This book is about the past and future of research on the effectiveness of learning networks, a type of e-learning, online learning, Web-based learning, computer-supported collaborative learning, or virtual classroom (to use a number of common terms) in which students and teachers learn together online. The formal term is Asynchronous Learning Networks, or ALN for short. An ALN course is one in which students and faculty can have online discussions and work together from their homes or offices or on an airplane, anytime, anywhere, via the Internet. Computer-mediated communication software stores and orders these communications. A much more complete definition and decomposition of the term asynchronous learning network is provided in chapter 1, but learning together online in a structured environment is the essence of the concept.
In this book, leading researchers use an integrated theoretical framework to organize what past research has shown and where future research is going. We call this integrated theoretical model the Online Interaction Learning Theory (see chap. 2). It models the variables and processes that are important in determining the relative effectiveness of communities of online learners, who are working to reach a deep level of understanding by interacting with each other and with the materials under investigation. Rather than being based on unsupported vitriol and hyperbole, this book is a synthesis of what research shows to date about what we know and what we need to know about the effectiveness of online courses that use the learning networks approach.
The emphasis of this book is on text-based asynchronous (anytime, anyplace; e.g., e-mail and web pages) use of networks to support student-to-student as well as teacher-to-student communication and collaborative learning (which simply means students working together in groups of two or more). However, the scope of this book and of the studies reviewed also includes courses that use synchronous (same-time) media via the Internet—such as text or audio chat, or video conferencing—or that compare face-to-face, synchronous, and asynchronous learning processes. These courses might occur totally online, or be blended combinations of face-to-face meetings and online work.
This is both a textbook for graduate students and a professional reference book for scholars who need to know the state of the art of research in the area of online learning. This includes faculty teaching online, researchers conducting studies, administrators establishing new online programs, and graduate students taking courses about learning technologies. Particularly for use as a text, we have included questions for discussion and research at the end of each chapter.
About the Authors
Dr. Maryam Alavi is the Senior Associate Dean of Faculty and Research and the John M. and Lucy Cook's Chair in Information Strategy at the Goizueta Business School of Emory University. She also serves as the Director of Knowledge @Emory, a Web-based knowledge management system.
Maryam has authored numerous scholarly papers in the areas of decision support systems, collaboration support, and technology-mediated learning and knowledge management. Her research in the areas of technology-mediated learning has been supported by funds and hardware grants from the AT&T Foundation, AT&T Corporation, and Lucent Technologies. She was the recipient of the IBM Faculty Partnership Award in 2001. She has served on the editorial boards of several scholarly IS journals, including MIS Quarterly (MISQ), Information Systems Research (ISR), and Journal of Management Information Systems (JMIS). She is also a member of the editorial board of Encyclopedia of Computer and Information Systems.