The objects of e-learning: Rethinking implementation, or not learning from the history of technology
John Hannon, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
The implementation of learning technology systems in universities tends to be associated with perennial debates about e-learning effectiveness. These debates are phrased in a variety of ways, such as a gap between policy and practice, or outcomes and expectations, or as a mismatch between institutional technology systems and the emergence of Web 2.0. Such characterisations derive from a legacy of huge investment in e-learning systems and strategies that herald great promise for elusive outcomes, attended by a record of compromise and breakdown. This paper draws on this legacy to reflect critically on the pervasive deployment of learning technology systems in universities that has emerged from the brief but vexed history of e-learning, focusing on the arrangements for implementation of a new learning management system in one university. I argue that although this instance of implementation was successful in achieving its purposes, it nevertheless embedded aspects of historical human-technology interactions that reproduced troublesome effects for institutional e-learning. I draw on actor-network theory (ANT) concepts to examine the nonhuman participants of implementation, in particular the "objects" that are the focus of implementation: how these objects entail networks and relations that act prior to and at a distance from the implementation, how they are enacted in technologies and processes of institutional change, and their consequences for teaching and learning practices. Implementation, in this instance, did not fit with an understanding of the LMS as a single object. Rather it involved the enactment of the LMS in multiple forms: as a technological system requiring constant testing and reporting, as a vehicle for organisational change in the form of subject migration and staff adoption, and as a site for situated practices of e-learning. The implications of the study are that where an institution-wide technology is implemented as a singular entity, with a single narrative, there are potential consequences for teaching and learning practices. Understanding organisational change involving e-learning means reappraising the objects that merit such attention and resources, and approaching them as materialised effects of multiple and extensive social and technological relations. I propose that early intervention in the assembly of such objects, at the outset of their implementation, is critical to the construction of a learning-centred e-learning environment.
e-learning, actor network theory, implementation, enactment, learning management system
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