The failure of e-learning research to inform educational practice, and what we can do about it

Med Teach. 2009 Feb;31(2):158-62. doi: 10.1080/01421590802691393.


When a new technology is introduced, earlier studies focus on demonstrations of efficacy, followed by studies comparing the new technology against the old. However, such studies do little to advance the new technology. Using an analogy with the automobile the author argues that e-learning is neither inherently superior nor inferior to traditional instruction; rather they are different and complementary. Each can effectively serve different purposes and functions suited to its strengths. A recent meta-analysis of internet-based instruction concluded that existing research provides reassurance that e-learning is better than nothing and similar (on average) to traditional instruction, but yields little guidance on how to effectively use e-learning. e-Learning research to-date has done little to inform educational practice, and further no-intervention-controlled studies or comparisons with traditional instructional methods are not needed. Instead, we need to clarify how and when to use e-learning through 'basic science' research and 'field tests' comparing one e-learning intervention to another.

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion of Innovation
  • Education, Distance / standards*
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Research*