to completely assess the implications of e-learning and subsequently determine its usefulness and possible future applications. An observation that raises questions about the validity of teleological processes that identify an up-front goal at the start and, once underway, actively exclude consideration of alternatives. Particularly troubling when decision-making about the selection and implementation of e-learning technologies is complex and contentious given limited funding and differences in technology development. (Danaher, Luck et al. 2005)

The reliance of teleological approaches on top-down decomposition and the subsequent lose of the whole can also be seen in institutional approaches to e-learning. Jones (2008) describes how divisions between different areas of the Open University contribute to the lack of any one list of institutional requirements and the resulting contention between minimising cost and developing functionality. The differing outlooks of these separate divisions were not just divergent, they were contradictory (Jones 2008). Danaher et al (2005) found similar divergence in assumptions about ideal and actual forms of decision-making around information technology and more broadly about the most effective means of enacting and evaluating organizational change intended to enhance the provision of teaching and learning.

The turbulent and dynamic nature of both the internal, as illustrated by the divergent perspectives highlighted above, and external environment (e.g. crossref to Place) calls for the management of e-learning to be highly adaptive (Uys 2002). In order to respond and adapt to the diverse and ever-changing needs of academic programs, e-learning strategy should, like a biological ecology, be open, complex and adaptive (Duderstadt, Atkins et al. 2002). A key limitation of the boundaries that arise due to the separation of e-learning work via top-down decomposition creates boundaries that fail or make it difficult to engage with the complexity, flexibility and fluidity of e-learning (Jones, Luck et al. 2005). Teghe and Knight (2004) suggest that the concern for efficiency, a key characteristic of teleological processes, tends to be limited to economic efficiency and consequently universities become focused on developing systems only to the extent that they “piggyback” on existing systems.


Allen, I. E. and J. Seaman (2003). Sizing the opportunity: The quality and extent of online education in the United States, 2002 and 2003. Needham, MA, The Sloan Consortium: 32.

Allen, J. (2000). "Information systems as technological innovation." Information Technology & People 13(3): 210-221.

Birnbaum, R. (2000). Management Fads in Higher Education: Where They Come From, What They Do, Why They Fail. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Czerniewicz, L. and C. Brown (2009). "A study of the relationship between institutional policy, organisational culture and e-learning use in four South African universities." Computers and Education 53(1): 121-131.

Danaher, P. A., J. Luck, et al. (2005). "The stories that documents tell: Changing technology options from Blackboard, Webfuse and the Content Management System at Central Queensland University." Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development 2(1): 34-43.

Dearing, R. (1997). Higher education in the learning society: The Dearing Report. London, National Commitee of Inquiry into Higher Education.

Dron, J. (2006). Any color you like, as long as it’s Blackboard. World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare and Higher Education, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, AACE.

Duderstadt, J., D. Atkins, et al. (2002). Higher education in the digital age: Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, Conn, Praeger Publishers.

Dutton, W. and B. Loader (2002). Introduction. Digital Academe: The New Media and Institutions of Higher Education and Learning. W. Dutton and B. Loader. London, Routledge: 1-32.

Forsyth, R. (2003). "Supporting e-learning: an overview of the needs of users." New Review of Academic Librarianship 9(1): 131-140.

Inglis, A. (2007). Approaches taken by Australian universities to documenting institutional e-learning strategies. ASCILITE Singapore 2007, Singapore: Centre for Educational Development, Nanyang Technological University.

Jones, C. (2008). Infrastructures, institutions and networked learning. 6th International Conference on Networked Learning, Halkidiki, Greece, Lancaster University, Lancaster.

Jones, D., S. Gregor, et al. (2003). An information systems design theory for web-based education. IASTED International Symposium on Web-based Education, Rhodes, Greece, IASTED.

Jones, D., J. Luck, et al. (2005). The teleological brake on ICTs in open and distance learning. Conference of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia’2005, Adelaide.

Jones, D. and N. Muldoon (2007). The teleological reason why ICTs limit choice for university learners and learning. ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ASCILITE Singapore 2007, Singapore.

Klink, M. v. d. and W. Jochems (2003). Management and organisation of integrated e-learning. Integrated e-learning: Implications for pedagogy, technology and organisation. W. Jochems, J. v. Merrienboer and R. Koper, Routledge.

Lisewski, B. (2004). "Implementing a learning technology strategy: top-down strategy meets bottom-up culture." ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology 12(2): 175-188.

Macpherson, C., S. Bennett, et al. (1997). The DDCE Online Learning Project. ASCILITE’97, Perth.

Markus, M. L. and D. Robey (1988). "Information technology and organizational change: causal structure in theory and research." Management Science 34(5): 583-598.

Marshall, S. and S. Gregor (2002). Distance education in the online world: Implications for higher education. Web-Based Instructional Learning. M. Khosrow-Pour. Hershey, PA, IRM Press: 110-124.

Newton, J. (2003). "Implementing an institution-wide learning and teaching strategy: lessons in managing change." Studies in Higher Education 28(4): 427-441.

Nichols, M. (2007). "Institutional perspectives: The challenges of e-learning diffusion " British Journal of Educational Technology 39(4): 598-609.

Nichols, M. and B. Anderson (2005). "Strategic e-learning implementation." Educational Technology & Society 8(4): 1-8.

OECD (2005). E-Learning in Tertiary Education: Where do we stand? Paris, France, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Oliver, M. and J. Dempster (2003). Embedding e-learning practices. Towards strategic staff development in higher education. R. Blackwell and P. Blackmore. Milton Keynes: UK, Open University Press: 142-153.

Pratt, J. (2005). "The Fashionable Adoption of Online Learning Technologies in Australian Universities." Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management 11(1): 57-73.

Salmon, G. (2005). "Flying not flapping: a strategic framework for e-learning and pedagogical innovation in higher education institutions." ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology 13(3): 201-218.

Sharpe, R., G. Benfield, et al. (2006). "Implementing a university e-learning strategy: levers for change within academic schools." ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology 14(2): 135-151.

Stiles, M. (2004). "Is an e-learning strategy enough?" Educational Developments 5(1): 13-14.

Stiles, M. (2004). Strategic and pedagogic requirements for virtual learning in the context of widening participation. Virtual Learning and higher education. D. S. Preston. New York, Rodopi: 87-106.

Stiles, M. and J. Yorke (2004). Embedding staff development in elearning in the production process and using policy to reinforce its effectiveness. 9th SEDA Conference. Birmingham, UK.

Stiles, M. and J. Yorke (2006). "Technology supported learning – Tensions between innovation, and control and organisational and professional cultures." Journal of Organisational Transformation and Social Change 3(3): 251-267.

Swanson, E. B. and N. C. Ramiller (2004). "Innovating mindfully with information technology." MIS Quarterly 28(4): 553-583.

Teghe, D. and B. Knight (2004). "Neo-liberal higher education policy and its effects on the development of online courses." Campus-Wide Information Systems 21(4): 151-156.

Uys, P. (2002). "Networked educational management: transforming educational management in a networked institute." Campus-Wide Information Systems 19(5): 175-181.

White, S. (2007). "Critical success factors for e-learning and institutional change – some organisational perspectives on campus-wide e-learning." British Journal of Educational Technology 38(5): 840-850.

How silly can enterprise IT get? Tools should fit the people, not the other way around

I have a thing against large scale enterprise information systems (such as ERP systems like Peoplesoft or learning management systems – commercial or open source) and how they are generally implemented within organisations. This morning provides a wonderful example of why.

An organisation I’m aware of has, like many others, a human resources system that maintains information about staff. In the last couple of years it’s gotten really modern and added a web interface to it so that staff can change and view their details.

The example of the constraints of such systems and the limitations of how they are implemented in organisations is highlighted by an email today from the HR folk. It reminds staff how to keep their details up to date and includes some instructions on how to enter the data correctly.

Apparently, the system doesn’t like the use of characters such as “/” or “-” in address fields. As in

5/105 Fred Street

So the advice is to use a space instead of either offending character. i.e. the usage that would break the system

5/105 Fred Street

should become

5 105 Fred Street

i.e. a space instead of the “/”.

Tools should fit the people, not the other way around

Dave Snowden gave a keynote, which he described here and uses the following quote which I’ve used before

Technology is a tool and like all tools it should fit your hand when you pick it up, you shouldn’t have to bio-re-engineer your hand to fit the tool.

This is a prime example of how enterprise systems in organisations and how they are implemented generally don’t deliver this. How they expect people to “bio-re-engineer” what they do to fit the technology, rather than the other way around. The above advice requires people to change how they write an address to fit the limitations or a poorly designed system.

Not to mention that they expect you to remember to do this from some out of context advice. I’m sure folk will remember this advice in 3 months when they move. At the very least the web page that takes the address should/could have some validation that complains about the use of “-” or “/” and provides some in-context advice on how to fix it.

Better yet, the validation should automatically change it before submitting the data and/or the server-side code that updates the database should sanity check and correct this limitation.

The tool should fit the practice of the human beings. Not the other way around.

So what?

I can here some folk responsible for enterprise systems asking “So what? It’s only a small thing people have to remember on the odd occasion they change address. No big thing. Much harder to change the system. Cost/benefit isn’t there.”. What these folk forget is that this problem is symptomatic of all enterprise information systems. There are lots of “little things” like this that reinforce to users of these systems that the they are having to change to fit the tool, not the other way around.

It’s the IT folk, or at least their reputation, suffering death by a thousand cuts as all of these “small things” build up and create a general impression that IT don’t care about users and are more interested in their systems and keeping costs down. That the users have to carry the burden. The type of build up that can’t be solved by employing public relations folk and forums to “communicate” with the users. You have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Let’s not forget the detail of this example. Entry of an address!!! It’s not rocket science. It’s not something that’s just been developed in the last six months. Computer systems have been doing address entry for decades. How can a system not handle this!!!

What sort of message do you think this sends to the users?

All this reminded me of the song From Little Things Big Things Grow

Organisational fit and success

Yesterday, as part of my thesis travels, I came across this paper (Hogarth and Dawson, 2008) that reminded me of the work around organisational fit and the use of configuration theory to explain/understand the success or failure of change through the application of information technology. This discussion seems tightly linked with this example.

Here’s some background from Hogarth and Dawson (2008)

The notion of configurational fit is based on a theory described in the OS literature (Miles & Snow, 1984), and encapsulates the extent to which the multivariate components of organisational life, such as strategy, structure, management processes, and technology, function in-tune with each other (Sauer, Southon, & Dampney, 1997). In the case of IT innovations, organisational fit is attained when the innovation functions in a way that is consistent with the way the organisation functions, and is managed in the way the organisation is managed.

So what happens if the IT innovation has a weak organisational fit? Hogarth and Dawson (2008) again

In configuration theory, weak fit is the underlying condition that promotes the existence of risk-related behaviours in organisations……Sauer et al. (p. 350) referred to the outcomes of these risk factors as failure modes, which can commonly include process failures (cost and schedule overruns) and interaction failure (non-use of the innovation).

i.e. if there is perceived to be poor fit, the users start to work around the system in ways that will increase the likelihood of system failure. Where system failure has a variety of outcomes.


Hogarth, K. and D. Dawson (2008). “Implementing e-learning in organisations: What e-learning research can learn from instructional technology (IT) and organisational studies (OS) innovation studies.” International Journal on E-Learning 7(1): 87-105.

PhD Update #14 – Moving to a new day

This is the first of the updates to be sent out on a Sunday. Part of a plan to move from doing this on Friday to Sunday. Mostly because there have been a couple of Friday’s I’ve missed. Also, this might set the reflection up as the start to a week, rather then the end and consequently encourage greater emphasis on moving forward than looking back…who knows.

Since last week progress has been slowed by another two days lost due to public holiday and other work commitments. So, I’m not happy with progress.

I’m increasingly motivated to get on with this, but translating into action…

What I’ve done

I said last week that I would

  • Complete the process component.
  • Make significant progress on the People component.

I’ve achieved neither of those.

I have completed two small sections of the process component and posted them to the blog

To complete the Process section my current plan calls for me to complete three more sections:

  1. Institutional e-learning – I’ve made some progress on this. Will try to finish this within the next day or so.
  2. Learning and teaching – this will be small.
  3. Lessons from process – I have most of the points I want to make and references.

What I’ll do next week

Keep it simple and repetitive. I’ll try and

  • Complete the process component.
  • Make significant progress on the People component.

To all my friends and colleagues out there – PhD etiquette

I’ve noticed over the last few weeks an increasing number of my colleagues, friends and relatives asking questions like “How long until you finish?”

My response has generally been “how long is a ball of string”. After all, writing the thesis is a creative, knowledge intensive activity. Not one conducive to rational acts of planning and timetabling. Anyone who knows me should know how much I hate teleological design and prefer ateleological design (for more detail feel free to read other sections of the thesis completed recently on teleological processes and ateleological processes) – see some progress is being made.

In addition, you folk really should get a grip on the etiquette associated with thesis writing and PhD study in general. The following comic from Piled Higher and Deeper summarises it nicely.

PhD Etiquette

My second most common response to these rude, inconsiderate and ill-informed folk is “It’s all on the blog!”. If you really want to know how the PhD is going, please feel free to check out:

  • my PhD to do list;
    Newly updated today. This should give you an idea of how much stuff I think I have to do. Note: there is no connection with this volume and actual time.
  • my sequence of PhD updates; and
    Up to 14 (weekly) updates and counting.
  • the on-going list of posts based on thesis content.
    Most Many Some of the posts to my blog are filled with content straight from the thesis.

This should provide more than you ever need to know about “how the thesis is going?”.

So don’t ask!

Another ill-informed point about connectivism versus behaviourism and cognitivism

In a previous post I made public one of my half-baked ideas about connectivism. This was sparked by a similar public considerations by a colleague.

Another colleague commented on the apparent connections between aspects of connectivism and the work of Dave Snowden. I agree. The following is an excerpt from a talk given by Dave Snowden which I think is connected. Take a listen

We’re pattern matching intelligences – Dave Snowden

Do you see any connection between what Dave said in connection with the behavioural and cognitive families of learning theories?

My ill-informed interpretation of this is that these families of learning theories are based on a faulty model of human intelligence.

This isn’t to say that in certain circumstances with certain tasks and certain people these learning theories may well provide some useful results. Need to think on this some more.

Institutional learning and teaching strategies

The following is the next section of the Process component of the Ps Framework section of my thesis. I have an inkling that my bias towards ateleological processes comes through a bit strong in this. May have to balance it up with some additions later on.

Does anyone have some literature references that are friendly towards the idea of institutional learning and teaching strategies? (Beyond some of the following)

Institutional e-learning is the next section I’m working on.

Institutional learning and teaching strategies

The development institutional learning and teaching strategies are a recent phenomenon (Gibbs, Habeshaw et al. 2000) arising from many of the same pressures behind the increasing adoption of strategic planning approaches briefly discussed in the previous section. Changes in government funding approach contributed to universities becoming more strategic in their approach to learning and teaching, increasingly integrating and embedding such policies, and increasing the evaluation of teaching enhancement (Gibbs 2003). Responding to increasing demands for quality assurance of student learning has emerged as a major focus for many institutional strategies (Trowler, Fanghanel et al. 2005).

These drivers have contributed to university teaching becoming an object of policy with the definition of mission and specification goals becoming part of the definition of learning and teaching excellence (Clegg and Smith 2008). Universities create learning and teaching strategies to outline goals, priorities and actions aimed at improving learning and teaching (Radloff 2008). Learning and teaching improvement strategies become the focal point for self-regulation (Harvey and Newton 2004). Such strategies operate at the institutional level and enable the institution to publicly define its approach and drive internal reform (Clegg and Smith 2008).

Learning and teaching strategies, however, suffer many of the common problems associated with teleological processes as outlined above. Trowler (2002) points out that significant parts of the theoretical literature suggests that the operation of strategy is non-linear and unpredictable. The time scale associated with strategic plans means that strategic goals may become irrelevant as new opportunities and obstructions overtake the best laid plans (Gibbs, Habeshaw et al. 2000). However, government requirements for strategic plans expect clear statement of mission and long-term objectives (Cowburn 2005).

The relevance and importance of learning and teaching strategies to academics is significantly greater than other institutional strategies associated with human resources or facilities (Clegg and Smith 2008). The style and language used in strategies and policies impact how academic staff will react and the extent to which they will engage with these devices (Radloff 2008). Academic staff filter strategies and policies through their experiences, epistemologies and ideological beliefs (Fanghanel 2007). There may be only a weak relationship between how teachers make sense of challenges and respond to cultural pressures and rationally derived analyses and plans (Gibbs, Habeshaw et al. 2000). Academics at on UK university – when considering a learning and teaching strategy judged by management to be successful – report limited ownership of the strategy, consider it to have unrealistic goals, perceive it to threaten their autonomy, report that it contributes further to strategy overload, lacks any acknowledgement of local contexts, and that it symbolizes the bureaucratization of teaching (Newton 2003).

The assumption that learning and strategies are necessarily aligned with the other strategic foci of the institution is not always correct (Clegg and Smith 2008). Different institutional strategies focused on different aspects of the institutions’ operation often seek to achieve diverse purposes. The different aims and objectives of these different strategic plans increase misalignment and conflict (Cowburn 2005). Clegg and Smith (2008) use the example of UK government research evaluation policies that pressure academic staff to conentrate on research at the expense of teaching to illustrate the role government policies play in increasing this misalignment and conflict.

While there are those that aspire to the development of a blueprint for learning and teaching strategy, Newton (2003) suggests that there is no such blueprint and the search for one is flawed, even naïve. Clegg and Smith (2008) conclude that strategy is non-linear, the site of multiple contradictions, and work that is “accomplished through rhetorical forms in which desiring is as important as rational argument”. The development of improved teaching and learning practices is most likely to occur via collective and collaborative approaches that result in change processes that are contingent and contextualized and outcomes that are unpredictable and fuzzy (Knight and Trowler 2000). There is recognition that innovative and quality teaching can only be achieved through the use of a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content and pedagogy to develop appropriate context specific strategies (Mishra and Koehler 2006).


Clegg, S. and K. Smith (2008). "Learning, teaching and assessment strategies in higher education: contradictions of genre and desiring." Research Papers in Education.

Cowburn, S. (2005). "Strategic planning in higher education: fact or fiction?" Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education 9(4): 103-109.

Fanghanel, J. (2007). "Local responses to institutional policy: a discursive approach to positioning." Studies in Higher Education 32(2): 187-205.

Gibbs, G. (2003). "Implementing learning and teaching strategies." from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/implementing_learning_and_teaching_strategies.

Gibbs, G., T. Habeshaw, et al. (2000). "Institutional learning and teaching strategies in English higher education." Higher Education 40(3): 351-372.

Harvey, L. and J. Newton (2004). "Transforming quality evaluation." Quality in Higher Education 10(2): 149-165.

Knight, P. and P. Trowler (2000). "Department-level Cultures and the Improvement of Learning and Teaching." Studies in Higher Education 25(1): 69-83.

Mishra, P. and M. Koehler (2006). "Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge." Teachers College Record 108(6): 1017-1054.

Newton, J. (2003). "Implementing an institution-wide learning and teaching strategy: lessons in managing change." Studies in Higher Education 28(4): 427-441.

Radloff, A. (2008). Engaging staff in quality learning and teaching: What’s a Pro Vice Chancellor to do? HERDSA’2008.

Trowler, P. (2002). Higher education policy and institutional change: Intentions and outcomes in turbulent environments. Buckingham, SRHE and Open University Press.

Trowler, P., J. Fanghanel, et al. (2005). "Freeing the chi of change: the Higher Education Academy and enhancing teaching and learning in higher education." Studies in Higher Education 30(4): 427-444.

Quality, compliance and task corruption

Within the next year AUQA are coming to pay a visit to my institution to “check our quality”. I am a major cynic when it comes to quality assurance or the various other associated buzz words. An organisational unit I joined was big on the whole quality stuff, and while it was certified it was my view that most of what it was certified to do was completely and utterly wrong for the organisation. Not to mention that it was inefficient, badly designed and we had consultants reports to tell us that (not just our own views).

In my thesis literature travels I came across this quote

These studies reinforce the view that quality is about compliance and accountability and has, in itself, contributed little to any effective transformation of the student learning experience. (Harvey and Newton, 2004)


My suggestion, based on local observations, is that quality assurance quickly descends into prescription from management and the quality folk and that this prescription is soon met with the appearance of compliance but the reality of task corruption.

I see this happening in the local context now. A small group of people are identifying what needs to be done to comply with AUQA’s visit. They are now asking/prescribing folk throughout the institution to do lots of things in preparation for the visit. The people asked to carry out these tasks are annoyed that they are being asked to perform these one off tasks on top of everything else they do and are consequently seeking to comply with the requirements with the minimum of effort – though with a maximum of complaining.

This brings me back to my point about reflective alignment (my knock off and remixing of Biggs’ constructive alignment) and prescription. Quality assurance has become about level 2 of reflective alignment – what management does.

Quality never transforms, in my experience, because it never embeds itself within the journey of staff. It’s always a bolt on because the quality folk think more about the destination prescribed by quality than about the teaching and learning.

Another quote to end from Radloff (2008)

Academic staff attitudes towards the ‘quality agenda’ can also act as an obstacle to engagement. Staff may question the institutional approach to quality which they perceive as compliance driven creating ‘busy work’ (Anderson 2006; Harvey & Newton 2004; Laughton 2003) with little positive impact on teaching practice and student learning experiences (Harvey 2006). They may therefore try to avoid, subvert or actively reject attempts to implement quality systems and processes. As Jones and de Saram (2005, p. 48) note, “It is relatively easy to develop a system and sets of procedures for quality assurance and improvement on paper. To produce a situation where staff on campus ‘buy into’ this in an authentic and energetic manner is much more difficult”.


Harvey, L. and J. Newton (2004). “Transforming quality evaluation.” Quality in HIgher Education 10(2): 149-165.

Radloff, A. (2008). Engaging staff in quality learning and teaching: What’s a Pro Vice Chancellor to do? HERDSA’2008.

An ill-informed observation on connectivism and other learning theories

A friend and colleague is engaged in some thinking about connectivism and its relationship with other learning theories. Thinking that is informed, sparked and perhaps somewhat unanswered by a post from George Siemens.

Damien and I talked briefly about this today and I let fly with an ill-informed opinion. I thought I’d share it here and hope that someone will point out the errors in my assumptions. I’ve been aware of the connectivism stuff for a while but have not taken the time to fully understand it. One of my tasks post the PhD thesis. I am, however, a potential fan of the approach as the following may indicate.

Disclaimer: This is a complex question and this little post will not cover everything (not the least because I’m somewhat clueless in the topic). In fact, I’m focusing on just one point. This post is perhaps the best example in my blog of me sharing a half-baked idea.

Fire away!

What’s a difference with connectivism?

I suggest that a major difference between connectivism and the other learning theories (broadly behaviourism, cognitivsm and constructivism) is that connectivism is based on assumptions that actually match what happens in the human brain. i.e. the functioning of the brain matches the assumptions within connectivism. As learning must, I think, involve the brain somewhat a theory of learning that connects with how the brain operates is important.

Behaviorism assumes that learning is a black box. It doesn’t even attempt to understand it. It focuses on what we can see.

Cognitivism assumes the brain/rationality works a bit like a computer. The brain is a symbol processor.

I’m not aware of constructivism making any specific claims connecting learning with how the brain works. It just assumes we learn by constructing meaning, but doesn’t mention how the brain does this.

See what I mean about me being clueless in this area yet?

Where as my understanding of connectivism is that it is closely related to modern ideas about how the brain works.

Gotta go

You only get this type of education in class – mythic attributes of the lecture

All the brilliant breakthroughs in modern medicine and in communication technologies have developed via this process. You only get this type of education in class. — Professor Tor Hundloe

It seems the Sunday Mail is mining the minor vein of controversy gold provided by the “online lecture” movement. Last week I posted about an article that suggested that attending lectures was old school. i.e. that students weren’t going to face-to-face lectures because they are available online. The above quote comes from another article (Fraser, 2009) in the most recent issue of this Sunday paper.

The article is built around the forthright opinions of Emeritus Professor Tor Hundloe. Opinions which support the newspaper’s previous line that “online lectures” were bad for attendance and that the move by universities towards increasing their availability should be stopped. In this case

A LEADING Brisbane academic is refusing to post lecture material on the web, as part of his campaign for colleagues to halt the “dumbing down” of universities.

Of course, if conflict sells newspapers and journalists need good copy, finding respected academics who disagree with the decisions or directions of their university is a fairly easy route. Just this weekend I came across this quote from Gibbs et al (2000)

academics cannot be
expected to adopt strategies ‘off the shelf’ – after all, they are trained not to
accept propositions uncritically.

Over the weekend we had some friends over for dinner (pizzas informed by this book – the dessert pizza was a big success), one of whom is a university academic. She’d seen this article and was laughing at the opinions of Professor Hundloe.

That’s somewhat understanable when the article finishes with this

Prof Hundloe wants other educators to contact him if they want to help “rebuild the universities as a place of scholarship”.

Given my experience with journalists I’ll give Prof Hundloe the benefit of the doubt. I think there’s a bit of a stretch between online lectures and this sentiment.

Originally, this post was going to have a bit of a laugh at this out-moded/limited thinking. As it turned out it became something different. It’s become the first major step in trying to make concrete some rambling thoughts I have about moving the use of technology in lectures forward a bit. Frankly, I think most current applications of technology to the lecture are a bit like horseless carriages.

Face-to-face teaching: the best and only way to teach

Way back in 1996, as a very early career academic in information technology, I traveled to Barcelona for my first ACM SIGCSE conference to present this paper (Jones, 1996) about teaching university level information technology courses by distance education. The conference was essentially North American and while there were a sprinkling of folk from outside the USA, the predominant population were academics for US universities.

One of the major differences of this conference from other conferences was the presence of working groups who met before, during and after the conference to work on a specific report that was then published. During the conference each working group would present “progress report” posters on what they were doing. This was a great, though often frustrating experience (the 1996 conference was the first time they did it), that helped forge a collaboration between myself and an Irish colleague.

From a work perspective, my longest lasting memory of the working groups was a discussion with one US academic about distance education. It was essentially the same as quote from Professor Hundloe that led off this post. Essentially, the US academic believed that distance education was a second class education and that there were many topics that just could not be taught by distance education.

This was surprising to me because for the previous 6 years I’d been seeing distance education students study a broad array of topics. Not to mention that generally, the distance education students always did much better than the on-campus students. It also surprised me because I thought it was fairly common to know of academics teaching courses where the students did well in spite of the teacher, not because of the teacher. The idea of a “face-to-face” education being the best and only way to teach, regardless of the teacher, just seemed silly to me.

Pattern entrainment

Dave Snowden has given me the term “pattern entrainment” for the tendency for peoples conceptions to be limited, entrained based on the successes of the past. What has worked for us in the past, becomes the source of all our thinking about the future.

From this perspective (and I’m making a leap here based on not really knowing the individuals), it is not surprising to see Professor Hundloe and my US academic not being able to see the value or purpose of something that falls outside their experience. If all you’ve ever experienced is face-to-face lectures, then that’s what you value. This appears to be the same problem leading the Sunday Mail to bleat about the inappropriateness of students not attending lectures.

It’s pattern entrainment which I see as a major cause for the “horseless carriage” approach to harnessing technology, for learning or other tasks. People are some entrained in thinking by their experience with horse-drawn carriages as a mode of transport, when the idea of engines replacing horses comes along the keep everything the same and just plonk the engine in where the horse used to be.

If you want to really get the most out of technology, there is a need to rethink these patterns, to re-consider the unspoken assumptions and see if there are better ways.

This reminds me of a “quote” I first read when taking a Machine Intelligence course in the early 1990s. I’ve found it again online here but haven’t bothered to track the original source.

“Imitation of nature is bad engineering,” he answered patiently. “For centuries inventors tried to fly by emulating birds, and they killed themselves uselessly. If you want to make something that flies, flapping your wings is not the way to do it. You bolt a 400-horsepower engine to a barn door, that’s how you fly. You can look at birds forever and never discover this secret. You see, Mother Nature has never developed the Boeing 707. Why not? Because Nature didn’t need anything that would fly that fast and that high. How would such an animal feed itself?”

If the only organisms you observe flying do so by flapping their wings/arms then that’s the pattern you’re familiar with. So you try to fly by flapping your wings. What if the only university learning you have observed is the lecture? What do you try to do when you teach?

Along similar lines, what do you do when technology comes along? Powerpoint? Non-interactive online lectures?

Mythic aspects of technology

Which brings me to Postman’s 5 things to know about technological change (a copy of the original is available) and in particular #5

Technology becomes mythic, it becomes seen as part of the natural order of things.

What post meant by the use of “mythic” was “to refer to a common tendency to think of our technological creations as if they were God-given, as if they were a part of the natural order of things”. He gives an example of asking his students if they know when the alphabet was invented and this giving them a start. They’d assumed it had always been there.

What are the mythic features of a lecture? I’d already developed a bit of a list, but the notebook is at home, so let’s go again. Some of these don’t always hold, but pretty much do for the stereotypical lecture at a university.

  • Participants
    • Producer/consumer
      An expert produces the lecture and a larger number of people consume it.
    • Limited interaction or participation.
      Consumers active participation is generally limited.
  • Physical space
    • Physical co-location
      The producer/consumers are located in the same physical space.
    • Institution provision of the physical space.
      The physical space is owned by the institution or some other organisation. Rarely do participants reside in a personal space.
    • Every space is a stage.
      The physical spaces are designed around the producer. Around the assumption that the consumers sit there consuming.
  • Time
    • Synchronous.
      Producer/consumers congregate and participate at the same time.
    • Limited.
      The amount of time available for a lecture is typically constrained to multiples of an hour.
    • One-way.
      You can’t rewind and replay time in a physical lecture. It always moves forward.
    • One off.
      What happens in a lecture is history. It’s a one off. If you weren’t there you missed it. (Perhaps related to the previous one).

What else is there? What mythic features don’t I see?

Aside: Jones (2007) – no relation – includes a section on the “Origin and evolution of the lecture”

Horseless carriage lectures

Technology has been applied to the lecture e.g. powerpoint. But that doesn’t change any of the above assumptions. There are two main applications of technology to the lecture at my current institution that change any of the above mythic assumptions of a lecture. They are:

  1. Video-conferencing lectures.
    My current institution has a “interactive system-wide lecture” system that allows the producer on one campus to give a lecture to students at a number of other campuses. This practice loosens the “physical co-location” assumption, but only a bit.
  2. “Online” lectures.
    i.e. recording the lectures (audio or video) and placing them online. This breaks a number of the assumptions: physical co-location, synchronous, one-way, and one-off.

However, both these approaches suffer some problems. In particular, the come against Postman’s 2nd thing to know about technological change

There are always winners and losers in a technological change.

Both of the above place further constrains on interaction and participation. In the case of “online” lectures there is generally no interaction. On the question of interaction, clickers are probably the most common response. But they suffer the problem of co-location, most don’t work across mutliple, physically separate sites of a video-conference lecture.

Both, depending on implementation, also increase the constraints of institutional provision of space. Recently, my current institution was running out of rooms to give and receive video-conference lectures. More recently the network connection to one of the campuses was down (and continues to operate somewhat below expectations) causing significant constraints for both online and video-conference lectures.

As you might tell, while I’ve used both the above approaches, I’ve been wondering if we can do better.

Other approaches

There are folk doing different things. The first one is Carleton University’s project called Video Notes and described in this session (and podcast) from EDUCAUSE’2008. A shorter description is available on the blog of their technology partner.

What I like about this application of technology is that it starts to increase the participation of the consumer. But not by having the producer change what they do. This approach allows the consumer to do things without the control of the producer, it’s a move towards creating the lecture as a “Web 2.0 object” that allows others to play.

What troubles me about this approach is that it is a “one ring to rule them all” product model. The manipulation of the lecture and sharing of those manipulations is still only possible within the one system. There’s still some constraint. There’s also the problem that most of the lectures are still being originally given within the institution’s original lecture theatres and subsequently suffers the same limitations – they can only be created one a room is free, they can only last for a multiple of an hour etc.

I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to start doing this sort of thing with a more social media/Edupunk ethos. An approach that enables, when appropriate, for more of the mythic assumptions of the lecture to be broken. An approach that loosely couples a range of common technologies in appropriate, participant led and emergent ways.

Currently, I’m aware of some experiments being done by Tony Hirst. In particular, experiments with Twitter sub-titled YouTube videos.

Are there other examples of similar work that I don’t know about?

What I’ve been thinking

After some real blue sky, uninformed reflection/dreaming I’ve been wondering about the following possibilities. They assume that most/all participants have decent network connections, computers, the ability and interest to apply it – some very big assumptions.

The current idea:

  • Anyone can use their laptop, camera and ustream.tv like services to prepare and disseminate a “lecture”. As well as providing a long term copy.
  • Twitter or similar could be used for syncrhonous and post-event commenting. Video annotation services could do this as well.
  • Perhaps look at using Twitter as the network infrastructure for clickers.
    In addition to comments, use some sort of online clicker that allows for the producer to ask and collate responses from the consumers.

The aim here isn’t to be exclusive, i.e. only ustream or only twitter, participants could use what they want. But provide mechanisms to bring them together in a way that breaks some of the mythic assumptions of lectures.

It’s still very early days

Why bother?

10 years ago, I would have been asking myself exactly this question. “Lecture suck, why are you trying to fix problems with a broken approach”, I would’ve asked – though probably not as subtly. I know a number of people who would prefer to take the radical route and remove the lecture entirely.

However, my experience over the last 10 years has reinforced that attempting to get radical change from academics is difficult and counter-productive. The article the sparked this post is an example of that and people aren’t talking about replacing lectures, just adding another option. Imagine the reaction if replacement was suggested.

In addition, I agree with the point that Stephen Downes made here about students being conservative. Students think university education is about lectures, they feel they are missing out on something if they don’t get lectures. They’d complain more that academic staff if it were suggested to remove lectures entirely.

I’m also a believer in ateleological processes that emphasise gradual, on-going change. In my experience, it’s only more accepted and used, but it also results in much more surprising results than a teleological/purpose driven process.

More reading

As time progresses I’m hoping to do something in this area, but it depends on the new job and the local context. In the meantime, the following is just some of the reading I need to follow up on.

Jones, S. (2007). “Reflections on the lecture: outmoded medium or instrument of inspiration?” Journal of Further and Higher Education 31(4): 397-406.

Mann, S. and A. Robinson (2009). “Boredom in the lecture theatre: an investigation into the contributors, moderators and outcomes of boredom amongst university students.” British Educational Research Journal 35(2): 243-258.

And for a more “boosterish” story about technology’s impacts on lectures

Any other pointers to relevant literature?

A final word

For a final word and as a response to the quote that started this post, I’d like to turn to Samuel Johnson (my emphasis added) to this quote

People have now-a-days got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do so much as reading the books from which the lectures are taken. I know nothing that can be best taught by lectures, except where experiments are to be shewn. You may teach chemistry by lectures:– You might teach the making of shoes by lectures!

Of course, I’m not entirely certain this is a quote from Johnson and my assumptions about quotes have previously been proven wrong.


Kelmeny Fraser, Lectures backlash – Leading academic snubs net, Sunday Mail, 7 June 2009, p44

Gibbs, G., T. Habeshaw, et al. (2000). “Institutional learning and teaching strategies in English higher education.” Higher Education 40(3): 351-372.

Jones, D. (1996). Computing by distance education: Problems and solutions. Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education. G. Davies. Barcelona, Spain, ACM: 139-146.

Jones, S. (2007). “Reflections on the lecture: outmoded medium or instrument of inspiration?” Journal of Further and Higher Education 31(4): 397-406.