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A Look at Web-based Instruction Today
An interview with Badrul Khan, Part 2

By Ann Taylor / March 2014

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In the second part of our interview with Badrul Khan, Ann Taylor and Badrul examine how the field of Web-based instruction is measuring up to Khan's "Framework for e-Learning." They also discuss Badrul's own interview series for Education Technology and his advice for those just entering the Web-based instruction realm.

In your 2003 article for eLearn Magazine, you introduced your "Framework for e-Learning." Your framework groups factors that can help designers create meaningful eLearning environments into eight dimensions: institutional, pedagogical, technological, interface design, evaluation, management, resource support, and ethical. That was 10 years ago. Do you think the field is doing well in all eight dimensions? Are there any areas that seem to consistently need more attention?

e-Learning Framework

I am very optimistic about the field of eLearning. Ten years ago eLearning was in its near-infancy stage, many doubted its longevity. As more and more institutions globally have embraced eLearning, we have become increasing more knowledgeable about critical factors of open and distributed learning environment. Researchers and practitioners have studied success and failure factors that greatly contributed to the knowledge base of the field. Alexander J. Romiszowski discussed causes of failure/success of eLearning in a 2004 article titled "How's the E-learning Baby? Factors Leading to Success or Failure of an Educational Technology Innovation." He recommended addressing issues of the framework for meaningful eLearning. Johannes C. Cronje's 2007 article "Who killed e-learning?" presents a number of reasons for the failure of eLearning and then proposes the eLearning framework issues for integrating learning and business processes to enable sustained organizational learning.

Many would agree with me that 10 years ago the eLearning field was more technology-driven than pedagogy-guided. The focus was more on "e" (electronic) than "learning." What could you expect from individuals who did not have any formal training in instructional design and learning theories (i.e., pedagogy), but who were involved in designing and developing eLearning? Sheri Handel placed it well:

We used to joke internally that "everyone wanted to be an instructional designer." Given the availability of low-cost, rapid development tools and the DIY movement in instructional design, this may have seemed possible, but as I've said here many times before, access to tools and technology does not make someone an effective instructional designer [1].

However, studies and reports, such as Romiszowski and Cronje, helped pedagogy to take the center stage of eLearning. Once the pedagogy was in focus, then critical eLearning issues of encompassing the other categories of the framework were considered for meaningful learning design.

I believe, the field of eLearning is better than 10 years ago. MOOCs have helped the field to realize many pitfalls associated with open learning. Many of these barriers fall under various dimensions of the framework. Now more than ever, eLearning designers are addressing various issues encompassing the octagonal framework.

The e-Learning Framework was first used by George Washington University graduate students (mostly professionals from government agencies, corporations and educational settings) in 2004. Students used the Framework to review institution-wide online programs at six higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada, including; Regis University, Tallahassee Community College, University of Illinois-Springfield, University of Alaska, Illinois Online Network, British Columbia Open University.

The results of the program evaluations were shared with the contact persons in each institution. Participating institutions received reviews of pedagogical, technological, interface design, evaluation, management, resource support, ethical, and institutional aspects of their online programs. Institutions shared their views on using the Framework noting they were able to identify areas where they had strengths and weaknesses-helping them to better appropriate resources and develop future budgets. For example, one participating institution's online program did very well in the pedagogical issues, but poorly in ethical issues. By using the Framework students advised: "Since the pedagogical design of eLearning is satisfactory, there is no need to either replace the existing instructional designer or hire new one. Since the plagiarism and intellectual property rights issues were not adequately addressed, assistance from individuals with expertise in legal and copyright issues should be considered in [the] future."

As I indicated in my 2003 article, numerous factors help to create a meaningful eLearning environment, and many of these factors are systemically interrelated and interdependent. A systemic understanding of these factors can help designers create meaningful eLearning environments. A lack of understanding of the systemic nature of open and distributed learning environments, such as eLearning, contributes to failure factors. For an example, if an institution does not budget (institutional issue) for adequate technical support (resource support issue) for weekends/holidays, it will affect learners who do their assignments on weekends and holidays.

You have obviously have had an opportunity to interview many leaders for your series in Educational Technology magazine—who is still on your "wish list" of interviewees? What do you hope to learn from them?

I had the greatest opportunity to sit down with Gagne at the AECT Conference (Nashville, TN, February, 1994) where I asked him how he came up with his famous learning hierarchy, I also asked him about how to design for ill-defined and well-defined domain of learning. Gagne was very kind to share his perspectives for a two-hour session with us.

Robert Gagne

If Gagne were alive today, for my Educational Technology column, I would ask him the following question:

"You were very successful in training military over the years using your instructional design strategy, such as the learning hierarchy. Now, with the blessing of open source learning technologies, open learning resources such as MOOCs have become an integral part of our education and training systems. What advice would you give to the designers of open learning environments so that their online educational and training offerings to mass global population are meaningful and instructionally sound?"

As for living individuals, top of my list is Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Again, I had a rare opportunity to spend hours with Tim and learn his perspectives on education for developing countries (both of us were invited as keynote speakers at the Third International Conference of e-Learning and Distance Education, eLi13, in Saudi Arabia).

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

One of my questions for Tim would be:

"Your invention of the Web changed the world. It is now more transparent and resourceful. Among many disciplines, it has dramatically changed the world of education and training systems. For your information, recently I had an exclusive interview with the Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, who thinks the Internet's Web will be increasingly useful for education and healthcare arena, which in turn contribute to the economic development of individuals. The utility of the Web might have surprised you! You might not have imagined when you first conceptualized the idea of the Web at CERN. Now that the Web is used in education for MOOCs, what advice you would give to MOOC providers so that people around the globe most specifically in developing countries can use them for their economic development?"

You have a long history with eLearning, but many organizations and institutions are just coming to the scene. What advice do you have for those who are considering eLearning as an education and training tool for the first time?

You need to have a comprehensive eLearning plan that addresses critical issues of open and distributed learning, including: pedagogical, technological, interface design, evaluation, management, resource support, ethical considerations, and institutional. Each organization is unique, therefore, within its capabilities and needs, it should develop its strategic eLearning plan by addressing various factors encompassing these issues. More information about this e-Learning Framework is available at:

All images provided by Badrul Khan.


[1]Handel, S. The Evolving Role of Instructional Design in a 70:20:10 World. K16online. Jan. 23, 2014. Accessed Feb. 18, 2014.

About the Author

Ann Taylor is the director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State University. Ann has worked in the field of distance education since 1991 and began working for the Dutton Institute in 2002. She holds a faculty appointment as a Senior Lecturer and has been an elected, and active, member of the University Faculty Senate since 2007. In her role as institute director, Ann is responsible for guiding her College's strategic vision and planning for online learning. She works with faculty, administrators, stakeholders, and Institute personnel to plan and implement online courses and programs that are tailored to either the needs of adult professionals worldwide or to the University's campus-based students, or both! Ann serves on numerous University committees that are focused on strategic planning, policies, and procedures related to the University's distance learning initiatives. While serving as a University administrator, Ann still keeps a hands-on aspect to her work, regularly working with University colleagues to create resources for faculty who teach online and sharing her work as a frequent public speaker. Twenty-two years in the field has put Ann in a front row seat as distance education has gone from correspondence study and "teleclasses" to the implementation of real-time two-way videoconferencing and ultimately the Web. Throughout her career, she has helped higher education faculty design, develop, and deliver countless distance education courses, in subjects ranging from traditional English courses to "construction flagging techniques" to graduate courses in sustainable energy solutions.

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