Educational Technology & Society 2(1) 1999
ISSN 1436-4522

Electronic Learning in a Digital World

(Website review)

Reviewer: Peter J.Vivian
Senior Lecturer
Department of Engineering & Product Design
University of Central Lancashire. (UCLAN)
United Kingdom

1. Site URL:

2. Site title:
  Electronic Learning in a Digital World

3. Objective of the site:
  The stated purpose is as follows:
"Its purpose is to stimulate thought about electronic learning ----- the Internet based process by which students increase their general and discipline specific knowledge and skills via electronic interaction with content and people."
For an academic, this is a little misleading. The site is about the administration, and organisation of courses; perhaps even a "virtual" university. It is not about the process of learning.

4. Expected audience:
  The expected audience is not defined by the site. At first, I thought it was aimed at practitioners and managers in HE. I now believe that it is aimed at managers. At UCLAN change is very much a "bottom up" process albeit a reaction to "top down" pressures. As such, there is an overlap between the roles of practitioner and manager. In my case, I hope to have a web based module ready for 1999, but there is no sign of a web based course. A lot of the issues raised in this site about the organisation of courses is relevant to individual modules, and was of great interest. I therefore conclude, that practitioners can also derive much benefit from studying this site.

5. Main topics covered:
  This site seems to be a relatively large site. From the site contents page, there are a total of 24 jumps to additional pages. From a strategic management perspective, the contents page is logically arranged, and viewer can work one's way from top to bottom. For the most part the pages are arranged in 2 level hierarchy, i.e. 1 page to 24. There are 13 lateral jumps which I felt served more to confuse me than help. Being new to site structures, and that the different pages had the same layouts with a lot of text, I found myself frequently "getting lost". I also discovered, when going through the links, a further 9 jumps to site pages. Initially, I was overwhelmed by the quantity of text and resorted to printing hard copies. I estimate that there are about 70-80 A4 pages of print. This is a lot to read at one go, so I would advise that you set up a bookmark and dip in from time to time.

The main topics are...

Electronic Learning
Nine frequently asked questions, predominantly focused on the strategic implications of the web. A good place to start to get the flavour of the site.

The Future of Higher Education
This is where I got "lost" due to the lateral jumps. This section is really an introduction to the next. It seems that Higher Education in United States is in a similar state to the United Kingdom's! I really appreciated the links to Western Governor and Athena universities which were used as examples of "Virtual" universities and so helped set the scene for me. For me, there were just too many links in this section.

Thoughts About Becoming A "21st Century" Institution
We can all have an opinion about how this technology will change the future of HE and the perspective given here, in the first part of this section, was most stimulating. The links to examples were all non-technical which was disappointing for me, being a teacher of engineering, but they were generally useful. Another major disappointment was the lack of links for the page on assessment of electronic learning. Perhaps they do not, indeed cannot, exist. It is an issue, as a practitioner, that has caused me the most concern in the design of my module for the web. The pages on strategic planning and marketing had a text book "feel" to them. However, buried in the latter was a jump to a small page, promote.htm, which was a real "gem" for my current situation. It attempted to answer my question as to how I can promote my module over the web. I intend to follow up the links given which looked most useful.

Thoughts About Faculty Issues
The distinction of the faculty did not seem necessary, with the first pages being more of the previous section. The site then went on to the issue of electronic magazines. I did not manage to "see" an example via the links, but there were a couple of search/review sites that looked worthy of exploration at a later date. When I read the "thoughts for a new academic explorer", I was reminded of my promotion problem. I had not yet found that "gem", promoe.htm, so was feeling somewhat cheated of information. A link here would have been most welcome. Promotion and searching are, after all, two sides of the same issue. Not impressed with this section, which I feel could have been distributed around other parts of the site.

The Global Institute for Interactive Multimedia
By now, I was very curious about the Global Institute and enjoyed this section. The link to SetonWorldWide is buried here which actually is an example of a virtual university and should, I think, been up with the other examples given. There is also a link to another home page of the Institute, and again, this looks very interesting and should have taken its rightful place in the main body of the site. With hindsight, perhaps they were in the best place, because having seen the rest, I was ready for "the best" so to speak! Both of these sites looked impressive and I will visit again when I have more time available!

Technical and General News
This page gave me some sites that I might want to visit on a regular basis. The links achieved this purpose.

6. Extent, appropriateness and quality of external links:
  There are 194 links at the site, 52 of which failed for some reason or another. Others had moved, but the owners had left forwarding URL's, so I counted these as successful links. I guess that keeping links up to date is a difficult process but it is important for the integrity of the site. Also, I wonder how many of the failures were caused by UCLAN rather than the web. Despite many failures, I discovered a number of useful links which otherwise I would have missed. Distinguishing between an internal lateral jump to another page and an external link is, I think, both important and difficult for the new viewer. As I had by now become very familiar with the page structure of the site, I was able to ignore those internal links that "changed the subject"!

I did not have the time to browse these links to any depth. However, I attempted to rate them from 1 to 5, 5 being the best, on the basis of their home contents page. I rated 9 at 5 (i.e. 5%), 17 at 4 (i.e. 9%), 17 at 3 (i.e. 9%), 19 at 2 (i.e. 10%) and 80 at 1 (i.e. 41%). If you include the failures (27%), I considered 78% to be of little or no use to me.

This is NOT, I must stress, a reflection of the technical quality of those sites, but rather on the focus of my interest. Pareto, (80/20 rule), once again applies and this might be a pattern with any web site. If I was browsing, rather than reviewing, I wonder if I would have found the 20%!

In conclusion, I think the site would have benefited from fewer links.

7. Special remarks
  For an insight into the shape of things to come, this is a site well worth visiting and studying, but be prepared to use more than one visit. If you are planning to use the web for a course, or even just a single module, visit this site to broaden your perspective. Dip in and out of the pages, from the home contents page, and just "do" one, or two, of those pages at a time. There really is a lot of information, and a lot of it is in the form of bulleted lists, which do not suit superficial, speed reading.