1 Introduction

E-learning and education for the future


Sven Åke Bjørke, University of Agder, Norway, June 2016 (revised version)


gregI keep meeting teachers who think they do e-learning if they make a power point available online. I also have encountered teachers who regard computers as enemies of teaching. They see machines acting as barriers between human beings who are adapted to communicate face-to-face – not through screens

There are school administrators who say that “Now, when your students are studying online, you, their teacher, have plenty of time to teach yet another class on campus”.

Myths about online education

There are many myths about online education. One persistent myth is that the only quality-assured way of teaching in tertiary education is the traditional lecture-based way of doing it. This in spite of the fact that the learning outcomes might not necessarily improve with an increasing number of lectures. Another myth claims that online education is distant, lonely, anti-social, alienating with too little feedback and corrections.

High learning outcomes

How do you know you teach and learn what matters? How do you ensure high learning outcomes online? Are your students trained in how to learn, unlearn and relearn – these important skills for the Information age ? The technology does not help much in this respect. Quality education depends on the quality of the input in the form of content and the pedagogical process, whether online or on-campus. To create good online learning environments, you need structure, appropriate learning activities and interaction. In addition you also need an engaged and competent teacher. A good learning environment should be perceived as socially intense and near. To achieve that, you have to be conscious of what pedagogical methods you use. Good online education is not distant, it is close-up. Good education is so much more than just transfer of information. Information literacy, critical, creative thinking, communication and collaborative skills are additional crucial factors. Education needs to be more learning than technology driven to succeed. The magic of dazzling technology must be matched with appropriate pedagogy.

Transformative pedagogy for sustainable education

One of the crucial issues that matter in education for the future, is how to reconcile our environment and the limited resources of our planet with a growing human population and increasing demands for material consumption. The quest for sustainable development requires changes in attitudes, and intercultural and global cooperation. The combination of ICT and transformative pedagogy can be efficient tools for such change.

Traditional education -transmission of information from teacher to students – is probably  inadequate to meet the challenges of global environmental crises. Education for sustainable development demands a new, transformational pedagogy. Traditional education systems are to some degree based on “Copy, Cram and Reproduce” or the “CCR-pedagogy”: Paulo Freire calls it the “Banking pedagogy”

Education for sustainable development should emphasize concrete and relevant knowledge, learning by doing, encourage creativity, information literacy, collaborative and cultural competence, individual and team management, ecological ethics, economic and social responsibility.

Modern technologies can be important tools to achieve sustainable development. The new pedagogy must consequently be adapted to new communication realities connecting the entire globe in an ever closer electronic network.

Development in a true sense is reaching a state of resilient, sustainable livelihoods with healthy and robust ecosystems rather than just increased consumption of stuff. Secondly, development does not have to go through stages. People can take short-cuts, or leapfrog over stages of development. A stunning example is the rapid dissemination in the use of mobile phones all over Africa

It should be possible to implement the state of the art online education technology in large parts of Africa and Asia, almost as rapidly as it happened with the mobile phones.


Broadband capacity is still an issue. A pedagogical challenge is to find solutions that make online education work despite outages – and affordable to ordinary people. Online education does not have to be synchronous, with live video streaming and same-time interaction between students and teachers. Asynchronous e-learning can be just as effective, or work even better than the more technologically demanding synchronous modes

The technology of ICT emphasizes communication while e-learning adds peer interaction, tutor guidance, and a holistic view on education. In addition to computer skills, the teacher needs the more advanced competence of being able to combine subject mastery with appropriate learning activities, progression, assessment, quality assurance, grading system and student support system – all required to ensure the achievement of learning objectives or learning outcomes.

A main pedagogical e-tool is asynchronous, threaded discussions arranged in a discussion forum in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The asynchronous mode is less demanding on broadband capacity than the synchronous alternatives and enables an intercontinental study programme to overcome complex time frames.

Asynchronous interaction encourages reflection and gives room for information gathering and critical assessment before expressing opinions. The otherwise more timid participants are more easily included and it allows those with externally fixed schedules to participate. It seems that asynchronous, tutor-guided, peer interaction is conducive to cross-cultural and cross gender communication. Otherwise quiet women raised in patriarchal societies realize after some weeks that nobody can prevent them from contributing as equals.

Transformation and collaboration

Transformative, collaborative pedagogy is probably decisive for building good online learning environments. This approach also encourages information literacy, creativeness and critical thinking. These may be crucial factors for our ability to meet the challenges of a seemingly imminent global, economic and environmental crisis and to steer development in a sustainable direction.

Life-long learning

In an increasingly globalised world, with an increasingly rapid knowledge accumulation, it is increasingly important to learn, unlearn and relearn. The competence  gained in a master degree study or a Phd  will at least partly become obsolete in a few years. To stay in the same place, you have to update yourself continuosly. To go somewhere else, you must run twice as fast, as the queen in Wonderland said to Alice.

To all companies competing in a global market, updating and increasing competence is a must. Life-long learning – relevant, current, available at any time and at any place – is unavoidable. Ineffective but expensive week-end courses at hotels will most likely disappear, and be replaced by online or blended courses that can be taken at convenient hours during the week.

The ongoing and rapid development of robotization, creates havoc in many traditional employment systems

Even though technology may not destroy jobs in aggregate, it does force change upon many people. Between 1996 and 2015 the share of the American workforce employed in routine office jobs declined from 25.5% to 21%, eliminating 7m jobs. According to research by Pascual Restrepo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the 2007-08 financial crisis made things worse: between 2007 and 2015 job openings for unskilled routine work suffered a 55% decline relative to other jobs. In many occupations it has become essential to acquire new skills as established ones become obsolete…A college degree at the start of a working career does not answer the need for the continuous acquisition of new skills, especially as career spans are lengthening. Vocational training is good at giving people job-specific skills, but those, too, will need to be updated over and over again during a career lasting decades.
Economist (Jan 2017) Learning and earning: Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative. Technological change demands stronger and more continuous connections between education and employment

One of the issues coming up is whether companies are willing to pay for continuous education for their employees, or if they expect their employees to keep their competence up to date themselves.

Read more

Next: Quality Education


Home  About  1 Introduction  2 Quality education  3 E-pedagogy
4 Self-instructional   5 Collaborative    6 Make courses
7 Design VLEs   8 Assessment  9 Transition  10  ToC