‘E-learning’ or ‘E-teaching’?
I don’t know who invented the term ‘E-learning’ but it was both a streak of genius and a ‘category error’ (a phrase due to the philosopher Gilbert Ryle). A category error is a semantic or ontological error in which “things of one kind are presented as if they belonged to another”. In this case the error is to confuse the intention with the result. E-learning is what we hope students will do; ‘e-teaching’ is what distance institutions do to try to get that result.
This error is important because it allows for discussion about e-learning which concentrates on what institutions do online, but largely forgets the importance of assessing the result – what students do online. As a result there seems to be little interest in outcomes – how many students are actually successful. As Paul Ramsden (2003) says “No teacher can ever be certain that their teaching will cause a learner to learn”. At the moments despite the huge and expensive efforts that go into e-teaching there is little evidence that there are great improvements in students’ e-learning as a result.