Verlag Hans Huber, Hogrefe AG, Bern, 2009
Reviewer: Claudia Schrader & Theo Bastiaens, FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany
E-Learning: Theorien, Gestaltungsempfehlungen und Forschung by Günter Daniel Rey from the Julius Maximilian University Würzburg, Germany, is published by Verlag Hans Huber, Bern. The overall goal of the book is to provide teachers, learners, researchers as well as practitioners with a comprehensive overview of electronic learning (e-learning). The author does that with primarily a focus on the psychological side of how people learn with educational technologies and media. The book consists of five chapters with a subject index at the end.
Chapter 1 starts with an introduction that aims to define the key term ‘electronic learning’ in contrast to traditional classroom learning. E-learning is defined as interactive learning from spoken or printed words as well as from static or animated pictures or videos with the help of technologies. The introduction part is followed by an overview of current technological possibilities that enable e-learning, for example e-books, iPods, netbooks and e-lectures. The author distinguishes and discusses, from a teacher’s point of view, these technologies on two basic characteristics namely the way of presenting- and organizing learning information. With that, important characteristics as for example the amount of interactivity of technology or possible collaboration possibilities are overlooked. However, due to the emergence, the development and the widespread use of new communication and collaboration technologies (known as Web 2.0), it is, in our opinion, more important that e-learning also becomes more social and interactive for learners. One can think of accessible web technology like podcasting that also offers learners the option to actively create and develop sound files by themselves. Another example is an advanced web conferencing system that, used as synchronous online collaboration tool via the internet, increasingly is being implemented in e-learning (Czerwionka, Klebl, Schrader, 2009 [i]). The author doesn’t recognize these important new aspects of e-learning at all. Chapter one ends with a more critical section and introduces the limitations of scientific research on e-learning and provides suggestions for the advancement of empirical research in this field of e-learning. Indisputable, this part gives a good overview of research questions, outcomes and empirical limitations. However, it’s a pity that this overview is not timely. The critical aspects mentioned are well known and mainly based on the early days of e-learning. The field has evolved in a highly complex research field. It has to be considered that the initial research was a necessary first step in this direction.
The second chapter deals with the conceptual foundations of e-learning. It presents a comprehensive overview of learning theories as well as six (in this field well known) cognitive theories of how people learn. The Cognitive Load Theory (Sweller) and the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Mayer) focus on the limitation of human cognitive capacity for learning with multimedia. The author also presents alternative approaches like the Cognitive Flexibility Theory (Spiro) and the DeFT-framework (Ainsworth), which address mainly different aspects of learning due to multiple representations. Furthermore, the frameworks from Najjar as well as Hede are presented. These frameworks cover and combine the different aspects of multimedia learning like instructional design and usability of learning material and media, individual learner characteristics like motivation or intelligence as well as cognitive learning processes.
Chapter 3 complements chapter 2. It offers implications for instructional design of multimedia learning environments (e.g. hypertexts, pictures, animations, or computer-based simulations) by summarizing empirical research in multimedia learning. By providing design features that affect learning and link it with the earlier mentioned theoretical cognitive frameworks of chapter 2, the dominant premise of the chapter is that multimedia learning environments should be designed in ways that are consistent with what is known about how people learn best. Further, the chapter takes a closer look at learner characteristics like prior knowledge and spatial sense, since these are seen as important variables for successful e-learning initiatives
Chapter 4 focuses on methodological issues. This chapter follows the empirical cycle through the generation of empirical questions, the development of experimental design, the process of data collection and statistical analyses. The process of data collection, more special requirements and suitable methods for the analysis are discussed. The ‘methodological issues’ part of the book is a valuable resource to help students accomplish their own experimental studies. However, the chapter is quite short and can probably be used as a guideline or as a general overview of which steps have to be taken.
In the concluding chapter, Günter Daniel Rey reports on current as well as further directions of e-learning research. Highlighted are more ‘prominent and futuristic’ technologies like adaptive learning environments, collaborative environments as well as digital games.
What is the added value of the book?
The book is a valuable resource for all who want to get just a short and concise overview about e-learning. The author presents, from a psychological point of view, experimental research in this field in a critical way. However, it’s a pity that the content presented here is not state of the art. As mentioned earlier in the review of chapter 1, along with the distribution of new group applications and Web 2.0 services also online collaboration has become an important function of human-computer interaction and is with that dominant for e-learning. Subsequently, next to the issues of effectiveness and efficiency of presented instructional design approaches and the influence of learner characteristics for e-learning in chapter 3, it is also necessary to conduct research on social aspects of collaborative learning and working in human computer interaction. The author doesn’t include this when he gives a short summary concerning collaborative learning at the end of the book.
[i] Czerwionka, T.; Klebl, M.; & Schrader, C. : Lecturing Tomorrow: Virtual Classrooms, User Centred Requirements and Evaluative Methods. In: Ebner, M.; Schiefner, M. (Eds.): Looking Toward the Future of Technology Enhanced Education: Ubiquitous Learning and the Digital Native. Idea Group Inc (ICI): Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA, 2009.