E-learning is the delivery of training and learning using means of electronic media, such as computers, Internet or intranet (Tastle, White, & Shackleton, 2005). Three basic ingredients of e-learning constitute: content and instructional methods; ways of delivering content and methods; and achievement of personal and organisational goals. These ingredients are also referred as the what, how and why elements of e-learning respectively (Clark & Mayer, 2008). This thesis mainly focuses on the ‘how’ element in terms of exploring the integration of emerging Web technologies in unit teaching; finding novel ways of combining technologies to facilitate a wide spectrum of learners; examining user acceptance of emerging Web technologies; and predicting significant determinants of such usage within the higher education context.
As evident from the above definition of e-learning, the Internet or Web is an integral part of the delivery of training and learning. With growing Internet speeds and decreasing hardware costs the Web is becoming a major part of every-day’s life. More recently, Web 2.0 has become a buzz-word in education and wider circles which has transformed the way people have used the Web, from passive to active users (Cleary, 2008). Although there is no clear definition of Web 2.0, it is considered as a perceived second generation of Web-based interactions, applications and communities (Duffy, 2008). O’Reilly media, who coined the term Web 2.0 in 2003, described it as a set of principles and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demonstrates some or all of those principles, at a variable distance from that core (O' Reilly, 2005). Web 2.0 is also referred as the read / write Web which is very close to the idea of the original Web developer, Tim Berners-Lee, as a collaborative medium where people meet, read and write (Richardson, 2006). There are a number of Web 2.0 technologies, services or applications that demonstrate the foundations of the Web 2.0 concepts / principles and they are already being used to a certain extent in education (Anderson, 2007). These include blogs, wikis, multimedia sharing services, content 1
Chapter 1: Introduction
syndication, podcasting, content tagging services and multi-user virtual environments. With the creation of such applications, the Web has been transformed into a fully interactive space allowing any user to collaborate, create, publish, subscribe, and share information (Asmus, Bonner, Esterhay, Lechner, & Rentfrow, 2005). However the opportunities presented via new technologies are coupled with challenges, such as: how to accommodate the needs of diversified range and requirements of student population; how learners manage, strive and thrive in this information era with huge amounts of information available; to what extent the use of technology is useful and to what extent these tools should be encouraged; and, how to make correct selection decisions for specific learning tasks (Webster & Murphy, 2008). Moreover, there are concerns about student perceptions and experiences of e-learning with less reported empirical findings. These concerns include: factors that influence student participation in e-learning activities and use of technology; student personal technical knowledge and skills; and, perceptions of usefulness of e-learning (Wang, 2008). This thesis addresses the above issues by integrating emerging Web technologies in unit teaching based on the match between students’ learning styles and technology preferences (Saeed & Yang, 2008b; Saeed, Yang, & Sinnappan, 2009b).
Despite the promising potential of e-learning, there is a growing concern in the research community that focusing only on delivering learning content leads to isolation, low motivation, and passive behaviour among learners and thus causes large dropouts from e-learning participation (Hummel, Manderveld, Tattersall, & Koper, 2004;...