Caroline Casey   MA Education


Understanding e-learning

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Mini Project 4 - Design of e-learning

This mini project is an analysis of the Reception Duties example (the example) from the course CDROM.  The scope of this project is to analyse the example in terms of the Associationist psychological model of learning.

In discussing the Associationist tradition, Mayes & de Fraitas (2004) refer to knowledge as an organised accumulation of associations and skill components; where learning is seen as the formation, strengthening and adjustment of associations, reinforced through feedback.  This requires the student to analyse the subject matter as specific associations, which can be expressed as particular behavioural objectives.  Mayes & de Fraitas contend that where an e-learning model is characterised by an analysis of the learning outcomes into subject matter units then the pedagogical approach is Associationist.

Gagne (1985) further developed the Associationist model into a system of ‘instructional task analysis’ where learning tasks are arranged into a hierarchical sequence in order of increasing complexity, with successful completion of the simpler tasks being a prerequisite for advancement through the task hierarchy.  This has been referred to as the ‘decomposition hypothesis’ and assumes that smaller, simpler units need to be mastered before advancing onto more complex tasks.

The example requires students to work through the course units in a linear fashion, moving to activities such as quizzes and surveys when directed to do so.  The content of the units to be worked through are instructional rather than conceptual and give the students no opportunity for reflection, managing their own learning, communication with fellow students or building a community of practice though group tasks or discussion.  Some of the activities provide immediate feedback on whether an answer is correct, however, some others require the student to print out the test when completed and include this in their portfolio (which will presumably be assessed by the tutor with feedback being given at a later date).  One activity in particular, ‘Millionaire’, requires a correct answer to each question in the quiz, a wrong answer results in the quiz starting again from the beginning; in this way the assessment has taken on a Behaviourist approach.

The Associationist perspective can be criticised as being too teacher centred, but the potential for individualising instruction through assessment with immediate response and feedback, together with careful alignment of learning outcomes, learning objectives, instructional strategies and assessment methods (Wilson & Myers, 2000), the pedagogy can be more closely identified with the more accepted constructivist tradition.  

The Constructivist, Piaget, in arguing against the Behaviourist style of ‘bottom up’ learning theory as advocated by Gagne (1985), based his theory of knowledge (1970) on the assumption that ‘learners ... must construct their concepts through active and personal experimentation and observation’ (Mayes & de Fraitas, 2004).


In conclusion, the example can be identified as being modelled on the Associationist psychological perspective of learning        due to the learning outcomes being based on the subject matter units, also that the course is arranged in a linear fashion with a hierarchy of tasks and activities.  The example is an instructional model and can be regarded as quite outdated when compared with modern learning pedagogy, such as constructivism.  There is potential to adapt the example, as referred to above, through careful alignment of objectives, outcomes and assessment which would greatly improve the example as a learning activity.