Review Essay: The Multiple Roles and Functions of Evaluation in the Context of E-Learning Programs

Thomas Link


The German initiative "New Media in Education—the Higher Education Sector" is well documented. The present volume describes the project's evaluation concepts and preliminary results. In four chapters about goals, methodology, and possible future directions of evaluation research as well as some presentations of e-learning projects, this book offers a rich overview of appropriate evaluation models from fields such as psychology, the social sciences and quality management. This compilation encompasses theoretical works on the concepts of evaluation as well as presentations of actual evaluation studies. The reader thus gains insight into the extent of the requests and expectations an evaluation team has to satisfy as well as the process of implementing e-learning in a university context. The articles in this book contain thought-provoking ideas like Sigmar-Olaf TERGAN's assertion that there is no automatic relationship between the quality of an e-learning program and students' learning outcomes. This could lead us to conclude that we have to put more emphasis on situational parameters and that we have to use methods that are capable of capturing the different perspectives of those involved. While many authors accentuate the need to triangulate data sources, methods, theories and observers, the empirical method used most often in the context of e-learning is surveys, if possible online. This difference leads to questions about the function evaluation studies fulfill for e-learning programs. Karin HAUBRICH's demand that e-learning programs must be allowed to fail seems especially important here in order to make evaluation appear less as a control instrument and more as a way to get reliable feedback and to provide a catalyst for new developments. After reading this book, one might have the impression—and one might ask why this is the case—that e-learning requires evaluation in greater depth than "traditional" forms of teaching. An argument put forward by Sascha SCHANZE points to the novelty of this approach. While this view is shared by other e-learning professionals, today's students often use computers from childhood on. They communicate regularly via e-mail and are used to searching for information on the Internet. The enduring novelty of e-learning thus cannot fully explain this situation. We may instead assume that this "need for evaluation" is rather a side effect of changes in the production mode of higher education. While "traditional" lectures often are, or at least could be, a one-person affair, e-learning represents a form of higher education in the age of a new division of labor—e-learning can only be delivered at a professional level when the production process is distributed over several specialized units, which of course requires a greater management effort. When considering this change in conjunction with prevalent ideas of collecting content or rather learning objects that are tagged with standardized metadata in shareable repositories, we might wonder whether the current impetus of implementing e-learning at university level will cumulate in the use of unified administration and communication platforms, or whether this journey continues towards a "codification" of higher education
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0501254


e-learning; computer-based learning (CBL); web-based learning (WBL); learning management systems; evaluation; quality management; evaluation models; evaluation methods

Copyright (c) 2005 Thomas Link

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