Constructivism 8: Challenges of Elearning

In the next article in this series, we’ll explore Mindtools in detail. In preparation, today’s post outlines some of the challenges of elearning in the Constructivist context. In 2001, David Jonassen argued that “most e-learning replicates the worst features of face-to-face instruction. So, it may be cheaper to ‘deliver’ knowledge over the Internet, but it will not be more effective” (“Interview with Professor David Jonassen”, 2001). He correctly identified that at the time e-learning was on the ascender of the hype curve, and that e-learning was being perceived as the latest panacea for all of businesses ills (2001). Jonasson considered that one of the elements of “substantive change in businesses and universities is to care enough about learning to invest the effort to truly understand its requirements and to create meaningful learning experiences to engage them” (2001). However, as businesses in particular, but also third-level institutions operate from the demands of the “bottom line …meaningful learning” (2001) was seen as being simply too expensive to produce. “So, both entities tell their learners about the world and expect them to fill in all of the gaps required to be able to practice” (2001). His analysis and experience of the e-learning industry in the period 1995-2002 reflects Jonassen’s observations; many, if not most, e-learning content production organisations approached the process of producing content as simply ‘webifying’ extant static content.

To digress for a moment I’d like to give you an example of this approach. The Irish e-learning company the Educational Multimedia Group (EMG) – where I worked as Digital Media Manager from 1999 until 2002 – developed Microsoft Office User Specialist (MOUS) and European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) courseware. Educational Multimedia Corporation Ireland logoSignificant resources in the company were dedicated to the task of extracting static content from tests published by content partner Pearson Publishing and their subsidiaries Que Books and SAMS and ‘making it move.’ Content was authored in Macromedia Authorware 5 and adhered to a very linear learning model: The learner was ‘locked in’ to the content delivery mechanism with little opportunity to explore the content except via the channels facilitated by the format of the content. In many ways, the content replicated a textual approach to information delivery – the learner could move forward or backwards (as one does with a book), could navigate between lessons and so forth, but the real potential inherent in multimedia and multimodal delivery of content was not actualised.

The learner typically used the courseware in isolation, with little interaction with fellow learners, and while an attempt was made to integrate an electronic performance support system (EPSS), it was not integrated into the actual application the learner was studying, but into a simulacrum of the application available on a CD-ROM that needed to be loaded into the system and launched as a separate program to be utilised. While this approach represented the state of the art at the time, the learner was presented with non-contiguous, fragmentary and even arbitrary (in that the designers were constrained to develop within the limitations of the resources at their disposal) courseware that did not provide the level of learning reinforcement and support – the authenticity that constructivists deem a prerequisite for effective learning – as from this perspective, there was an implicit assumption thatlearner could abstract the appropriate knowledge into an environment where it could be used (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989, p.32). This “breach between learning and use” (p.32) is, the authors of Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning contend, is a consequence of the “didactic systems” (p.32) operated by educational institutions, where knowledge is treated “as an integral, self-sufficient substance” without contextual meaning.




Brown, J. S. Collins, C. & Duguid (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning [Internet] Educational Researcher 18(1), pp. 32-42, Jan-Feb 1989. Available from: [Accessed 12th November 2013]

Exclusive Interview with Professor David Jonassen (2001) IN: elearningpost [Internet] Available from:
[Accessed 12th November 2013]