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on 18 June 2013
Harasim (2012), professor at the Simon Fraser University, Canada, offers an overview on the main learning theories, the application and relationship with online technologies. Furthermore, offers an introduction to a theory of learning that would suite the 21st century, pedagogy of online education, and a variety of examples. This book will be of interest to educators who seek an introduction to educational theory and practical perspectives of online learning.
The majority of the chapters set out to discuss the interrelationship between learning theories and online technologies, the remaining chapters offer a string of examples of the pedagogical application and institutional embedment.
The first chapter outlines the theoretical structure of a learning theory, including an epistemological discussion on what we understand by knowledge and learning, presents the three main 20th century `classic' learning theories, behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism, and to Harasim's Online Collaborative Learning theory (OCL). The second chapter offers a historic, overview on the evolving learning capabilities of mankind, discussing the relevance and impact of the `paradigms' speech, writing, printing and internet for learning, on the same footing. The three succeeding chapters provide more detail on each of the three classic learning theories, outlines their strength and weaknesses within the educational setting and provides examples how online technologies could support and or be applied within each of the learning frameworks. According to Harasim (2012), none of the 20th century theories is capable of accommodating the profound changes that the internet has brought for teaching and learning, which requires the development of a new learning theory. After defining OCL in more detail, building on her previous work, Harasim (2012) makes the case that the internet has brought epistemological changes in the way we define, build and apply knowledge. Information in our knowledge economy is, according to Harasim (2012), in a constant flux, and OCL put emphasis on the collaborative (re)creation of knowledge for an applied setting, e.g. in a community of practice. Furthermore, Harasim (2012) argues that online learning has become mainstream, based on the Sloan foundation reports and the digital self-confident `Net Gen' generation. After developing OCL pedagogy in more depth, the advantages of online learning environments for learners is set out, such as place and time independent. The remaining chapters offer more detail on the practical application of the OCL theory and pedagogy through a series of examples of institution that offer online education, and online technologies to support educational networks and communities of practice.
The strength of this book will be found in the relationship between the learning theories and online learning. Especially the chapters on the three classical theories provide an excellent introduction to the principles, pedagogy and online technologies that support such learning approaches. However Harasim (2012) is by times, even for an introduction, somewhat unbalanced, and uncritical in the argumentation, use of sources and selection of themes. The book lacks references to more nuanced debates, concerns, and delivery of online learning, discussed in the academic literature and has a strong US orientation in its sources and examples. For example, her focus on online technologies seems a little narrow as there is no discussion on other technologies for learning in a broader context. An introduction or debate on other very influential 20th century technologies such as radio, film and TV for educational theory, practice, training and delivery is almost absent. Furthermore, speech, writing, printing and internet are put at the same level of relevance for learning, without a discussion if the later can be seen as just another mass media or an extension of print. More theoretical, it could be argued that the epistemological argument for the OCL theory uses an oversimplified notion of the knowledge economy and the perceived revolutionary roll the internet plays in supporting collaborative creation/modification of knowledge for an applied, mainly work based environment. The OCL theory emphasises the importance of collaboration for the learning process in a mature or professional context, which might not transferable or appropriate for other groups of learners.
Lastly, Harasim (2012) offers more types of online learning. Besides OCL, she introduces online distance learning (ODL) and online courseware (OC), but only develops OCL in more detail. Educators working in the sector of online training and delivery would have been interested in a theoretical development of the other two.
Harasim, L. (2012), Learning Theory and Online Technologies, London: Routledge