e-Learning and implications for New Zealand schools: A literature review

Publication Details

This e-Learning literature review examined texts across a range of countries, but within a relatively short time frame of the preceding five years. A range of criteria were used to select or eliminate studies for closer review (see Methodology and Methods section). Some key terms are defined for the purpose of this review: outcomes, e-Learning, tools, affordances, Web 2.0.

Author(s): Noeline Wright, Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, School of Education, The University of Waikato. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: July 2010

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Executive Summary

In terms of international evidence:

  • There is an international doxa about e-Learning's inherent benefits to learners. It masks a relatively small amount of actual evidence about its relationship to improved educational and life chances for students.
  • The provision of a tool isn't enough, if people don't know what it's for or how to use it, but having them available can precipitate more effective learning relationships (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2005). Perhaps this suggests what teachers need to understand how to get the best out of e-Learning tools: time, space, place, opportunity, and intellectual energy.
  • There is a trend emerging in the literature about the importance of teachers' active presence and roles in classrooms using e-Learning tools.
  • e-Learning tools can motivate and engage students. These may be critical factors leading to improved educational outcomes.

In the national context:

  • Many young people are technologically literate regarding social networking and using mobile technologies as everyday tools, but they may still be neophytes when it comes to understanding how to use them in purposeful and educationally oriented ways.
  • Learning in an e-Learning-rich environment may make peer and collaborative learning opportunities easier, thus supporting students' cognitive, affective and social interactions. These ways of working also appear to suit many New Zealand students, including Maori (as outlined in documents such as Key Evidence, Ministry of Education, 2008; Bishop and Berryman, 2006) and Pasifika (Franken, May, & McComish 2005). These ways of working may lead to improved educational outcomes.
  • The prevalence of e-Learning technologies as natural ways of working in technologically-rich New Zealand schools point to ways in which traditional learning (literacy, numeracy) can be achieved in highly motivating ways. Some of these schools demonstrate both the power of an authentic audience for students' work, and how a school's prevailing ethos about the social and pedagogical frameworks important to learning, becomes a critical factor for success.

In terms of pedagogy and e-Learning:

  • e-Learning and collaborative/co-constructive pedagogies appear to be linked.
  • The dynamics of classrooms change when e-Learning is part of the regular learning environment.
  • Using these pedagogies – that also foster interaction and co-operation - appear to lead to effective learning and better teacher/student relationships.
  • Preventing access in schools to mobile technologies or firewalling some sites does not teach effective and critical uses of these technologies that students have ready access to outside of school.
  • Gaming/virtual world technologies and mobile phones potentially have a lot to offer education.

In terms of critical thinking and multiliteracies:

  • Critical thinking is related to multiliteracies. It is the development of the facility to understand aspects of texts such as agency, motivation, gaps and silences, and political and economic agendas. It is also about purposeful and reflective judgement, involving determining meaning and significance of phenomena, including different kinds of texts. This deliberate critical stance is as important to e-Learning texts as it is to the critique of traditional texts, because it is about higher order thinking skills: Thinking is a Key Competency in the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC).
  • Pedagogies that feature collaboration and problem-solving tend to involve students in higher order thinking, and support them to retain learning long after they first meet new content and concepts. Through such practices, students are encouraged to talk, pose questions, take risks, experiment, reflect and share ideas. They may even be better at using metacognitive strategies if they have been taught these over time. These same pedagogies appear to link to e-Learning opportunities.
  • 'Multiliteracies' is a term coined by the New London Group in order to describe what constitutes literacy in the 21st century. The term acknowledges the idea of textual multiplicity. This idea encompasses the technological explosion of what constitutes a text, and considers this in relation to cultural and linguistic diversity and what it means to be literate. Another facet of this definition refers to the agency of making meaning: that this can be a critical factor in social change. Multiliteracies thus closely link to e-Learning affordances and provide opportunities for students to learn in ways that have become natural for them.

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