A thousand reasons to hate e-learning: a comparative analysis of empirical data and theoretical considerations pertaining to dissatisfaction with e-learning

Amigud, Alexander and Pell, David J. (2024). A thousand reasons to hate e-learning: a comparative analysis of empirical data and theoretical considerations pertaining to dissatisfaction with e-learning. Interactive Technology and Smart Education (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/ITSE-11-2023-0215


E-learning has become a polarizing issue. Some say that it enhances accessibility to education and some say that it hinders it. While the literature on the subject underscores the effectiveness of the pedagogical frameworks, strategies and distance learning technologies, the firsthand accounts of students, parents and practitioners challenge the validity of experts’ assessments. There is a gap between theory and practice and between the perceptions of providers and consumers of online learning. Following a period of lockdowns and a transition to online learning during the recent pandemic, the prevailing sentiment toward a distance mode of instruction became one of strong skepticism and negative bias. The aim of the study was to examine why e-learning has struggled to meet stakeholder expectations. Specifically, the study posed two research questions: 1. What are the reasons for dissatisfaction with online learning? 2. What are the implications for future research and practice?

The study used a mixed methods approach to examine the reasons behind negative perceptions of online learning by comparing the firsthand accounts posted on social media with the literature. To this end, n = 62,874 social media comments of secondary and postsecondary students, as well as parents, teachings staff and working professionals, covering the span of over 14 years (2008–2022), were collected and analyzed.

The study identified 28 themes that explain the stakeholder’s discontent with the online learning process and highlighted the importance of user-centric design. The analysis revealed that the perceived ineffectiveness of distance education stems from the failure to identify and address stakeholders’ needs and, more particularly, from the incongruence of instructional strategies, blindness to the cost of decisions related to instructional design, technology selection and insufficient levels of support. The findings also highlight the importance of user-centric design.

Practical implications
To address dissatisfaction with e-learning, it is imperative to remove barriers to learning and ensure alignment between technology and learners’ needs. In other words, the learning experience should be personalized to account for individual differences. Despite its cost-effectiveness, the one-size-fits-all approach hinders the learning process and experience and is likely to be met with resistance.

Drawing from the extensive literature, the study offers an explanation for stakeholders’ discontent with e-learning. Unlike survey research that is prone to social desirability bias, the sample provides a rare opportunity to observe and measure the visceral reactions that provide a more authentic sense of stakeholders’ perceptions toward online learning. The authors offer recommendations and identify areas for future research.

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