Myths of e-learning

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The list of common myths about e-learning presented below is based on a number of past papers and publications, as listed at the end of the page, but has been added to over time.

► E-learning saves money.

It doesn't. It's resource- and labour-intensive for both staff and students. Its advantages are pedagogical, (multi-)cultural and perhaps geographic, but not economic. However, while it is a mistake to see e-learning as a cheap alternative to face-to-face classes, there is no doubt that e-learning courses can be economically viable, as is currently being demonstrated all over the world.

► E-learning is a methodology.

It's not. It's a technology. It can be used in the service of philosophies and methodologies from across the educational spectrum, ranging from transmission and behaviourist pedagogies (see web 1.0) through to social constructivist pedagogy (see web 2.0).

► E-learning is constructivist.

This is a more specific version of Myth 2. It's not true for the same reason that Myth 2 is not true. E-learning can be constructivist, and often is, but it doesn't have to be.

► E-learning is for anyone, anywhere, any time.

This myth ignores the digital divide and downplays the cultural capital - including the digital literacy skills - necessary to engage actively with the online experience. It also ignores the fact that e-learning technologies reflect the Western bias of their creators and original developers.

► E-learning is what the net generation wants.

Referring to the younger generation as the "net generation" implies that all young people are digitally literate and suggests they are comfortable with online education. Research shows such assumptions of homogeneity are misplaced - and that many students, young and old, prefer traditional pedagogical approaches and want least some face-to-face contact.

► E-learning can replace face-to-face learning.

Face-to-face learning and e-learning both have their advantages. That's why many educators are now exploring blended learning models which capitalise on their complementary strengths. On the other hand, in situations where face-to-face contact is not viable, e-learning may make a course possible where it could not otherwise exist - and as many educators are discovering, there are great pedagogical advantages to assembling multicultural classes in a virtual space.

► E-learning can replace teachers.

In some transmission and behaviourist models, this is true up to a point. In constructivist models, e-learning replaces the classroom, not the teacher; teachers and students continue to interact through the additional channels of communication provided by e-learning technologies.

► E-learning is about speed.

A lot of e-learning is about slowing down the learning process, giving participants time and space to reflect on interactions (e.g., on discussion boards) or to draft and redraft work (e.g., on wikis).

► E-learning is about flexibility.

It's about flexibility of time and geography, not about flexibility of learning. Few of the most important learning experiences are completely flexible, since they require organisation, structure and sheer hard work!

► E-learning is about multitasking.

This may be true with some tools (such as IM or social networking) which are typically used in conjunction with other tools, but it certainly isn't true of all e-learning. Nor is it clear that multitasking is beneficial: while there may be advantages in terms of lateral thinking and making connections across fields, research to date strongly suggests it is less efficient than tackling tasks serially. However, given that learning does rewire the brain over time, the jury's still out on this one.

► E-learning is facilitated, not taught.

Facilitation is only one part of what online teachers do. Their roles are extremely demanding, as they must balance organisational, didactic (traditional teaching) and facilitation roles. They also become technicians, counsellors, cheerleaders ...

Credits: The video slideshow at the top right was made using the Animoto service; the original is accessible here. The list of myths above has its basis in the following papers and publications:

Pegrum, M. (2005). Speed kills: Slowing down online language teacher training. In B. Beaven (Ed.), IATEFL 2005: Cardiff Conference Selections (156-158). Canterbury: IATEFL.

Pegrum, M. (2005). Online learning: Fallacies, fibs and fables. Opening guest presentation at UWA Library Teaching and Learning Showcase, Graduate School of Management, University of Western Australia, 9 November.

Pegrum, M. (2006). E-Learning: From hype to hope. Paper presented at Learning Technologies in the Language Classroom: A Step Closer to the Future, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus, 26-28 May.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki page. This is very much a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation and content. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.