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  1. 1. REVIEW PAPERSA Critical Literature Review on e-LearningLimitationsDominic WongSchool of Management & Information Technology, UCSIdominicwong@ucsi.edu.myAbstractE-learning is becoming more and more popular. People tend to emphasize on its benefits. Does this mean that e-learning is without itslimitations? In this paper, the author discusses some limitations of e-learning, in particular related with technologies, personal issues,comparison with traditional campus learning, design issues, and other issues. A cross-reference is done with referring to someexisting research works about the limitations of e-learning. From existing research works, it would seem that e-learning is notsuitable for individuals without the self-discipline required to complete all tasks independently. Besides, it would seem that e-learnersshould receive some type of e-learning training prior to enrolment to avoid any difficulties, especially for individuals without muchICT background.Keywords: E-learning, limitations1. INTRODUCTION 2. BASIC CONCEPTS OF E-LEARNINGE-learning has evolved from its predecessor, namely distance From the overview, we know that e-learning is getting popular REVIEW PAPERSlearning. Distance learning attracted many learners from all over all over the world. What do we understand about e-learning andthe globe, mainly because of its flexibility. It is not surprising to why has it become so popular? This section explains e-learningsee more and more companies venturing into the e-learning concepts in detail.businesses, when the global market for e-learning in 2002reached US$90 billion (Yong, 2003). Another case cited by E-learning definition: Schank (2002), Roffe (2002), SambrookMorgan (2001) refers to Fortune Magazine’s estimation in May (2003) and Tsai & Machado (2002) refer to e-learning as2000 that the online learning market will reach US$22 billion by “communication and learning activities through computers and2003. These figures seem to suggest a bright market for e- networks (or via electronic means)”. To be more specific, Frylearning. (2000) defines e-learning as “delivery of training and education via networked interactivity and a range of other knowledgeThe popularity of e-learning is not only limited to working adults collection and distribution technologies.” Wild, Griggs &who are seeking higher qualifications without leaving their jobs Downing (2002) also had the same definition as Fry’s - theyand losing their earning power (Lau, 2003). This trend seems defined e-learning as the creation and delivery of knowledge viaever increasing as the Internet and computer technology become online services in the form of information, communication,widespread as a daily necessity of the younger generation. education and training. Bleimann (2004) stated that e-learning isAccording to Lau (2003), research revealed that 16 to 18 year- a self-directed learning that is based on technology, especiallyold teenagers are really keen towards on-line learning or e- web-based technology. He also stressed that e-learning islearning. collaborative learning.Despite e-learning’s current popularity, does it have any Internet and web technology is important in e-learning; Hortonlimitations? Evan & Hasse (2001) found out that learners are (2001) defines e-learning as “the use of Internet and digitalmoderately lacking in computer proficiency and, since e-learning technologies to create experience that educate fellow humanis centered around computer technologies, it is a barrier to those beings.” Apart from web-based technology, e-learning seemed tolearners without good computer skills. In addition, studies of require multimedia based courseware (Evans & Fan, 2002;Lahn,Evan & Hasse (2001), O’Regan (2003) and Rovai & Jordan 2004). Therefore, it is clear that e-learning is centered on(2004) found out that learners face limited physical interactions Information and Communication Technology (ICT). It is notamong themselves in e-learning. surprising that Hamid (2002) and Lytras, Pouloudi & Poulymenakou (2002) mentioned that e-learning evolved aroundThe main purpose of this paper that is to explore some Information Technology to enhance the learning performancelimitations in this learning method. This is done by extensive and efficiency. Furthermore, Evans & Hasse (2001) pointed outliterature review from major e-learning journals from all over the that technology is indeed needed in e-learning to educate theworld. At the end of the paper, the author will discuss some well- learner through the usage of two-way video, two-way computerresearched limitations of e-learning. interaction, cable, satellite downlinks and Internet. Honey (2001) provided many good examples of learning activities that involved ICT. These examples include learning from e-mail, onlineJASA 2 | January 2007 55
  2. 2. REVIEW PAPERS research, online discussion and coaching by e-mail. From these video frames transmitted via the Internet could freeze up and the definitions and examples, we can therefore define e-learning as audio could be interrupted at times (Collins, 2002; Lee and Al- learning activities that involve computers, networks and Hawamdeh, 2001). Pachnowski (2003) further mentioned the multimedia technologies. problems of video conferencing as listed above caused delay in class start time and some other additional complications like loss of audio. Baker (2003) even mentioned that video conferencing 3. LIMITATIONS OF E-LEARNING might not be feasible for learners who rely on the slow dial-up connection from their homes. Even though broadband service is Arising from extensive literature review, e-learning limitations available in the Klang Valley of Malaysia now, this service is can be categorized as technological limitations, limitations limited to certain locations with higher population density. For compared to traditional campus, and personal issues. Limitations example, even in a township like Kajang and Serdang (both in that do not fit into these categories are considered as other Klang Valley) broadband service is only provided to certain limitations. households with certain telephone numbers and the wireless broadband services is provided to even lesser locations such as 3.1 Technological limitations cafes and shopping malls (Streamyx Service Area, 2004; Hotspot Service Area, 2004). As a result, it is not surprising that many e- Students need necessary hardware for e-learning such as desktop learning courses are still text-based as the Internet bandwidth or notebook computers and printers (Kathawala, Abdou, Elmulti, may still be limited. 2002;Hiltz, 1997). Therefore, one of the major technological limitations of e-learning is the necessity of computer hardware 3.2 Personal issues and relevant resources. Sambrook (2003) mentioned that the lack of hardware to support e-learning in organizations is one of the Kember et al.(2001) mentioned that preparation is indeed needed factors why Small and Medium Enterprises are not willing to for newcomers as they may think that nontraditional learning engage in e-learning to educate its employees. Hardware and such as e-learning is the same as a traditional learning other ICT resources are necessary for e-learning implementation environment. Besides, Dearnley (2003) stated that newcomers to in institutions. The Vietnam government spent large sums of nontraditional learning may get lost because they do not know money in buying ICT hardware for a college that implemented e- what to do as there is no detailed guidance from the teacher.REVIEW PAPERS learning (Materi & Fahy, 2004). Kearsley (2000) explained that, Kember et al. (2001) stated that these newcomers need some in order to participate in online learning, both learners and staff orientation courses in order for them to get used to a need to have access to networked computers. From all the points nontraditional learning environment like e-learning. Therefore, it listed, it is not surprising that Broadbent (2003) indicated that is not surprising to see newcomers needing to be psychologically learners may need to buy or rent new computer equipment in prepared for the e-learning environment. order to learn. According to World Bank data, there were only about 3 million computers in Malaysia in 2003, for a total Carr (1999) mentioned that the lack of ICT skills is one of the population of about 24 million (ICT at a glance Malaysia, 2003). barriers in e-learning training. As e-learning is the product of the As a result, e-learning may not be widespread in Malaysia yet. advanced technology, e-learners will have to learn new skills and responsibilities related to the technology (Angelina, 2002a, p.12). Although, e-learning comes with benefits such as unlimited E-learners should be Information & Communication Technology access 24 hours, 7 days a week, this privilege does not seem to (ICT) savvy. Hamid (2002) stated that technical skills could be feasible for some people in rural areas due to the inability to cause frustration to e-learning students due to the unconventional access Internet services (Kearsley, 2000;Rumble,2000). The e-learning environment and isolation from others. Consequently, Internet penetration rate in Malaysia is only 31.8 % (Phang, having to learn new technologies may be a barrier or 2004). Bose (2003) mentioned that, while it is feasible to access disadvantage in e-learning for ICT novices. to high-speed bandwidth within the university campus, it becomes a problem outside the campus, where Internet facilities E-learning is not an easy task for many as it requires a lot of self- are less sophisticated. Uys (2003) stated that limited discipline. As Kearsley (2000) stated, e-learning provides telecommunication infrastructure and facilities are hindering the autonomy or freedom to learn, but the learners should have e-learning process. “initiative and self-discipline to study and complete assignments”. Schott et al. (2003) asserted that the e-learning In addition to the limited Internet coverage, technological success rate was very dependent on students’ abilities to be self- barriers, such as limited bandwidth, are issues in e-learning directed and internally motivated. It is therefore reasonable for today, even with fast DSL connections introduced to replace Rivera and Rice (2002) to comment that learners who are not outdated 14.4 Kbps bandwidth (Chadha & Kumail, 2002, p.28). self-motivated will find web-based learning an unsatisfactory Roy (1996, p.9) provided another example of a slow connection experience. Naturally, e-learning students have a higher dropout when students in Rhode Island and Green Island could not rate than their conventional counterparts (Abouchedid & Eid, provide answers for their instructor during an online discussion 2004). E-learners need additional encouragement and support, to session. While e-learning is supposed to be a multimedia-rich compensate for the isolation; motivation is the key for them to learning environment, the limited bandwidth may hinder the successfully complete the course (Lessons from the e-learning, learning process as the downloading of multimedia materials 2002). may take a longer time. Good examples of poor transfer rate that hinders the video streaming happened in Northern Arizona Laws, Howell and Lindsay (2003) stated that students in an open University and the National University of Singapore, where learning environment like e-learning can start or stop the course 56 JASA 2 | January 2007
  3. 3. REVIEW PAPERSat their convenience. Although this may seem like an advantage, omission of observation of student emotions may preventthis means that learners can stop even if their tuition fees have professors or instructors from responding to student’s needs.been fully paid. This may be a significant disadvantage forlearners who are lacking self-discipline and motivation. Thus, it Apart from this lack of physical interaction, e-learning is alsois common to see e-learning students leaving postsecondary criticized for not having facilities like traditional campuses:education without a degree (Choy, 2002). Data has shown that internship, volunteer opportunities, access to physical library,more than 50 per cent of highly nontraditional students leave book stores, career and development counselling (McCraken,their postsecondary education without associate or bachelor 2004). Some learning institutions tried to provide these facilitiesdegrees (Choy, 2002). but they were too limited (McCraken, 2004). McCraken further pointed out problems such as budget, compatibility of software,In addition, Yum, Kember and Siaw (2001) mentioned that part- and college policies, that hindered the development of integratedtime students like e-learning students often find it hard to find supporting systems.time for their studies due to their existing commitments to work,family and other social activities. Tresman (2002) cited a E-learning may not be suitable for certain groups of learners,research finding from the Open University of United Kingdom, especially science students who need extensive physical sciencewhere dropout students were lacking the necessary time to juggle laboratory experiments (Vernon, 2002;Bourne, Harris &between work and family obligations. Full time e-learning Mayadas, 2005). UCLA’s School of Dentistry spent aroundstudents may face similar problems due to a lack of necessary US$750,000 to develop their online courseware but later founddiscipline for the e-learning environment. Both working adults out that the prospective customers would rather spend more forand fulltime students may find it hard to manage their study time. traditional classroom-based lectures (Kypreos, 2003). This mayKearsley (2000) mentioned that e-learning provides autonomy to be due to the fact that these students need to carry out a lot oflearn, but the learners should have “initiatives and self-discipline laboratory experiments in order to deepen their skills andto study and complete assignments.” knowledge, and this may be hard to achieve through e-learning laboratory simulations.Self-paced learning seems to be a good idea. However, based onthe literature, learners tend to postpone or delay their coursework Difficulty in teaching in an e-learning environment is anotheras it is learner-centered, whereby the success or failure depends issue, as instructors may not be able to teach well. Moving into e- REVIEW PAPERSon the learner (Hiltz, 1994;Young-Ju, Bong & Choi, learning is difficult for instructors who are already familiar with2000;Olugbemiro et al. , 1999;Carrier et al. ,1986;Bourne et al. , the traditional teaching environment (Angelina, 2002a, p.12;1997). In an e-learning environment, learners need to manage Strauss, 2003; Kearsley, 2000;Wang, 2003). This is because thetheir learning and schedule their assignments (Grant & Spencer, e-learning teaching environment is new and the e-learning2003). This is rather different from the traditional learning technologies are developing and changing rapidly (Calvert,environment where learners need to attend some courses in 2001). Strauss (2003) said that transition into e-learning is ratherphysical classrooms, and they need to do their assignments or difficult as it involves conversion of physical teaching materialstake examinations within a certain time frame (Miller & Corley, into e-learning materials and this takes time to complete. Many2001). As a result, e-learning learners may take a longer time to instructors are not exposed to the necessary software, and do notgraduate, as compared to traditional students who need to want to change their teaching styles (Levy, 2003). Instructorscomplete their studies within a time frame (Choy, 2002). need to have interpersonal skills to communicate effectively in an electronic classroom (White & Weight, 2000). As a result,Learners with poor writing skills may be at a disadvantage in an instructors need e-learning training before transitioning (Levy,e-learning environment (Smith & Rupp, 2004). This is because 2003;Strauss, 2003;Pachnowski, 2003). All these points seem tolearners need to communicate in a text-based environment. support Rogers’ (2000, p.23) argument that a good classroomTherefore, the inability to write well may inhibit the learning instructor may not be a good online instructor. Palloff and Prattprocess and lead to misunderstandings. (1999, p.349) also mentioned that some instructors might even underestimate e-learning, as they think that it is similar to face-3.3 Limitations compared to Traditional Campus to-face instruction. All these complicates instructors’ transition towards e-learning.Lacking physical interaction is another limitation in e-learning.Schott et al. (2003) expressed that the lack of physical 3.4 Design Limitationsinteractions made e-learning students feel isolated andapprehensive. Lacking physical interaction may also affect the Poor design of the e-learning courseware is a major issue forcompletion rate (Haigh, 2004). McAleavy and McCystral (1996) learners and e-learning providers, as pointed out by Ivergard &found out that half of the students for an Advance Diploma in Hunt (2005). A poor design “gave users a feeling of beingEducation from the University of Ulster commented that it was stressed and badly treated by the system”. They further said thisrather hard to seek advice, as compared to face-to-face causes users to feel frustrated and eventually stop learning.instruction. Physical classrooms however will enable learners to Courseware design should be tailored to the needs of thelearn faster, as they can always refer to the instructors or peers learners: it should be easy to use and students should have easyfor guidance. Body language is absent in e-learning. An example access to guidance and information (Howell, Williams &is when a student stated that he missed “facial and hand Lindsay 2003; James-Gordon, Young & Bal, 2003). Svenssongestures”, from which important cues can be derived (Meyer, (2004) said that it is not easy to design the e-learning courseware,2003). The lack of physical interactions shown above will hinder as it should not be limited to just content and should includethe learning process as pointed out by McKnight (2000), that the other components to enhance learning. In a nutshell, the poorJASA 2 | January 2007 57
  4. 4. REVIEW PAPERS usability of the online course will inhibit the learner’s ability to problem for students (Collins, Buhalis & Peters, 2003). It is not acquire knowledge (Smulders, 2003). unusual to see that there are some online “universities” even selling degrees for a certain amount of “tuition fees” and without Since e-learning is designed basically for the ICT savvy, it may any form of assessment (Khoo & Azizan, 2004). As a result, be too technical for ICT novices (James-Gordon, Young & Bal, Kearsley (2000) stated that because of the nature and quality of 2003). Angelina (2002b, p.12) also stressed the importance of e-learning, it must be subjected to further scrutiny for ensuring equality of access to learners from all backgrounds and accreditation and recognition. Similarly, Eaton pointed out that walks of society. In short, the courseware should be easy to use accreditation is difficult for distance learning institutions, as and come with detailed guidance and ultimately be suitable for there are issues in the evaluation of education quality and the all learners. assessment of the effectiveness of the distance learning framework (Baker, 2003). As there are many coursewares available in the market, Sambrook (2003) mentioned that it is not easy for learners to Difference in time zones is another problem in online e-learning, choose a suitable courseware that comes with relevant content as it is accessible for learners from all over the world. It is rather and adequate levels. Trainers also find it hard to judge the quality hard to schedule an online class to accommodate different of the training materials (Carr, 1999). Kearsley (2000) also students from different time zones. Rourke and Anderson (2002) mentioned there that there are many software applications that provided a good example where students in an online program the providers and instructors have to consider before offering an find it hard to find a time slot for discussion because of the online course. The appropriateness of the courseware may different time zones in North America itself. increase the learner’s satisfaction (Grooms, 2003). Therefore, selecting an appropriate courseware to suit learners seems to be a difficult task. 4. PREVIOUS RESEARCH AND DISCUSSION 3.5 Other limitations Perhaps one of the most researched variables is the difficulty in finding time to study. Most of the literature indicates that Although e-learning provides 24 hours and 7 days of unlimited working adults are busy individuals who have many access, this may not be advantageous to some individuals. commitments, especially towards their family or work (WillgingREVIEW PAPERS Dringus (2003) said “being 24/7 is a good marketing scheme, but & Johnson, 2004; Vergidis & Panagiotakopoulus, 2002; and online learners and professors burn-out easily”. She explained Vaughan & MacVicar, 2004). Other studies indicate that learners that learners can post any questions in the forum or send e-mails have family commitments (Bird & Morgan, 2003; and Pierrakeas whenever they are free (even during weekends). This never- et al., 2004). Since these learners are busy, they may find it ending learning and teaching process will easily stress both the difficult to find time for their studies and may eventually stop learners and especially the instructors (Newton, 2003). It is also studying as we can see from the findings of Hiltz (1997) and more time-consuming to guide online students, as academicians Pierrakeas et al. (2004). These suggest that e-learners don’t have need to respond to each student’s queries individually in writing much time to study. (Kathawala, Abdou & Elmulti, 2002). Schifter (2004) mentioned that academicians are not well compensated for their e-learning Another limitation that is related to time is self-discipline. involvement. These e-learning instructors have heavy workloads Working adults are learners who might lack the self-discipline and this may undermine their performance and even reduce their needed to learn while handling work and family commitments, as chances to grow with the environment (Dringus, 2003). This will discovered by Willging & Johnson (2004), Vergidis & affect their performance in teaching or facilitating students, thus Panagiotakopoulus (2002) and Vaughan & MacVicar (2004). learners may only receive sub-standard services. Other studies indicated that learners felt lost in cyberspace (Dearnley, 2003; O’Regan, 2003). Since all these learners have Angelina (2002b, p.12) and Lau (2002) pointed out that it is many commitments and they are lost in cyberspace, they need rather hard to ensure academic honesty in terms of on-line extra self-discipline in order to be successful in e-learning. assessment. It is possible for the e-learner to share the password and identity number with others during unsupervised online Preparatory training is necessary for new learners; Abouchedid & assessments. Patalong (2003) provided another good example of Eid (2004) found out that students are lacking in e-learning cheating when students shared or “cooperated” during an online skills. Therefore, they may need a preparation course for distance examination in Coventry University, United Kingdom. learning or even e-learning (Bird & Morgan, 2003). While not Submission of the online assignments can also be fraudulent as directly related, one finding from O’Malley & McGraw (1999) the actual e-learners may ask a third party to do the assignment stated that learners need significant changes in order to adapt to for them. Schott et al. (2003) referred to all these problems as an online environment. Collins (2002) also found out that “digital cheating”, when learners “utilized” computer technology learners drop out because of not being knowledgeable enough. for cheating or plagiarism. All these suggest that preparatory training is indeed required for new learners. Recognition of e-learning courses is currently a limitation. According to a survey, many companies did not recognize online In order to be successful in e-learning one has to learn new skills MBA graduates (Kathawala, Abdou, Elmulti, 2002). This may be and technologies. Evan & Hasse (2001) found out that learners due to the fact that there are many unaccredited schools or degree are moderately lacking in computer proficiency. Willging & mills (Kathawala, Abdou, Elmulti, 2002). Therefore, attaining a Johnson (2004) found out that students dropout because they qualification with accreditation status from e-learning is usually a were lacking in technological skills. Therefore, we can conclude 58 JASA 2 | January 2007
  5. 5. REVIEW PAPERSthat learners need to acquire technological skills in order to recognition of e-learning courses and etc. These facts show thatsucceed in e-learning. e-learning is not prefect at the moment and the e-learning providers can consider these limitations to improve e-learningTechnological limitations are major barriers to e-learning too. services.This can be seen from the study of Homan & Macpherson (2005)and Litto (2002) whereby companies have problems in acquiringand maintaining hardware or other ICT resources. A more 6. REFERENCES:appropriate finding is by Hiltz (1997) - the author found out thepersonal computer is a barrier for e-learners. Therefore computer 1. Abouchedid, K. & Eid, G.M., (2004), ‘E-learning challengeshardware and other resources are a necessity for companies that in the Arab World: revelations from a case study profile’,wish to implement e-learning. 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