E-learning is a systematic mode of studying where students learn by interacting with various tools for information and communication technology (ICT). Interactive technologies provide support for various capabilities. As technological changes continue to occur, more platforms of sharing information and learning materials among students and tutors also emerge. Hence, e-learning advances with evolution in information technology (IT). E-learning may be defined as the deployment of new technologies together with applications to support learners and the learning process (Henry, 2001).
The set of technologies that are used in e-learning align well with the argument that students must take full responsibility for their learning by engaging their teachers and other students. Information technology provides the appropriate tools to enhance virtual interactions between teachers and learners. From this hypothetical perspective, this paper discusses the role of information technology in the success of e-learning systems. It also investigates various success factors for e-learning systems with reference to DeLone and McLean’s model.
Background to E-learning
The current world depends on technological advancement to develop new ways of accomplishing vital tasks in the society. The power of technology can now be accessed via 3G mobile phones. Eom, Ashill, Arbaugh, and Stapleton (2012) confirm that it is unacceptable for organisations in a hi-tech world to empower their employees via out-dated and traditional approaches in learning and development. This finding calls for managers and organisational leaders to emphasise adapting their learning models to the emerging technologies. Thus, e-learning is an approach that finds application at an organisational level and in higher education.
Many nations and learning institutions recognise the purpose and contribution of e-learning in enhancing scholarship process. Eom et al. (2012) claim that the worldwide market demands for e-learning technology hit US$27.1 billion by the end of 2009. They further estimate that the growth of this demand will remain elevated (at 12.8%) annually so that its demand will hit the US$49.6 billion mark by 2014.
This estimate may imply that scholars unanimously accept the e-learning as the most effective approach for learning in higher institutions and other organisations. However, Henry (2001) suggests that even though hi-tech distinctiveness envisage learners’ enthusiasm to utilise and/or interact in virtual education settings, additional features such as students’ inspiration, intellectual uniqueness, and/or peer maintenance are likely to be reliable determinants of the students’ academic status. This observation highlights the necessity for establishing definitive and consistent research findings on the correlation between technological traits of approaches for enhancing e-learning and the positive learning outcomes.
Eom et al. (2012) assert that lack of correlation between the traits of technologies that are used to enhance e-learning and learning outcomes may be explained by the manner in which people conceptualise the role of information technology in enhancing e-learning. In the case of online learning environments, which are the primary concerns of this paper, TAM (technology acceptance model) constitutes the chief approach that is deployed on a wider scope to conceptualise the part played by technology in achieving learning outcomes.
Despite its high influence, the purpose of the model was mainly to predict acceptability and adoption of various learning technologies (Eom et al., 2012). MIS scholars developed other models for use in an offline environment. However, they have gone without testing. Hence, their discussion is beyond the scope of this paper. However, two plans, the DeLone and McLean’s and the CFC (Critical Success Factor), warrant discussion since they help explain the contribution of technology in teaching and learning in an online environment.
The Critical Success Factor Model
The concept of CFC found its way into the literature on effective learning models during 1980s. In this time, many organisations were interested in determining the reasons behind the success of some organisations and not others in enhancing organisational learning. Selim (2007) defines CFC as those things that organisations must do to ensure success in organisational learning. Figure 2 shows this model.
The CFC approach to the establishment of various success factor for e-learning holds that critical success factors need to be limited, controllable, and assessable to help determine the degree of success of any learning model. Based on this assertion, Papp (2000) identified some of the essential CSFs in a university learning environment. They include academic assets, appropriateness of lesson resources for e-learning settings, constructing the e-learning lessons, e-learning class sessions, and safeguarding e-learning syllabus and platform. He further suggested that these factors could be studied both separately and as a combination to ensure possible enumeration of the aspects, which are most effective in fostering e-learning. Benigno and Trentin (2000) advise that while evaluating CSF, one needs to consider students’ outcome in terms of performance, quality, and sufficiency of the e-learning courses that are offered by institutions of higher learning.
Using the CSF approach, Volery and Lord (2000) deployed the results from a study that used a sample size of 47 students who had taken part in a managerial course in an e- learning environment within the Australian universities. The researcher identified technology, instructor, and previous experience of the technology use as essential success factors for e-learning. Based on this study, technology is one of the essential areas of consideration in the evaluation of the role of IT in enhancing the success of e-learning systems. It refers to the simplicity of admission and course plotting, interface planning, and intensity of communication. Aspects that connect with tutors comprise one’s thoughts towards learners, teachers’ methodological aptitude, and classroom relations (Eom et al., 2012).
Hence, success for e-learning requires the interaction of IT-based systems and the input of human decision makers who also supply the necessary information to be shared between learners and instructors. In this extent, IT acts as a tool for enhancing the ease of dissemination of information between participants in e-learning.
The main agenda of e-learning is to achieve learning objectives, which may range from technological and environmental to instructor-related objectives. Technologically, an essential attribute of e-learning systems is the ease of accessibility and reliability of software and hardware applications. IT acts as the means for evaluating and developing software and user interface models, which are reliable and dependable depending on the current technological developments in IT knowledge. IT can also help in the generation of better asynchronous and/or synchronous e-learning systems in higher education and organisational settings.
The DeLone and McLean’s Model
DeLone and McLean’s model comprises six main measures for success of the e-learning system. They include superiority of the structure, eminence of information, contentment of the learner, significance of the method on persons, and business repercussion of the model (Eom et al., 2012). These measures are not only interdependent, but also interrelated. The model holds that “the system use is a mediating variable that is functionally determined by information quality and system quality” (Eom et al., 2012, p.148). In this context, IT acts as a tool for enhancing system quality in a bid to foster the interaction between e-learning system and its users.
System quality relates to measures for speed and accuracy of information processing of an e-learning system. For higher education and organisational e-learning systems, these parameters include elasticity of the system, steadiness, accessibility, consistency, convenience, and the capability of the system to ease the learning process. Perhaps, any e-learning system must make the process of availing information to learners easier as opposed to complicating it. Thus, learners must access the information with minimal effort input to operate the system. This situation requires the existence of mechanisms of mediating the system’s functionality and learners’ knowledge level for the system use. Through the development of software, which simplifies machine language into a language that nonprofessional learners can easily understand, IT ensures optimal system accessibility.
DeLone and McLean’s model considers technological traits of e-learning systems beyond the perspective of easiness of system use. This claim suggests that the model can find applicability in examining e-learning success even in situations where the use of technology is involuntary. It also discusses the learning outcomes, apart from the role of technology adoption in enhancing success of e-learning. As such, it constitutes an important pedagogy for conceptualising the role of IT in enhancing e-learning in an online environment, which is the main concern of the paper.
Success Factors for E-learning Systems using DeLone and McLean’s Model
Quality of E-learning System
The success of IT in enhancing effectiveness of the e-learning system depends on its capacity to enhance the achievement of various variables, which contribute to the preference of an e-system in learning. The main variables include the ease of system use and satisfaction of users with the system usability. DeLone and McLean’s model considers these two variables as dependent on the information quality and system characteristics such as dependability, reliability, and availability (Eom et al., 2012).
TAM approach to evaluation of the effectiveness of the e-learning system holds that system quality depends on one’s perception of the usefulness and capacity to use the system with ease. Perception of usefulness acts as motivation for intention to utilise e-learning system amongst learners. This motivation correlates positively with the actual utilisation of the system (Selim, 2007). Perhaps, an e-learning system is only effective if learners have motivation, which translates into actual system use, to achieve learning objectives. This finding implies that even if the system may be used, it is highly ineffective if it does not help learners attain their learning objectives. In this extent, tools such as IT, which enhance optimal utilisation of an IT system, are of paramount importance in terms of fostering effective e-learning processes.
Any tools that enhance IS quality receive scholarly support. For instance, Livari (2005) finds a positive correlation between satisfaction of users and quality of information system in case of mandatory systems. Livari (2005) also finds such relationship for decision support information systems. In higher learning settings, Arbaugh (2005) identified the capacity of ease of usability of internet blackboards as having positive relationship with learners’ perception of internet e-learning platform usability amongst university students. These platforms are developed through information technology. Consequently, IT plays the role of increasing e-learning system usability, which in turn increases the perception of the usefulness of internet-based e-learning platforms and the actual utilisation of the system by learners.
Quality of Information
Information quality refers to the various attributes of information that is offered through e-learning systems. They include precision, trustworthiness, set-up, clarity, and timelessness (Eom et al., 2012). Although many of these qualities depend on the information developer, IT may provide a means of availing information processing applications to ensure timeliness and unlimited availability of the information to learners.
Usability and Satisfaction of Users
E-learning system use refers to the utilisation of IS, which makes it possible for e-learning to take place, and the outputs of the e-learning system. From the perspective of its usability and user contentment, significant measures that may facilitate the determination of the role of IT in enhancing the success of e-learning system include parameters such as promptness, rate of recurrence, and extent of the system use (Eom et al., 2012). If IT enhances the success of e- learning systems, it implies that it can augment the development of applications that correlate positively with these parameters. Hence, it produces positive effects on e-learning system’s usability. It has individual positive effects in the learning process. For this goal to happen, IT must ensure that any e-learning system leads to satisfaction of its users.
System Usability and the Individual Implications
Any procedure or tool for enhancing the effectiveness of achieving learning objectives needs to produce positive individual impacts that enhance people’s utilisation of e-learning systems. DeLone and McLean define individual impacts with respect to IS e-learning systems as “the effects of information on the behaviour of the recipient” (Eom et al., 2012, p.153). While measuring the impacts of IT in the success of e-learning systems, possible measures may include learners’ performance levels and test scores. Incorporating IT in e-learning also needs to enable learners increase their speed and accuracy of decision-making processes in terms of their preferred learning systems such as e-learning or direct teaching in classrooms. Perhaps, learners should select a learning system, which reduces the amount effort that is required to achieve specific learning objectives and outcomes.
Satisfaction of Users and Individual Implications
Contentment with a particular learning methodology is critical in enhancing motivation of learners. Indeed, IT can aid in the development of interactive tools that ensure that learners consider e-learning the best option for learning. These tools may include animations of course contents and simulations. Such applications can produce positive implications on the leaner in terms of enhancing their capacity to grasp information. In fact, in an e-learning environment, Eom et al. (2012) confirm the positive correlation between user satisfaction and the anticipated e-learning outcomes.
Contribution of IT in enhancing E-learning
Information technology (IT) interweaves the lives of all learners. However, they may not perceive their dependence on computers, the internet, and online learning resources as a representation of the incorporation of IT in learning processes. Therefore, future generations of learners may not know any other way of learning apart from interactions with e-learning IS. In support of this assertion, Eom et al. (2012) assert that IT encompasses one of the essential tools and resources for facilitating learning together with teaching in all educational levels. In higher institutions of learning, IT enhances timeless interaction and collaboration of students and university teaching community.
The effectiveness of e-learning in attaining the objectives of learning and its outcomes depends on the incorporation of customised IT products in strategies of enhancing the distribution of the information through platforms such as university e-learning blackboards. Through IT, learning institutions also develop systems for information management, applications of object-oriented learning, and the creation of virtual classrooms.
Henry (2001) appreciates the significance of IT in e-learning when he defines it learning as “the appropriate application of intranet and internet technologies to support the delivery and management of learning, skills, and knowledge” (p. 250). Although this definition may attract some controversies, it evidences the need for development of applications for enhancing the dissemination of knowledge and skills through the internet. Software applications are developed by IS specialists and experts who deploy IT as a major tool for their developments. Thus, effective e-learning in an online environment cannot be achieved without the exploitation of IT as an organisational resource for enhancing the effectiveness of information systems.
Information technology is rapidly becoming the resort for organisations that seek to reach learners in different geographical locations. This finding implies that e-learning is not confined to classroom settings. Indeed, Henry (2001) suggests that through the power of IT, technology application replaces classroom session in many higher institutions of learning and some courses that were traditionally offered through direct instructions within a university. However, for success to be realised, direct instruction as a learning methodology requires applications with the capability of easing the process of accessing information that is offered through various platforms that support e-learning initiatives. Indeed, the e-learning industry may be divided into three main sectors, namely services, products, and technology.
For the product sector, learning materials are ineffective in terms of reaching the target audience (learners) without technology. As revealed before, technology for enhancing easiness of the use of e-learning platforms requires integration of the best practices and approaches for information technology in e-learning.
The characteristics of technologically driven generation make IT possess a noble role in enhancing the success of e-learning. In an era of information sharing through 3G mobile applications and broadband internet, learners use technology in recreation, work, and in school settings. Eom et al. (2012) support this argument by adding that whenever new technologies emerge, people embrace them in a bid to take advantage of their associated benefits. In particular, new technologies offer convincing learning powers. For instance, through IT applications, people can have access to information in either synchronous or asynchronous modes, or even both.
Selim (2007) asserts that students encounter challenges such as inexperience in using computers, especially due to inadequate skills in the use of basic computer applications, which affect their ability to engage successfully in e-learning. Although this claim is imperative, interaction with technological devices is becoming a common way of life in the digital era.
Upon noting the difficulties in the use of technological gadgets, IT experts develop applications that mediate people’s knowledge and experience levels in the use of the gadgets and languages that such gadgets understand. For instance, high programming languages have replaced machine languages in an effort to ease and enhance the utilisation of computers by people who have different skills and experience levels.
E-learning differs from conventional learning approaches since it requires the unitisation of digital technologies. Wu and Hwang (2010) reveal that e-learning requires the transfer of various course materials through self-directed approaches without which it becomes impossible to achieve effectiveness in learning. Students are likely to take e-learning courses when they have experience in the use of e-learning platforms so that they can compare their benefits with the conventional approaches. Therefore, the more they utilise them, the higher the chances of selecting the platforms among a set of alternatives of learning modes.
In this extent, Wu and Hwang (2010) suggest, “students’ use of e-learning influences e-performance positively” (p.315). Encouraging the use of e-learning requires the development of platforms that meet usability expectations. Since IT forms the foundation for the development of computer-based platforms for information systems, it is possible that it also influences success of e-learning by providing mechanisms of enhancing e-learning system usability.
Usability is a function of perceptions of user satisfaction, efficiency, and effectiveness of the e-learning system. In the context of Kirkpatrick’s model for training and development, it refers to the reaction level. Reaction of trainee on training programmes influences the overall outcomes of the learning process (Wu & Hwang, 2010). Extending this claim to e-learning context, the reaction of e-learning system users affects their performance. Quoting the evidence from the work of Wu and Hwang (2010), usability produces positive implication on the realisation of the anticipated outcomes of e-learning.
Higher institutions of learning, which deploy e-learning methodologies to reach geographically isolated learners, must evaluate the reactions of learners to their e-learning systems, especially whether they meet learners’ expectations. From these reactions, Web 2.0 applications, which require the input of IT expertise, can help in fostering two-way communication between an institution’s staff and learners who are scattered across the world. Through learners’ response, it becomes possible to develop customisable e-learning platform specifications to meet different needs of culturally diverse learners. In this context, IT-based technologies help organisations improve their e-learning system usability in an effort to increase their effectiveness in delivering the goals and objectives of e-learning.
Studies that investigate the roles of IT in enhancing usability of e-learning systems pose the interrogative on the most significant usability requirement, which can be enhanced through IT. Responding to this interrogative, Eom et al. (2012) identify system architectural design as one of the factors that influence learner motivation to use a given system. Wu and Hwang (2010 support this attribute of the e-learning platform by adding that well designed systems for e-learning increase the intentions of learners to use them and the effectiveness of the learning process. Research on e-learning technologies supports this conclusion as it contends that people interact with information systems, which match their experience and knowledge levels in the use of IT-based learning tools (Henry, 2001).
In the e-learning, instructors may encounter challenges such as the need to communicate through writing as opposed to easier ways of articulating thoughts and the intended messages verbally. IT solves this challenge, which may influence the preference of e-learning among instructors. It avails tools such as video conferencing and video link sharing through social networking platforms. For learners who might find e-learning unsuitable for them due to usability challenges that are associated with difficulties in decoding information, IT technologies provide a solution through the provision of applications for translating written contents that are offered through e-learning programmes. Therefore, as new IT knowledge develops, many of the recurrent challenges that affect the usability of e-learning systems also become easier to solve.
Information quality constitutes integral traits of any effective e-learning system. Information that is provided through e-learning system needs to be reliable and dependable (Eom et al. (2012). Students should receive learning contents in the exact form in which the instructors compose it. Additionally, for reliability in terms of the period in which information is held in the system, the risk of information manipulation should not exist. In the online environment, e-learning systems interact with potential threats to information accuracy, system reliability, and dependability. Therefore, organisations or higher institutions of learning that engage their target audience in e-learning must provide a means of protecting information from malicious manipulation. Investments in IT applications for mitigating threats of information loss or unauthorised manipulations in an online environment are necessary.
IT can help in enhancing the effectiveness of e-learning systems by providing tools for guaranteeing information quality through mitigation of risks of espionage and sabotage. Espionage entails the practice or act of acquiring organisational or national secrets, especially on classified information and sensitive secrets from competitors, individuals, and even another government. The main motivation for engaging in this malpractice is to take advantage over other organisations via internet’s illegal exploitation of computers, software, and networks. In the derivation of strategies to mitigate such threats, applications that are developed through knowledge-sharing in IT such as firewalls become essential in guaranteeing quality of information from e-learning systems.
Sabotage is yet another risk to the quality of information from e-learning systems. Through sabotage, enemies intercept communication networks by partially or completely disrupting or replacing correct signals within wrong ones. Through malicious programmes, enemies may disable networks for an e-learning system, thus prompting the disruption of information flow process between learners and institutions. Consequently, reliability and dependability of the systems are threatened. In an attempt to curtail these risks, IT can help in the development of programmes for protecting or alerting an organisation on potential threats to the security of its e-learning systems.
Information technology permits institutions of learning to engage geographically isolated learners in an effective learning process. In an online environment, this effectiveness depends on e-learning system usability and quality of information. Quality of information is a function of consistency, steadfastness, and availability of an e-learning system while usability depends on design architecture of the system. Through the provision of knowledge for developing the applications of mitigating the risk of disruption or manipulation of information that is shared across e-learning networks, the paper has revealed how IT acts as an essential tool for ensuring quality of information, which is a key determinant of success of an e-learning system. By providing knowledge that is necessary for designing of user-friendly e-learning systems, IT increases the probability of users reporting a positive experience with an organisation’s e-learning system. The magnitude of positive reports on user experience with a system forms an important parameter for measuring the effectiveness of the IS system.
Nevertheless, negative reports also provide a mechanism of identifying necessary improvements to the system. In this extent, the paper has confirmed that IT provides tools such as Web 2.0 applications, which enable an organisation engage in a two-way communication with learners in an effort to resolve challenges that are associated with the usability of e-learning IS platforms.
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