What are the Capacity Gaps in e-Learning Expertise?

Aczel, James; Peake, Stephen and Hardy, Pascale (2007). What are the Capacity Gaps in e-Learning Expertise? In: Computer Assisted Learning (CAL '07), 26-28 Mar 2007, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.


The 2005 World Summit on the Information Society gave strong encouragement to properly-resourced “national strategies for ICT integration in education” (WSIS, 2005). While such efforts are typically focused on improving physical access to ICT and on training citizens to use ICT, the problem of how to make best use of ICT for education is also important (Bawa, 2004); that is, how to increase countries’ e-learning expertise. The work outlined here complements existing literature by presenting a framework of e-learning capacity gaps, derived from an empirical study that asked the capacity-builders how they perceive the challenge of increasing e-learning expertise.

Six non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in Africa, the Middle East and Asia were involved, all with a remit to strengthen intellectual capital in their respective regions of the world. They represent a mix of organizations – academic, commercial and developmental – in contrasting circumstances in relation to engagement in e-learning. Methods of data collection included a variable mix of questionnaires, interviews, and texts in the public domain. A discursive description of each case study in relation to e-learning was developed, and returned to respondents for validation and comment. Commonalities and differences were then examined.

The responses suggest that the NGOs are primarily motivated to build capacity because (a) e-learning is seen as an effective means to train and educate, particularly in extending the geographical reach of subject experts; (b) rich countries’ head-start in e-learning is seen as likely to exacerbate world inequalities in health and welfare; (c) development funds are available to support capacity building in e-learning; and (d) the quality of e-learning is believed to be improvable in terms of access, effectiveness, and sustainability. Barriers include inadequate ICT infrastructures, lack of suitably skilled professionals, and internet access costs. Criticisms of e-learning itself were not widespread amongst these pioneers.

On the basis of this study, four kinds of e-learning capacity gaps are hypothesized:

1. The “instructional design capacity gap” – in relation to designing e-learning programmes.

2. The “production capacity gap” – in relation to translating paper materials, scripts and ideas into e-learning materials.

3. The “tutorial capacity gap” – in relation to online tutoring.

4. The “community building gap” – in relation to building online communities.

For example, a clear priority for NGOs D and F is the building of high quality interactive tools and the tailoring of printed texts to the affordances of the web. Tutorial activity and community interaction do not feature significantly. So the capacity gaps would be characterized as instructional design and production. In fact all the NGOs expressed a need to improve skills in design and production. However NGOs A, B, C and E also identified improving online tutoring as of importance. NGO D, meanwhile, was explicit about the desire to build communities that exploit the technologies and methods of e-learning.

While there is some evidence that activities of the NGOs can be seen as strategic responses to these hypothesized gaps, this framework is offered tentatively, and further research is needed to test it.


Bawa, A. (2004) “The Challenge of Access to Higher Education in Africa: The need for systemic approaches”, LINC conference, Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.

WSIS (2005) “Tunis Agenda for the Information Society”, World Summit on the Information Society, WSIS-05/TUNIS/DOC/6(Rev. 1)-E.

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