Document Type

Thesis

Publication details

Newton, D 2007, 'Developing an integrated e-learning culture: a model grounded in the Australian Army experience', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright D Newton 2007

Abstract

Understanding the influences on e-learning effectiveness in workplaces is a necessary, but contentious task. The transfer of knowledge about e-learning from higher education to workplace situations has resulted in discursive tensions between expectations and practice. Measurement of the aspects of e-learning effectiveness is often discussed in the literature in terms of discrete economic, pedagogical and technological criteria. Few studies have investigated e-learning use in terms of the complexity of factors in a workplace environment and there is a scarcity of relevant substantive models of e-learning effectiveness factors in workplace contexts.

This study aimed to improve understanding of the factors influencing e-learning effectiveness, particularly in large, dispersed workplaces and to develop a model based on the understanding of these factors. This study represents the first external research into the Australian Army’s e-learning projects. The Army was selected as a large, dispersed workplace organisation with ten years experience in designing and using multimedia rich CD-ROM learning materials. The Army had undertaken trialing and evaluation of its e-learning courses prior to providing substantial infrastructure for implementation in training centres. These evaluations indicated e-learning effectiveness in terms of training efficiencies and learning outcomes that at least matched traditional face-to-face classroom instruction. That is, that e-learning fitted with the training requirements. The study was aimed at the understanding of how the Army’s workplace environment was influencing the effectiveness of e-learning courses from multiple perspectives.

Using an inductive Grounded Theory approach provided an established analytical method for developing a substantive model. While the field-based research was limited to a single organisation, it included multiple sites across Australia and a cross-section of e-learning activities and respondents throughout the organisational hierarchy. The main data source was 101 open-ended interviews conducted with respondents at Army bases or by phone. Where interviewing was not possible due to Army operational concerns, questionnaires were used (129 responses). Other data sources included Army documents and the researcher’s observations and participation in e-learning classes.

While the Army’s internal evaluation processes had justified the adoption of e-learning courses, it was evident in the study that the interaction of factors within the Army’s culture was influencing perceptions and experiences of e-learning effectiveness. An Integrated E-learning Culture Model (IECM) based on the analysis of stakeholder perspectives in the Army is presented. The IECM is based on the four factors that emerged as influencing e-learning effectiveness, which were organisational priorities, the learning environment, the instructor’s role and learners’ needs. The main concern for respondents was to manage tensions associated with these four factors by integrating e-learning into the organisational culture. That is, e-learning effectiveness was discussed in terms of a process of alignment of the e-learning culture with the organisational culture.

Comparison of the IECM with some empirical studies of e-learning use in other large, dispersed workplaces indicates its relevance outside the Army context. An E-learning Comparative Alignment Framework (ECAF) for using the IECM in other research was developed in this study. Further comparison of the ECAF with alignment theories from related research disciplines suggests areas for further theoretical research. This thesis proposes that by adopting the perspective that e-learning environments are not value-free, it is possible to identify and align the competing priorities and discourses that influence how e-learning effectiveness is constructed and experienced in an organisation.

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