Children Autism Primary School

What Are The Characteristics And Challenges Of Parent Professional Collaboration For Education Of Children With Autism In Mainstream Primary School?

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The aim of this case study research was to explore the dynamics of parent professional collaboration for education of children with autism in a mainstream primary school. Effective partnership between school and parents is gaining currency in the legal documents concerning inclusion of children with special educational needs. Partnership with parents of children with autism is especially vital considering the core difficulties of children with autism in communication and socialization. Parent-professional collaboration can contribute tremendously in increasing the effectiveness of any educational program for children with autism. Moreover lack of collaboration between parents and professionals may cause a delay in achieving developmental progress in children with autism. This research was conducted in a special autism unit within a mainstream primary school in London. The participants of the study were a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), 5 teachers, 5 teaching assistants (TAs) and 5 parents of children from the autism unit within a mainstream primary school. The use of questionnaires, observation and interviews aided in ‘data- triangulation’ that enhanced the validity of the study. The findings of the study were grouped under three core themes namely autism, inclusive education and parent-professional collaboration. Firstly, the findings indicate that the autism unit within mainstream school supports inclusion of a very low percentage of children with autism in the mainstream school. It was clear that those children with mild behavioral and learning difficulties had a greater possibility of being included in the mainstream.


Secondly, the findings suggest that there exists a good level of communication and co-operation between the professionals and parents of children in the Key Stage 1 of the autism unit. However the level of contact with parents of Key stage 2 was poor. The reasons behind poor interaction between school and parents of the key stage two were not very clear. Finally, the study revealed that TAs appear to be excluded from the process of collaboration with parents. The TAs were not equally included in the process of collaboration and therefore shared different views about parents as compared with teachers. Overall, the results of the study indicate that there is a need to generate and reinforce holistic collaboration between parents and professionals, among professionals and between special autism unit and mainstream school for mainstreaming children with autism. Thus, holistic collaboration can be considered a key aspect in the process of inclusive education.

Dissertation Objectives

Having discussed the background and rationale of this research study this section spells out the research questions that directed this research. This study was carried out in an autism unit within a mainstream primary school in London. The research questions presented below were aimed at understanding the nature of parent–professional collaboration for education of children with autism. The special focus of this research was on autism however some sub-questions do not contain the phrase ‘for children with autism’ to keep the length of the questions short.

  • What is nature of the difficulties of children with autism and how are they included in the mainstream school?
  • To what degree are the views of parents and professionals working in collaboration similar and to what degree are they different?
  • What channels do parents and professionals use to communicate for collaboration and what is the quality of communication?
  • What strengths and problems are perceived by teachers and parents in the process of collaboration?
  • What suggestions do teachers and parents propose to improve the partnership?

Did you find any useful knowledge relating to autism in mainstream primary schools in this post? What are the key facts that grabbed your attention? Let us know in the comments. Thank you.

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Media Crisis

The Media during a Crisis Situation

With the advent of television sets in our rooms, computers, smart phones and tablets the media has become omnipresent. Often termed as the fifth estate, importance of media in our lives has steadily risen. According to Internet World Stats, there are over 2 billion internet users in the world and the number with an access to a television is even higher (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2012).

Social networking sites (referred to as Social Media) such as Facebook and Twitter had started as a mode through which individuals could communicate with each other. Today, it has evolved to a phenomenon through which important information can be communicated across millions of users in a fraction of a minute. Consequently, this new media has become a critical element in emergency and crisis response. Nielsen and NM Incite report that Social Media sites and blogs reach 80% of all active US Internet users. The figure for global users is not too different (Laad & Lewis, 2012). The role played by the media during Hurricane Katrina, Russian shootouts, earthquake in Japan, political unrest in the Middle East is proof to the fact that the media cannot be ignored today (Constitutional Rights Foundation, n.d.).

Role of Media in Disaster Management

The role of media is the dissemination of information (Excerpts from the Davide Commission Report, n.d.). Primarily the media uncovers and distributes / spread the information that is connected to a disaster. Answers to questions such as the number of causalities suffered from the earthquake or war? The number of displaced people and those that need refugee status are all answered by the media. Also, one can get an impression of the disaster magnitude, how to rise above the situation as well as information regarding the type of aid required, in so doing aiding in fundraising.

Media Crisis
Media Crisis

“You need to be prepared for today’s media culture, in which a tweet can become newsworthy and a news interview can become tweet-worthy” (Concina, 2013). Acknowledging the rising importance of print and digital media, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) became the first International NGO to implement humanitarian mass communication program in all of its covering areas to amass firsthand and authentic information (IOM, 2012). Furthermore, many of the disaster management organizations have formulated their own mass communication programs such as International Rescue Committee, Red Cross International, Oxfam International, US AID and UK AID.

Disadvantages of the media in a crisis

A Congressional research service report by the Federation of American Scientists illustrates that false, inaccurate or outdated information, has been circulated through social media in disasters (Lipowicz, 2011). During the Japanese tsunami, several appeals for help were repeatedly retweeted although the victims had already been rescued. An additional concern is that certain organizations or individuals may on purpose give information that is inaccurate so as to disrupt, confuse, or frustrate response efforts (Lipowicz, 2011). This can be a result of a terrorist activity or a prank. Concerns also arise on the security and privacy of personal information that is collected during a disaster response through social media (Lipowicz, 2011).


In conclusion, media plays a significant part in relaying information more so during moments of crisis, particularly social media with its ability to reach a mass audience within minutes. The media has a key role as well as a moral responsibility to relay information in an accurate and timely manner during a crisis.


Concina, F. (2013) Crisis Management – Francesca Concina | PR & Communications.

Constitutional Rights Foundation. (n.d.). The Media in Times of Crisis.

Excerpts from the Davide Commission Report. (n.d.). The role of media in crisis situations – News.

IOM. (2012) International Dialogue on Migration.

Laad, G., & Lewis, G. (2012) Role of social media in crisis communication.

Lipowicz, A. (2011) Social media: A mixed blessing for disaster response.

Miniwatts Marketing Group. (2012) Internet users in the world distribution by world regions.

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Online Education

Growth and Acceptance of Technology in Online Education

Online education has become a common phenomenon in education since the advent of the internet and globalization. However, even though online education has a great potential to result in effective educational experiences, it will often be received with apprehension in order to ensure that the students receive it better. Unless there is a clear comprehension of online education from the perspective of the student, students will be more inclined to drop out of the learning platform as soon as they learn that they do not need to keep on with online education. This problem results in a general problem of not persisting with online education, which in turn leads to attrition (McMahon, 2013). This problem has been identified in most nations that have established online education, such as the United States.

The main component of online education is technology without which the idea would be nonexistent. Hence, understanding online education also means understanding how people interact with technology in an educational setting (Tirrel & Quick, 2012). The information society that has become the norm today requires that individuals go an extra mile to gain expertise on the technological front. In addition, the educational system has had to catch up with this recent trend by integrating services with technology. Since, as An and Reigeluth, (2011) suggest, traditional factory models of education are incompatible with the modified demands of the society and education.

One of the most unique qualities of technology is that it is an end in itself and it is also a means to an end. Hence, it is not just a change in the educational platform, but it also inspires changes in other sections of education. For instance, online learning has enabled distance learning which has in turn led to the enrollment of more adult learners. Because of socioeconomic qualities that are unique to this group, they face a unique set of challenges and therefore interact uniquely with technology in online learning.

Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

In this new age of information, there have been great changes in the way things work around the world. Technology has become synonymous with almost every aspect of life, including work, education, and social life. The way people relate to each other has changed, and so has the thought processes used by people in decision making. These aspects of human life in turn affect the academic outcome and execution of academics. This is because it is the same individuals who are affected by technology who are charged with the task of developing education policies (McCarthy, 2010). In essence, it affects how people learn things. Learning is not just affected by policies, but also by the culture around which the individual who is learning grows within. Older generations that grew up at a different time have a slightly different way of looking at the world, and so does the younger generation. This will in turn affect the possible strategies that can be used to inspire their participation in online education. Online education has led to the development of a new learning method whose success is contingent on the features of the learner. Constructivism calls for the development of learner centered teaching it these features are to be used to the student’s advantage (Taber, 2011). The theories developed to explain these changing perceptions are critical in helping people understand more about teaching methods and student perceptions.

The online learning platform has brought about a new concept of learning and information sharing. This is even more profound owing to the advancement and proliferation of the internet as a source of information. It is likely that those engaging in online education also have access to the internet (McCarthy, 2010). Even though the internet is a source of valuable information, its access should be managed effectively, as well. Rather than doing the managing for the students, the teacher should teach the students how to do the managing then let them do their own management. Constructivism calls for students to be taught how to deal with the problem, and others like it on their own (Tirrel & Quick, 2012). This section will explore constructivism, adult learning theories and the theory of diffusion, as they are applicable to online education. The theory of diffusion helps in understanding the adoption of technology in classrooms and in teaching.

Adult learning and online education

Hanover research (2012) examined research related to the different trends in online education within institutions of higher learning as well as undergraduate programs for adults and the pedagogical strategies used in adult online education. Online education offers adult learners an opportunity to fast track their courses and this is important for them. Hannover research (2012) found that adult learners preferred accelerated and fast tracked courses that they could complete in a timely basis. Parker et al (2011) therefore concluded that blended or online courses therefore attract adult learners because they conveniently allow them to attend to family obligations and work while at the same time completing their education. According to Andragogy, this helps them fulfill their need for self-concept in that they can direct their own learning experiences (Chou, 2012). The need to feel self directed is a result of the adult being in a different place mentally owing to their experiences and their constructed reality. Therefore, as Chou (2012) concludes, they have a need to be in charge of their own experiences. This is in tandem with the assumption of andragogy that the adult is an individual who has accumulated numerous life experiences that offer a rich resource for learning (Chou, 2012). Through their experiences, adults built their own realities and mental processes that they use in their educational processes.

Within the United States economy, training and education are critical to economic survival. There is a great variance in the results of the number of additional educational services to secure descent jobs (Parker et al, 2011). However, it is claimed that the present classroom programs cater only for between 3 to 5 % of the adult population in need (Seaman, 2011). Even though classroom capacity to handle these students has increased over the years, this does not meet the needs of adult learners as needed. Distance education is one of the ways that this need has been met. Online education has become popular among adult learner with more of them enrolling in this type of education. Based on the andragogy theory, the adult is motivated by internal rather than external factors (Chou, 2012)

The profile of today’s learners has revealed a trend that cannot be ignored by academic institutions. Half of the population in the world is aged below 20 years and about two billion teenagers live in developing nations (Parker et al, 2011). Most of the learners entering the higher education system are familiar with technology more so than previous generations. These learners will likely also demand that the pedagogies they are offered are e based and based on digital technologies (Seaman, 2011). These changes will in turn affect adult learners who have chosen to come back to the classroom and gain more skills and knowledge as demanded by the new technologically savvy era. Traditional learners in higher education institutions are now increasingly being joined by adult learners, especially on the online platform (Hanover Research, 2012). Hence, adult learners are pursuing adult learning as a transformative processes which is meant to make them better at what they do at work so that they can be a greater societal contribution. Transformative learning stipulates that adults have accumulated a number of experiences, perceptions and expectations that they therefore use in pursuing education.

Despite the potential that online education has, it also has its challenges and especially to adults. When the requirements for online learning are considered, including a computer connected to the internet, minimal competence in computer operation and knowledge on how to access information on the internet (Sitzmann et al, 2010). When the ratio of those who may use online education is weighed against those with the ability to meet the requirements, few adults can access online education. Some adult learners still use outdated computers that are yet to be connected to the internet (Sitzmann et al, 2010). These individuals may have refrained from updating their computers since they did not have a need to. Hence, adult learners are bound to incur additional costs of updating their computers.

According to Lee and Choi (2011), online courses are more attractive to adult students because they do not have additional restrictions, such as place and time. Chou (2012), concluded that self directed learning attracted more adult learners because it allows them to make their own rules. However, this is not always associated with success in online learning courses (Chou, 2012). With the rapid development of educational technology, online learning has grown significantly, and word of the possibilities of distance learning has become more appealing (Beck & Milligan, 2014). Adult learning has been adopted as part of online education, especially for individuals who may have opted for other choices rather than going to college immediately after high school. It should be noted that Lee and Choi (2011) found that high school students engaging in online education had the highest rates of online education. In order to reduce the rates at which adults drop out of online education, it is important to classify and codify the reasons why adult students drop out of online learning (Allen & Vince, 2011). Self directed learning gives the student a greater perception of control over their learning environment and their education which in turn appeals to their learning requirements (Chou, 2012).

However, this will not be enough to help in decreasing dropout rates, especially since attrition is a complex phenomenon that involves varying human behaviours (Grau-Valldosera & Minguillon, 2014). Attrition in adult learning has not yet been explored extensively, which leaves little evidence on which to base the practice of student retention (Hart, 2012). Online learning is especially beneficial to adult learners living in rural areas. Adult learners are a special group in online learning because they make up a majority of the students taking online courses. Keradima (2012) estimates that over 82 percent of students taking online courses are adults. In addition, they are mostly raking undergraduate courses. Other than that, about 33 percent of college students in the United States have taken at least one online course.

Theory of Diffusion

The theory of diffusion by Rodgers is applicable in this context, in that it explores the diffusion of innovation. The theory was employed as a framework for a study carried out by Jwaifell and Gasaymeh (2013) to explain the degree that English teachers adopt technology within modern schools in Jordan. Like with most other researchers, like Zhao (2011), Jwaifell and Gasaymeh (2013) also found that training workshops were necessary for the successful integration of technology into a teaching environment; hence, online education is only as successful as its implementation. According to Kervin, Varenikina, Wrona and Jones (2010), technology as an end in itself is not a remedy to an educational system, but it is perceived as useful relative to the needs it is meeting on academic. The success of the learning outcome is what will determine the success of technology in academia. Online education can, therefore, only be considered successful if it results in a successful outcome for students. Attrition and other negative perceptions of students indicate that there is a problem with the adoption of the new technology.

Jang and Tsai (2012) advocate that, effective technology is one that facilitates the teaching process, explicates complex concepts, increases operational interaction between teachers and students, and retains student’s attention. Technology will be successful if the technology’s diffusion is directed and efficacious. In this context, diffusion refers to the process that result in the communication of an innovation through particular channels and among individuals within a specific social system (Henson &  Kamal, 2010). The adoption of these new innovations begins with a small group of individuals, then spreads. Online education is itself an innovation, and it is also a source of other innovations. Once new methods are developed in online education, it spreads to other practitioners of online education, as well. Adoption as a decision process requires that the potential adopter collect adequate information about the technology and consider whether it gives one the upper hand in education. As a result, people explore new technologies and experience their effectiveness before they decide on whether or not to accept it (Jwaifell & Gasaymeh, 2013). The acceptance of online education contains some aspects of social change, and the theory of diffusion offers valuable insights into the processes of social change. Qualities such as relative advantage, compatibility, ease of use and simplicity, triability and observable results determine the level of attrition toward a technology.

Constructivism in Online Education

The constructivist approach to understand the nature of learning has been a part of traditional educational perspectives for a long time. However, the modern form (Taber, 2011) is based on how students make sense of their learning experiences. As a result, it’s not about the subject of what they learn, but about their entire learning experiences, including the process of gaining, retaining, revising, and assessing knowledge. According to Taber (2011), this shift in the comprehension of constructivism may be attributed to the changes in the location and meaning of the learning environment. Online education changes both the meaning and experiences of the learning environment, which in turn prompts a different understanding of the constructivist perception of learning. Jean Piaget was a proponent of constructivist ideas and suggested that learning should be a search for meanings (Ültanır, 2012)

The learning process is constrained and channeled by the nature of one’s cognitive processes and apparatus that already has built in biases; hence, if an individual already has a negative attitude toward technology, their use of online education will show attrition toward the learning method. As an individual develops, so does his ability and capability to understand and comprehend particular information. Piaget argues that the mind understands different things at different stages of development (Ültanır, 2012). According to Weegar and Pacis (2012), Piaget proposes that learning results in cognitive development which is a product of the mind; it is achieved through experimentation and observation. The online learning context gives an individual more elements to experiment and observe virtually which helps them learn. The learning process depends on the cognitive resources that are available for one to use in interpreting the information (Henson & Kamal, 2010). The major point from this is that learning is rarely about helping learners get knowledge from scratch. Instead, it is about building up to the conceptual and cognitive resources available to the student. As Piaget suggests students create their own mental processes and knowledge by interacting with different things in their environment which in turn modify their cognitive processes (Weegar & Pacis, 2012).

Online Education
Online Education

Teaching, therefore, involves activating the relevant ideas that are already available to students, which in turn helps them generate new knowledge. These students, therefore, need to be guided, or they will build their knowledge on incorrect, irrelevant, or particle existing knowledge. Online education is filled with a wealth of knowledge, which makes it important for students to be guided. However, it should be noted that the teachers will play a limited role, as argued by Piaget, with the student playing a bigger one (Ültanır, 2012). On the same breath, Tirrell and Quick (2012) found that constructivist learning theories are effective in developing instructional practices for online student engagement; it promotes increased engagement of students in online education. In their study Tirrell and Quick (2012) found that, higher scores in classes undertaking online education were adhering to principles that are common in traditional classrooms. On the other hand, lower scores were associated with strategies affiliated with non-traditional and more innovative principles, such as encouraging students to work together and encouraging them to participate in active learning within an online education environment. These results indicate that instructors and faculty within higher learning, academic institutions remain largely uncomfortable and unfamiliar with constructivist principles of learning that are meant to encourage the engagement and participation of students (Barrera, 2013). If effective learning is to be ensured, teachers should be made aware of these new and more effective teaching methods. In addition, online education should also include different learning styles and assessment methods to address the needs of varying learners. Students cannot understand information unless it is customized to what they know. Piaget suggests that people cannot understand raw information but transform the knowledge using what they already know (Ültanır, 2012). A computer is only a computer if the student already knows something about computers.

Creating a learner-centered classroom

An and Reigeluth (2012) suggest that technology integration in learning can be sued as a tool for creating learner centered classrooms. Online education should focus on creating problem based learning environment, which in turn promote the use of technology within learner centered contexts. In their findings, An and Reigeluth (2012) imply there is a need to support teachers – by extension, academic institutions – as they endeavor to create learner centered classrooms. This support is not just through the provision of resources, but also be availing and providing additional training (Barrera, 2013). Currently, most institutions focus their attention on training in technological knowledge and skills while overlooking the important relationship between content, technology, and pedagogy. Consequently, teachers gain new interesting knowledge, but fail in the application of the knowledge to practical learning situations.

As noted by McMahon (2013), open and effective communication is critical to the development of a learner centered approach of teaching, which is based on constructivism. There is a need for the tutor to get to know her students and be able to judge their technological competence (McMahon, 2013). The integration of technology into education requires that the individual be engaged in much more than getting technical skills. Teachers must be supported so that they have TPACK (technological, pedagogical and content knowledge) through providing them with technology integration ideas that are unique to specific subjects and content. In addition, they should be provided with the opportunities to explore the use of technology in authentic online teaching environments. In consequence, instructors should be capable of building technological skills within the context of developing and learner centered online learning activities.

Evidences have also indicated that teachers are mostly constructivist in philosophy rather than in practice (Jaggers, 2011). This underlines the need for further training in learner-centered instruction. There is incongruence between instructor’s beliefs and their actual practices. In essence, just because they are aware that they have an obligation to do something, it does not necessarily mean that they do; hence, the training programs that teachers got through need to be experiential. Rather than just telling teachers what they are supposed to do to develop and sustain a learner centered classroom, they should show how it happens (An & Reigeluth, 2012). Time for hands on practice should be allowed, and the training should be subject specific. In a traditional classroom, the needs of different subjects vary and this is similar in online education. Interaction, graphic user interfaces, software and hardware, may need to be customized for different subjects.

Enhancing a social environment

The creation and enhancement of an online social environment in online learning is a complex process that involves numerous mechanisms that can both be helpful to the student or harmful to them. Effort should be made to control some of the social-environmental features within the classroom (An & Reigeluth, 2012). On one hand, it is easier for people to make friends online because it takes away the added tension that comes with face to face communication. It is also impersonal in that the individual loses the connection just as first. In an online learning and teaching context, students will be able to communicate at their own pace without the pressure of being put on the spot; hence, even when asked questions by the instructor, they are likely to answer more truthfully. For instance, a learner in a face to face environment may be nervous about pointing out possible problem areas while an online environment may make students more comfortable.

Social sites have been used alongside online education to foster a social environment. Facebook is the most used site for this function because of its relatively higher popularity compared to other sites like MySpace, Flickr, and Friendster. In addition, the site has immense popularity, and it is likely that most of the students have already interacted with it and are familiar with how it works (Hart, 2012). It is likely that students will participate in online discussions if they are hosted by a website whose working they are already aware of. The millennial generation are the biggest users of ICT, while ICT is now synonymous with education and communicative abilities of teachers and students in the United States (McCarthy, 2010). The potential merits of online social networking in an academic framework have been noted in numerous studies, with the conclusion that the greatest levels of satisfaction with academic progress are witnessed amongst those with access to the widest range of academic and social context. Online education widens or broadens one academic context while social networking helps them meet students online with similar interests and problems.

Among the most rewarding consequences of online education is the interaction between local and international students. International students are especially keen about engaging with their colleagues to get their critiques, as opposed to being out on the spot in the classroom (An & Reigeluth, 2012). This is common with L2 learners as they are in an environment that they do not understand comprehensively. Language barriers and social awkwardness that are often the focus of attention when international students interact with others takes a back seat as they socialize in an online environment. Good communication is allowed between students and teachers and amongst students.

Promoting critical thinking

Teachers are not just expected to help students get the facts about particular issues in the curriculum, but also to inspire them to engage in critical thinking on their own. This is in line with constructivism, which calls for teaching students the skills they will need to find solutions in an ever changing world (McCarthy, 2010). Using the knowledge, they are expected to create their own reality, and from this reality, comes the solution. This is similar as the idea by Piaget that students construct knowledge from prior personal experiences thus creating their own realities (Weeger & Pacis, 2012). In addition, Hussein (2011) suggests that critical thinking is also an element of constructivism since teachers too are expected to use their cognitive skills to interpret the environment around them. Critical thinking refers to thought processes that are inclusive of reflective judgment or purposeful thinking (Vijayakumar, 2011). However, the definitions are too general to be effectively applicable in describing an academic context. The definition that has been adopted in education is that it is the type of thinking that seeks to explore issues about existing knowledge for problems that do not have clear cut answers or clear explanations.

Before a teacher can promote critical thinking in their students, they need to understand the skills that are needed for a student to be considered a critical thinker. One of the skills is interpreting, in that the student should be able to understand what data signifies so as to clarify its meaning (Dang, 2011). In addition, the student should be able to analyze information, which entails breaking down the information and reconstructing it in different ways. This is a major component is applicability of online education and is instrumental in paraphrasing ideas to avoid plagiarism. Reasoning is also a component of critical thinking, and it entails creating defending legal arguments using logical thought processes or steps (McCarthy, 2010). The final skill is evaluation, in that the student should be able to defend the credibility and judge the worth of pieces of information.

Students who develop critical thinking skills have several advantages over their counterparts, such as being able to achieve higher scores, being less dependent on the teacher to provide content and teachers in general, as well as text books, being able to generate knowledge and be able to change, challenge and evaluate the structure within the society. Critical thinking should be promoted in the online environment in reading and writing (Tirrell & Quick, 2012). This is the only possible way that a teacher of an online classroom can ensure that they can work independently even when the teacher is unavailable. Critical thinking will also help students make sense of the vast amount of information that they will see on the internet (Vijayakumar, 2011). Like with other effective teaching and learning strategies, teachers play a key role in fostering the development of critical thinking amongst students making use of online education.

With the availability of online presentation and discussion tools, teachers have the added advantage of engaging their students in additional activities, which results in intellectual growth. Online communication offers students the opportunity to collaborate, which yields better results of critical thinking (Dang, 2011). Just like discussion and online curriculum is monitored, so too should online discussions in order to develop a ‘classroom’ culture that supports students in their processes of online thinking (Vijayakumar, 2011). When going online, the student must understand the goal of their online interaction and the social skills necessary to achieve them. The teacher should, therefore, coach the student on asking the right questions, listening, taking turns, sharing work, understanding different points of view, empathizing, building on ideas, and asking for help.

I Love
I Love

Technology Challenges in Online Education

With the internet becoming a major component in education, educational institutions in the United States are increasingly turning to technologies in online education to deliver the curriculum at varying levels. This established trend has forced higher education institutions to pay closer attention to the most effective and efficient strategies of delivering online education. However, this is not without its challenges (Vijayakumar, 2011). Depending on the technological format used, online education will often create challenges that impact the quality of the service within the entire system. Technological challenges do not only affect institutions but individuals, as well (Hart, 2012). The increasing number of online courses changes the learning experiences of students and instructors within the United States. These two groups must evolve as the support processes in institutions evolve, as well. The instructors and the student may have to learn how a new software works, which in turn generates new challenges for instructors and students to overcome (Vijayakumar, 2011). Other challenges emerge owing to accessibility, such as lacking the resources required for comprehensive school reform and functionality through online education. This part of the paper will review the literature discussing these technological challenges under the broad categories of computer literacy, challenges faced in institutions, and accessibility issues.

Computer Literacy

Various studies have found computer literacy to be a significant challenge in online education. Barrera (2013) found that education has taken a technological turn since the modern workforce relies on standardized literacy levels and significant computer literacy skills for students enrolled in online education. The differences in computer skills amongst adult business students are attributed to differences in interactions with computers and the intended use by the learner (Barrera, 2013). An individual’s interaction with computers is determined by computer literacy levels. Students from industrialized nations have better interaction with online education while those from less industrialized nations face greater challenges with computer literacy. This is because students from industrialized nations have access to the latest technological innovation, and according to Barrera (2013), this increases their exposure from technology, subsequently increasing their computer literacy.

In a similar breath, Zhao (2011) concluded that the online education platform is a completely new experience that brings a new learning model that does not only entail transferring knowledge, but also the know-how of transferring traditional forms of knowledge into databases that are then used as the new forms of storage. There is a significant lack of knowledge as regards to the division of learning content, as well as a re-alignment of research and learning methods. Computer literacy is, therefore, not only required for students, but also for teachers. According to the computer literacy survey of 2010, this has a special relevance because testing and assessment methods have evolved to include computer technology. Much as the internet and technology have been around for more than three decades, online education is still in its development stages, which implies that the application models have yet to be adopted in different platforms (Vijayakumar, 2011). This poses the additional challenge of synchronizing and standardizing expected levels of computer literacy, which Henson and Kamal (2010) vie to be a significant challenge to online education because of the globalization and the impact of information systems on curriculum. Different universities in the United States use different methods of online education; as such, there are differing forms of online education. Teachers who transfer will have to learn new instruction methods.

Challenges Institutions face

There are numerous institutional challenges that in turn affect the technology, such as space allocations, infrastructure, student preparedness, faculty training, academic honesty, and faculty workload. Developing and sustaining the necessary infrastructure for use in online teaching requires commitment of resources that may pose a great challenge to institutions. This involves the necessary hardware and software for academics, as well as computer bandwidth necessary to keep online education consistent (Hart, 2012). These infrastructures will need to be operated by faculty, which in turn highlights the need for faculty support and the provision of multiple training opportunities. This task is neither simple nor inexpensive, making it a challenge for all those involved. Being that the resources are expensive, online education too is expensive for the students. Universities have to be able to get a significant amount of support from external donors, as well as the government, if they are to be able to afford the infrastructure for online education.

Zhao (2011) found that most instructors perceive online education as a positive contribution to education. However, they also acknowledge the fact that they are not equipped to deal with online education as it presents itself. The Millennial generation is mostly taught by generation x, most of whom have not been trained to deliver education on an online platform. For that reason, teachers need extra training if they are to successfully deliver this form of education. With the technological difficulties facing students and instructors, the reception of online education dwindles.

As explicated by Zhao (2010) and Henson and Kamal (2010), computer literacy is also affected by institutional challenges. Academic institutions have a challenge of meeting the needs of the online education. There is a general lack of software standards and course prototypes within a course development platform. Studies have also identified additional technical challenges in course management software. This is, in addition to the fact that, distance education creates an extra workload for the faculty. Several authors such as Henson and Kamal (2010), Zhao (2010), Cook-Wallace (2012), Hart (2012) and McMahon (2013) have concluded that web based courses need more effort and time on the part of the faculty compared to classroom courses of a similar credit, size, and content. Regardless of the mode of teaching, a larger classroom calls for the use of more resources. An increase in a classroom from 18 to 49 will increase the workload form 47 hours to 116 hours (Hart, 2012). Faculty employing online teaching will have a larger workload since it requires more one on one interaction.

Lack of preparedness has been reported as a great concern for teachers who found that certain groups of students, especially traditional undergraduates, were ill prepared to deal with the responsibility and autonomy of online education (Gidley et al, 2010). There is very little in education that as prepared for older Millennials to deal with the challenges of online education. Consequently, instructors have an additional responsibility of ensuring that their students are accessible. Another major problem that has faced online education since its inception is the difficulty of establishing academic honesty. The internet has a wealth of information, which students are ready to copy and paste. Universities have had to establish software that can be used to identify plagiarized work (Hart, 2012). The instructor, therefore, has an additional role of developing a syllabus to help students avoid academic dishonesty. This challenge is similar to that of using copyrighted material from the internet.

Accessibility (Internet access)

In a study carried out by Cook-Wallace (2012), the policies of online education were examined in terms of the challenges that arise from their not being implemented effectively in academic institutions. These issues include copyright, accessibility, technologies and quality assurance. Cook-Wallace (2012) found that technical support was one of the most essential components of online education and that about 20% of educators lack access to technical support. Studies have also found accessibility is affected by different parameters, including the ability or disability of the learner. Software used for online learning is not always configured for people with disability, which in turn excludes them from online education. The internet can be accessed by a greater percentage of students in the United States, but the user interface is yet to be customized effectively for special education students; consequently, there are problems with internet access for this group of students. Cited in Barrera (2013), Brock and Thompsen in their 1992 study suggested that access to a computer, which in turn gives one access to the internet, influences one’s familiarity computer technology, and by extension, their computer literacy skills.

Student role in online education

The introduction of extensive technologies for use in education has resulted in the phenomena of online education, this has in turn affected the perceptions of teachers and students as to what their roles in ‘classrooms’ are. Results from research such as that carried out by Hussein (2011) reports that different student cohorts have differing perceptions about their roles in an online classroom. Similarly, they also have different expectations of the roles that their fellow students and their teachers will have. These different perceptions and expectations are resultant of their interaction with instructors online as well as their mode of learning.

Advanced technology use in online education has made syllabi – that required students to gain knowledge of, understand and apply what they have learnt – an out of date learning method (Gidley et al, 2010). Consequently, students have additional roles to play in that they have to concentrate on learning higher levels of skills that involve more activity of the cognitive domain. Accordingly, students need to develop sets of sophisticated abilities in making judgments, collaboration with others, problem solving, critical thinking and analysis (Dang, 2011). It is important to note that these roles do not come automatically, but that they need coaching from their teachers to learn these new roles.

If students are to be successful in online learning, they have to take an active role in learning. This means that their roles should include being actively involved in discussions, working effectively with minimal guidelines and supervision and speaking out (Dang, 2011). Students in an online environment also need to be self-directed learners in order to understand the content of their subjects which in turn helps them develop a positive attitude to their studies (Gidley et al, 2010). By a great percentage, online students are their own motivators.

Students have an additional role of motivating their instructors. Instructors get numerous motivations from students to teach online courses. They respond to the need that students have to study online. This teaching also helps instructors get additional income and gives them pedagogical advantages stemming from experiential advantages (Kinuthia et al, 2010). This will in turn help in their personal and professional growth. Students dictate the agenda of online learning, as well as the agenda for the future of technology (Beck & Milligan, 2014). Based on the usability of technologies, service providers modify their technologies to meet the needs of students and instructors within an online environment.

The online environment is inclusive of a multifaceted set of roles, each of which needs to be fulfilled at different levels by the actors involved in different contexts.  The student needs to have operational competence in that they should be able to efficiently use ICT tools for communicating, self-direction, learning, and collaborating (Allen & Vince, 2011). However, just because students have a higher proficiency in tools, it does not necessarily mean that they will have higher scores in online education courses (Yuan & Kim, 2014). Students also have an additional role of having cognitive competence, such that they are efficient in the application of curse content, application of knowledge, and asking for help if need be.

Online environments are facilitated by collaboration and cooperation, and the student needs to have collaborative competence, as well (Beck & Milligan, 2014). They should be efficient in their collaboration and communication with teachers and classmates within an online learning environment (Yuan & Kim, 2014). Rather than just concentrating on what they are doing within the online learning context, students are also in charge of their own learning, and as such, they need to have self-directing competence, which involves efficient self-monitoring and self-appraisal. Another role that should be present in both an online and traditional classroom is course specific competency that the students should possess, as it will help them assimilate appropriate use of content and terminologies that are instrumental in their coursework (Kinuthia et al, 2010).

Attrition trends for First Time Online Learners

McMahon (2013) studied the cause of attrition amongst a sample of adults who were taking a full time online training course. Research has shown that dyslexia occurs in about 10% of the adult population in the US (Jaggers, 2011). Being that it is a learning disability that is yet to be understood, most individuals with dyslexia often find themselves having to take additional classes and training in order to catch up with others in the work force. The United States has one of the most advanced educational systems in terms of acknowledging and developing curriculum for individuals with dyslexia. However, this is a recent trend and most adults with dyslexia have not benefited from these efforts. Results from different studies show that attrition levels vary, indicating that other factors, such as subject area, mode of delivery and age of students, may contribute to the rates of attrition witnessed. Hart (2012) found that no academic causes of attrition could be deterred by the presence of strong social connections and a strong support system. Cited in McMahon (2013), Frankola (2001) supported this view and expressed that lack of motivation is likely to cause attrition. The source of motivation includes both the instructor and the student’s support system. Frankola adds that attrition can also be caused by inexperienced and substandard instructor, poorly designed courses, problems with technology, lack of student support, and lack of time (McMahon, 2013).

First time learners are particularly vulnerable to experiencing attrition owing external issues, such as problems with resources and infrastructure, as well as internal issues, such as lack of social support. Instructors should, therefore, be aware of the fact that their students will include first time learners who are vulnerable and others who are not (Gidley et al, 2010). The method of instruction should consider both groups and work toward helping them sustain their studies. This may pose a challenge since it is an online classroom. If possible, teachers should install software logs that allow them to track the progress of the student throughout the lesson. This will tell them whether the individual was participating in the lesson or not, and possibly point out the problem areas (Hart, 2012).

Student attrition should not be perceived as a function of online courses, but as a paradigm of education (Tirrell & Quick, 2012). Online course, consequently, requires a different approach in design, learning, and instruction that will engage students actively. For that reason, there is a call for greater collaboration and communication, significantly more than is required in classroom delivered course. In an online environment, the instructor has to meet the challenge of sustaining the attention of the students all the time since they are not physically present.

First time users of online learning face additional distractions, which may result in attrition. One of the major causes of attrition is when an interruption occurs in the learner’s external environment, as it takes their attention away from what they need to be doing within an online environment (Sitzman & Ely, 2010). This impedes their progress with their primary tasks. In addition, technical difficulties have been cited as among the most popular difficulties facing online learners. Technical difficulties are a source of attrition for online learners (Allen & Vince, 2011). This can occur repeatedly because technology evolves almost every day. A learner could have used online learning before and opted to use it later, only to find that it has changed or has been modified.

Allen and Vince (2011) concluded that the pre – training motivation is a predictor of attrition as it relates to other causes of difficulty, such as technical issues and access (Allen & Vince, 2011). As such, students will not likely drop out if they encounter technical difficulties, only if they also have higher motivation rates (Grau-Valldosera & Minguillon, 2014). When the motivation to learn the course content is present, it will likely deter other causes of attrition form taking route (Ellis, 2013).

Factors related to drop out in first time online learners

According to Milheim (2012), research continues to support the idea that students taking online courses experience consistent dissatisfaction for a number of reasons. Research on distance education continues to be among the major sources of guidance on how instructors operate with their students within this context (Grau-Valldosera & Minguillon, 2014). The more knowledge people get that pertains to distance learning, the better equipped instructors will be (DeWitt et al, 2014). This is because research yields information on the most effective assessment methods, student preferences and instructional strategies, which are essential in improving the online experience for students (Allen & Vince, 2011). Despite all these efforts that have been made to improve the effectiveness and growth of online education, there is still skepticism about the effectiveness of the learning method.

One of the major issues that has been associated with drop outs of learners in online learning is that educators have, thus far, failed to reproduce the numerous elements of live classrooms within the online environment (Beck & Milligan, 2014). Human nature dictates that people will be more open to technologies and strategies that they have been familiar with before. Being that people are used to live classrooms, they transfer these expectations to online classrooms, and these expectations are often not met (Kinuthia et al, 2010). There is little understanding about how live classroom qualities can be replicated in online environments.

Another major concern that has been cited in literature is that there is reduced interaction among students and instructors within an online environment, or the interaction is unlike what students re regularly used to (Milheim, 2012). Other than this, instructors are sometimes left with the burden of ensuring that their students retain interest despite the inappropriateness of content for delivery in an online environment (Grau-Valldosera & Minguillon, 2014). The content is not just faulted over delivery, but also because students do not have additional tools that are essential in helping them understand course content (DeWitt et al, 2014). The online environment has a high level absence of strong, supportive and collaborative learning environment (Yuan & Kim, 2014). The courses have been developed in such a way that the transmission of information is by the dumping or distribution, which is an additional reason for dissatisfaction.

In addition, there is low students’ familiarity with technology or the course they are taking, which adds to their uncertainty about taking the online course. All these result in lower motivation for the student. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to investigate student satisfaction and motivation, Milheim (2012) found that if the needs are not fulfilled, then the student would experience dissatisfaction. In order for students to get to level 5 of Maslow’s model, which is self-actualization, the previous levels must be reached first. For that reason, without access to basic materials, such as access to the computer, the students will be ill equipped to continue with the course.

Yet another cause of students dropping out of their courses is that they do not get appropriate preliminary training sessions on course format and content, as well as failing to clarify the nature of expectations and assignments to them (Kinuthia et al, 2010). Students also need to be supported by the instructors in establishing collaborative forums (Hachey et al., 2012). In an environment where face to face interaction is absent, there is a need for the instructor to help students collaborate in establishing learning communities (Hall, 2010). Instructors within this context also have an additional motivational role to play of anticipating students’ needs and having appropriate and timely responses for them. This will boost their confidence (Kinuthia et al, 2010). When this lacks, students lose faith in themselves and deteriorate in the efforts toward education.

Without feeling valued and respected, students will also fail to stay committed to online learning, especially if it is their first time (Kinuthia et al, 2010). Within a traditional classroom setting, students tend to feel greater appreciation because they can interact with their instructors and colleagues face to face (Lindquist & Long, 2011). Teachers can give reassuring comments and students can clap, which in turn helps the student in feeling appreciated (Grau-Valldosera & Minguillon, 2014). This is a greater challenge within an online environment since the instructor and the students do not meet. In addition, the student does not meet his colleagues (Hachey et al., 2012). It is important to note that students in classes are different and so are their needs (Seiver & Troja, 2014). Seiver and Troja (2014) demonstrate that students with the highest need for affiliation are likely to drop out as first time online learners.

Tools for online education

According to He et al (2012), online resources play a critical role in helping undergraduate students accomplish academic tasks. However, the authors also acknowledge that there is a contrast in that some of the most popular online resources do not play a role in academic tasks of undergraduates (He et al, 2012). Social networking is popular in the daily lives of undergraduates, but they are not ranked high in accomplishing academic tasks. Musawi and Sharaf (2011) suggest that technology has three major roles in online education, which are hinged on its ICT (information, communication and technology) capabilities. There are three main roles that technology plays in online education, including being a resource/medium, being a delivery form, as well as being a tool that can be used for the management of information within the online context (Hachey et al, 2012). The authors stress that these three roles – when combined – provide the best possible chance for a technology to be successful in the online environment.

Musawi and Sharaf (2011) reiterate other researchers’ ideas, which is that technology not only changes how teachers teach, but also how students learn. The technologies are there to complement the human learning experience; they present more opportunities for students and campuses (DeWitt et al, 2014). If technology is to be perceived as having an essential role in education, research documenting its effectiveness should be carried out clearly. Musawi and Sharaf (2011) claim that technology helps in learning, in that it is computational, it is influential, and it is experiential.

Owing to lower retention rates, students taking online classes should be exposed to more positive experiences with online learning tools as it increases retention rates in online learning (Mbuva, 2011). When the instructor gives students a positive experience with technology, barriers to their learning are decreased. This information is important because it allows teachers to focus their attention on students who reveal that they have failed previous courses they have taken online.


According to Steenkamp and Rudman (2013) educational technologies have brought about new learning methods, which have in turn highlighted the significance of audio-visual learning methods. Research has found that blackboards are mostly used by students as management systems for essay-type assignments including short answers, essays and computer programs. The characteristic program of Blackboard, WebCT and Moodle are examples of learning management systems (LMS) that provide basic support pertaining to the management of academic assignments. Among the most appealing qualities of the blackboard for institutions is that it is cheaper to maintain and set up compared to other online learning tools.

Not only does the Blackboard offer a forum for setting up assignments, it also allows students to submit their completed assignments and for the instructor to access and post the marked assignments. Without the opportunity to have a face to face interaction with the student, the instructor can let them know about what is needed for their assignments as well as the due dates. Hence, it is a platform for sharing content as well; which is one of the most critical functions in online learning. According to Hachey, Wlaids and Conway (2012) it is likely that students who have had prior success with online learning will be likely support online learning tool. The blackboard offers the student a chance to customize their information. It consolidates the most frequented information sources and functions across sites relevant to the course. This increases the usage of online tools and student satisfaction as it offers a vital component of ease of use form a home base. This in turn increases retention rates (Mbuva, 2011).


The educational technologies that are supported by the Desire2learn platform allow for an increase in mobility, so that students can communicate, collaborate and access learning materials at any time and in any place, as long as they have the tools they need to access the internet (Steenkamp & Rudman, 2013). Students are naturally drawn to image rich environments, which makes online learning appealing to them. In order for these sites to sustain their effectiveness, the activities and designs in each course need to be redesigned in order to prevent them from being added on to available content without having relevant educational benefits.

Despite these sites being available for use by students, it is still challenging for educational institutions to motivate students to engage in online learning (Hachey et al., 2012). Only about 30 percent of students use social networking sites for academic purposes (Lindquist & Long, 2011). Even less students make use of e-books and look for podcasts that have been captured on videos (Smith & Caruso, 2010). Students are yet to see the online environments as a great contribution to their academic purposes. Students also participate more in courses that include online teaching and learning.

Some of the sites that are under the desire2learn umbrella also include simulations and games, which are important as they let people participate in their new online worlds (Lindquist & Long, 2011). These simulations allow the students to think, act and talk as they engage in academic tasks and activities in a manner that interests them and remains relevant to their social contexts. These tools are essential in incorporating functionalities that faculty and students themselves have identified as valuable and essential in facilitating the goals of teaching and accommodating preferences in learning (DeWitt et al, 2014).

The tools used in desire2learn are instrumental in helping individuals customize their learning environments. Online learning is likely a greater challenge for adult learners because it comes at a time when most have or will soon have other obligations in their lives (Beck & Milligan, 2014). Undergraduate students have numerous other interests and obligations, including financial and family obligations (Ellis, 2013). Consequently, they need a greater variety of learning options (DeWitt et al, 2014). There is more than one site using the desire2learn platform to inform their online learning strategies, and this in turn gives them an even wider variety of choices on the sites they will use to facilitate their education.

Web 2.0

In their study of the interaction of students with online resources, He et al (2012) found that undergraduate students reviewed the importance of online resources based on differences in their academic tasks. This is consistent with the available literature. Morris and Teevan (2010) concluded that students used different communication technologies and tools shared and exchanged information on an online platform depending on their academic goals, which in turn affects their desire to collaborate (Yuan & Kim, 2014). When looking for definitions, undergraduate students made most use of Wikipedia, even more than they used other online encyclopedias (He et al, 2012). Consequently, He et al (2012) concluded that this trend demonstrates a wide acceptance of Web 2.0 tools, such as Wikipedia, by students, even though there is high level uncertainty about this resource within the academic community. Students perceive that Web 2.0 tools, such as Wikipedia, as good enough to help them accomplish academic tasks.

While this points to a positive attitude toward the use of Web 2.0 tools as academic resources, it also indicates that there is a need to educate undergraduate students on the limitations that accompany these tools (Ellis, 2013). He et al (2012) stress that, this uncertainty exists because the accuracy of this information is difficult to guarantee. Students utilize search engines and they regard them as among the most essential resources in performing academic tasks since they are gateways to other resources on the internet. They use these not only for assignments, but also for revising for exams and tests

In another study, Steenkamp and Rudman (2013) found that more than half of their respondents perform most of their activities on web 2.0 tools for viewing other users. Following this, they would amend and submit the information respectively. Social networking is one of the most popular web 2.0 tools that is used by students (DeWitt et al, 2014).

Asynchronous technology tools

Hu et al (2012) observes that most of the asynchronous technology tools are used by undergraduate students when collaborating in accomplishing academic tasks. Undergraduate students taking online courses are likely to use asynchronous technology tools when carrying out collaborative tasks (Ellis, 2013). Collaboration may involve co-authoring research papers and group projects, both of which have different goals involving efficiently and effectively exchanging ideas and information (Yuan & Kim, 2014). However, the importance that each task elicits of the resources is the same. The use of asynchronous technology tools in online education is affected by the choice made by the student which may be affected by the communication tools they use regularly. This, Hu et al (2012) speculate could be the reason why instant messaging and e-mail are among the most relevant tools. Asynchronous technology tools used in online education are expected to meet the demand of the exchange of documents, as well as ease of sharing.

Most of these tools are Web 1.0 resources, including emails, online book search engines, and instant messaging. Most students engaging in collaborative academic tasks only use Web 1.0 resources (Yuan & Kim, 2014). Email is an important technology in learning experiences as they are one of the few channels that students can use to communicate with their instructors when turning in assignments, getting additional instructions, or getting feedback from their instructors (Ellis, 2013). Students can also use web sites to upload video assignments that their colleagues can comment on. This will in turn increase their interaction and allow students to assess the work done from their peers (Lindquist & Long, 2011).

File and information sharing on the internet is among the most essential components of online learning. The internet is a web of connections and web 1.0 resources are essential in ensuring that this part of online learning remains relevant (Carr, 2014). Asynchronous technology tools used in online education have both advantages and disadvantages (Ellis, 2013). Because they are used outside real time correspondence, they impact immediate feedback that the student may need in order to gain confidence in their work. On the other hand, they have a positive impact since they allow the instructor enough time to go over material that they have been presented with before they give the students feedback.

Asynchronous learning tools are among the most common tools used in online learning. Research has shown that asynchronous technology tools are most effective when they are used along with synchronous tools (DeWitt et al, 2014). Within an online environment, the learning activities and the expectations on the instructors and students are similar to those that are found within traditional classrooms. However, asynchronous learning environments are characteristic of the online environment because it is impossible for the instructor to meet the students. This environment gives students an opportunity to participate in their own learning and create their own realities, as proposed by the constructivist approach to teaching (Carr, 2014). In addition, they also get opportunities to interact with their peers and reflect on the status of their personal learning (Lindquist & Long, 2011). There are numerous learning activities and tasks that require their students to generate, synthesize, explicate and apply the content they have acquired from numerous sources.

Future of technology in online education

According to Milheim (2012), it is important to ensure that the future of technology in online learning is informed by gaps that have been pointed out in literature and other studies. He suggests that technologies used in online learning should be geared toward ensuring that the students’ achieve satisfaction in their course (Milheim, 2012). Technologies should be customized for different course content to ensure that students are able to achieve all that they need to within an online environment. Technologies in the future should also be dedicated to establishing and generating innovative ways that students can engage in online learning.

Hu et al (2012) suggests that technology in the future should seek to incorporate academic tasks and provisions in social networking tools. The potential they have to reach such a wide audience also means that they have the potential to inspire more involvement, participation and retention in online learning. In addition, Seiver and Troja (2014) suggest that the technology tools used in online learning should permit the instructor to develop different tests and assessments for the students online. Although these assignments should be alternative, they should also be equal (Seiver & Troja, 2014).

Future technologies will focus on ensuring that there is a cost effective effort toward online education. According to Keramidas (2012), online courses can be offered at more flexible times, which make them more appealing. In addition, the technology does not necessitate the presence of a traditional live classroom space. It is likely that future technology used in online education will be geared toward meeting the challenges that current online learning students are facing; hence, future technology should be geared toward reducing the rates of attrition in online students (DeWitt et al, 2014). Online education has also been instrumental in helping institutions of higher learning to offer more courses at a given time (Carr, 2014). The timetable of lessons in most universities is created in terms of the space available for classrooms. However, with technology and online education, lessons can be offered to more students, even if no classroom is available for use at that particular time (Ellis, 2013).

Educational technology will also be consistently modified toward ensuring that it is more time conscious and user friendly, graphic user interfaces will likely be modified so that they are more appealing to clients and so that they give the client ease of use, along with greater interest (Ellis, 2013). This should allow users to customize their own pages and interfaces depending on the course they are pursuing and their interests (Keramidas, 2012). For instance, rather than starting from scratch every time they go online, the students will have a page that shows them their most frequented sites, and includes suggestions for other sites where they could get academic information (Carr, 2014) . This will increase the use of the technologies and improve the retention rates (Mbuva, 2011). For instance, podcasts are rarely used, but if they are a default on the homepage of the student, they will likely look at them even for a little time.

Studies have estimated that online courses take at least twice to thrice as much time to prepare to teach compared to traditional face to face courses. Some of this time is attributed to the time and resources needed to develop and upload materials (Keramidas, 2012). This indicates that future educational technology will also be aimed at ensuring that there is better user interface and ease of use for instructors who have to prepare students for these courses. In addition, these instructors will have to be trained on technological prowess so that they learn how to work faster and more efficiently (Carr, 2014).

Summary and implications

Online education has slowly developed into a common learning strategy in higher learning institutions to meet the new societal demands of education since traditional education models have become incompatible (An & Reigeluth, (2011). Despite the vast use of technology in education and daily life, students are still susceptible to dropping out for numerous reasons, including technical, personal, psychological, and transferred problems (McMahon, 2013). Adult learners are, by a large percentage, the most users of online learning as it offers them an opportunity to fast track their education and get educated from locations that may have otherwise been impossible to get to. Battling attrition in online learning requires understanding the adult students demographic and incorporating their needs in technology (Tirrel & Quick, 2012). Adults are found to prefer accelerated courses, indicating that they will likely choose to take such curses, as opposed to taking more gradual ones that take longer to complete (Hanover research, 2012). Online education is also appealing because it allows learners to attend to most of their other obligations, as well.

Understanding online learners means subscribing to particular theoretical frameworks such as diffusion of innovation and constructivism. Before innovations, such as technology, are adopted in other contexts, they are transmitted to different users through diffusion (Jwaifell & Gasaymeh, 2013). Diffusion happens amongst both the students, as well as among teachers. Technology will diffuse as fast as it is successful to those who use it. Education technology will only be adopted in more contexts if it is successful in previous contexts. The diffusion of educational technology is experiential (Zhao, 2011). Diffusion is the process where innovations are communicated through specific channels amongst individuals in a particular social system. The system will only respond if the innovation proves successful to them (Kervin et al, 2010). Despite the fact that online learning has faced numerous challenges, including attrition on the part of the students, its potential within academic institutions is too vast to be ignored.

This means that the theories adopted to teach students in this context should be informed by evidence based practice. Constructivism calls for students to make sense of their own learning experiences and get the most positive results that they can get from this context (Henson & Kamal, 2010). Online education has instructors who help students, but a major part of this method of acquiring knowledge is that the students manage themselves (Taber, 2011). The learning experience is not just about the facts they acquire, but about all their experiences within the online environment. The location and meaning of education have been changed by online learning experiences (McCarthy, 2010). Constructivism is critical in the development of instructional strategies that are focused on training the students to help themselves.

The online classroom should, therefore, be learner centered. Technologies in online learning should be used to create problem based learning contexts, which in turn create learner centred classrooms (An & Reigeluth, 2012). Gaining knowledge on the use of technology is not enough; instructors also need to know how to effectively apply this knowledge in practical situations (Barrera, 2013). Communication is essential in developing a learner centred environment. This should also include providing teachers with opportunities to practically test their online communication strategies so that they are not only constructivist in philosophy, but in practice, as well (McMahon, 2013).

Hands on activities should inform the teacher so that they are aware of what their students feel and learn in an online environment. This will help the instructor in enhancing a social environment, which should monitored and controlled by the instructor. This will allow students to communicate effectively without feeling the pressure of communicating at a faster pace. Learner centered online classes are more effective in that the student will be more truthful in their answers, and this allows the instructor to learn more about the student and establish tools for creating a learner centred environment, as well as an appropriate social environment (Jaggers, 2011). Creating a social environment involves the instructor working together with students within the online community. These environments help students develop critical thinking skills (An & Reigeluth, 2012). Learning institutions also face additional challenges, such as not having enough financial backing to support the purchase of technological innovations.

Online learning does not only require institutional support but also skills from the students such as critical thinking, which will help them discern the most appropriate sources of information (Hussein, 2011). This will prevent distraction from irrelevant and inaccurate sources. Online discussion groups and presentations are instrumental in critical thinking (Vijayakumar, 2011). Despite the many potential benefits that online instruction has, there are numerous drawbacks that are also linked to online learning. These drawbacks result in attrition among online education students, with most of them failing to finish their online courses. Computer literacy is a major problem since if students are unaware of how to operate within an online environment (Hart, 2012). A nation that has access to more technological innovations will have a greater population that is computer literate, and this increases the exposure that online students have to new technology, which in turn increases computer literacy (Dang, 2011).

Institutions also have additional commitments, such as offering additional and continuous training to teachers (Barrera, 2013). This is more complicated because it requires the cooperation of the governments, academic institutions, and other relevant parties. Technological updates also have to be made to ensure that the technologies being used change with the changing time. (Grau-Valldosera & Minguillon, 2014) Even with these present, access is also harder for most users of online learning since not every person who wishes to be an online student is able to do so. Accessibility also influences one’s computer literacy skills.

The role of technology in education cannot be ignored in the academic arena. Traditional education can now be stretched to reach more individuals (Zhao, 2011). Technology has become a part of people’s daily life and is used for different activities each day. It is not enough that technology used in education is only described as a medium; it has evolved to be more than a medium to be a teaching/delivery mode, a resource, and a management tool (DeWitt et al, 2014). Traditional technological services that are used in education need to transform into digital and be available to more students online to ensure that students have access to some of the live classroom features that they are used to (Henson & Kamal, 2010). One of the greatest challenges that are facing educational technology is transforming online classrooms into environments that are as close to live classrooms as possible (Gidley et al, 2010).

Students have various roles in these online classrooms, including having a complex set of cognitive abilities that involve problem solving, collaboration with others, making judgments, and critical analysis which help in transforming the online learning environment (Hussein, 2011). Despite having these abilities, it is still important to ensure that students are motivated from an outside source, as well (Kinuthia et al, 2010). Additional issues, such as the subject area, the nature of the content being learnt, the mode of delivery for the online courses, students’ age and disabilities, may result in higher rates of attrition. Attrition is a paradigm if education and solutions should also be explored from this perspective.

Even though technology has become a major part of life in this era, it is yet to be used in education, in a way that enhances online learning. Most undergraduate students will not choose to take online courses (Milheim, 2012). Students are not accustomed to online learning and expected live classroom instruction. The future of technology will also be directed toward ensuring that there is more cooperation between students, which would include incorporating social networking and other social sites, which will help in creating and cooperative online learning environment (Beck & Milligan., 2014).


The various issues discussed in this paper have a number of the major implications about how technology should be used to successfully facilitate learning and teaching using digital resources. Based on the constructivist theory, the instructor has a duty to help learners develop the capacity they require to manage their learning within the online environment (Hachey et al, 2014). For that reason, teaching strategies and curriculum should be developed in a way that helps students build their cognitive and conceptual resources to create their own realities using available resources to generate knowledge that is relevant to their educational standards (Hall, 2010). Guidance is essential in educating students or they may come to inaccurate conclusions.

In order to develop learner centered classrooms, instructors need not only focus on the training of technological skills, but also in explicating and teaching the nexus between pedagogy, content, and technology. This will allow for the development of customized content that is augmented by the technology used to deliver it, which in turn helps in increasing retention of students (Mbuva, 2011).

Discussion forums can be utilized as part of learning, especially since they are instrumental in the development of superior cognitive processes. The different interactions that occur in online environments during online communication are instrumental not only in the generation of new knowledge, but also in encouraging learners to be self-expressive to a greater extent (Hall, 2010). Hence, instructors can use it as a strategy for motivating shy students and turning them into experienced users of online learning platforms (Ogude, Kilfoil & du Plessis, 2012). Discussion forums are among the most essential learning tools within an online learning environment as it brings the students as close to having classmates and people to share information with as they can get.

These strategies used should allow for and encourage sharing of ideas and the tasks developed should also authentic and meaningful as demanded by the subject of discussion (DeWitt et al, 2014). The instructional materials used, including the interactions, materials and activities, should be designed within an online environment in order to optimize learning processes (Hachey et al., 2014). Not surprisingly, among the most important features that these technologies should have is ease of use for both the instructor and the student. The second most important is that the technology should save them time, or it is likely that they will opt for using traditional sources of information, such as going to libraries. Educational technology should also provide students with opportunities to contextualize their sources with the aim of enhancing learning and facilitating pedagogical goals.

Success in the retention of students in online education cannot be accomplished without the involvement of different stakeholders (Mbuva, 2011). There is a need for cooperation between universities, community colleges, the government, stakeholders and other academic institutions offering online education to help support the availability of infrastructure that supports educational technology (Hall, 2010). These partnerships will increase the rates of retention by increasing cost effectiveness to save money and time, developing retention programs, and effective pedagogies (Ogude et al, 2012). Future research should focus on studying the differences between the successes of a single course being taken online and when a student pursues an entire degree course online.


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Educational Inequality

Powerful Knowledge and Educational Inequality

Powerful knowledge is an important idea in the modern educational discussion, focusing on the question of how different styles of education and different courses of study serve students in different ways, preparing some for positions of importance and leadership, and miring others in a perpetuating cycle of working-class, and often poverty-level, existence. It is clear, from an observation of how the educational system is currently working in Australia, that there is a significant level of inequality in what students learn between the vocational-oriented competency-based training, or CBT, institutions and the higher-education institutions, which leads to an inequality in future opportunities for the students, and even finally to an inequality in the ability of these students, in their adult lives, to engage in the important conversations of their democratic society and even to participate in the political activities of their country as citizens. In this literature review, I examine the implications of powerful knowledge and vocationally-oriented education in Australia and propose solutions to the problem of educational inequality based on powerful knowledge. In conducting this literature review, I collected sources pertinent to the subject, first from the class readings, and then from my own searches on the topic, to ensure objectivity and to obtain information about current statistics in Australian education. Except where I was looking for historical data, sources were generally from 2000 and later


Powerful knowledge is, simply put, the knowledge that is required to be able to have power (Young & Muller, 2010). Powerful knowledge “is the knowledge needed to progress in the world but also that least likely to be discovered outside of school for those from disadvantaged backgrounds” (Whitty, 2010, p. 32) (p 32). There are different bodies of powerful knowledge in the different disciplines, and then there is a generally accepted overall powerful knowledge, which is used to demonstrate to people from widespread disciplines that an individual has the capability of thinking clearly and logically, communicating effectively, and other important qualities for effective leadership (Beck, 2013). Even before powerful knowledge became a concept as such in education, the idea of norms without with students would not be able to get a job or would not have credibility in their fields permeated education, and provided the conceptual basis by which teachers ruthlessly eradicated grammatical anomalies from their classrooms and enforced normative, middle-class speech patterns under the assumption that speaking with lower-class dialects would make students sound uncouth and uneducated (Ogbu, 1995). Powerful knowledge goes far beyond simple normative grammar usage, however, and includes a host of thought patterns which indicate rigor of intellectual thought, such as knowledge of testing methods. It is knowledge that enables individuals to think critically and systematically, learn new subjects and comprehend them, understand logical rigor and fallacies and experimental methods for proving unsubstantiated claims (Beck, 2013). But how does this lead to educational inequality…

Particular powerful knowledge is determined by each discipline (Green, 2010). Some disciplines have powerful knowledge that is highly specialized and inaccessible to individuals outside that academic discipline. This powerful knowledge is called esoteric knowledge (Beck, 2013). Esoteric knowledge is powerful knowledge that is so discipline-specific as to be inaccessible to anyone outside of that discipline. Scientific fields are this way, with a specific vocabulary and knowledge base that is not used outside the field. There is an initiation required for an esoteric knowledge field (ibid).

Knowledge of the powerful is knowledge of the ruling class; that is, the ideas they think about and consider important  (Beck, 2013). It is whatever topics make up the compelling conversations of the day: capitalism versus socialism, universal human rights, pacifism versus imperial militarism, etc.. There is a strong connection between knowledge of the powerful and powerful knowledge, a) because the powerful people are often rigorously schooled in powerful knowledge, and b) because the discussions in the knowledge of the powerful often use powerful knowledge paradigms, without understanding which it is oftentimes impossible to engage in the discussion. However they are related, they are not the same thing (ibid). The connection between knowledge of the powerful and powerful knowledge goes a long way toward explaining the phenomenon that political debates are often divided along class lines, with more educated people tending toward one side of the debate and less educated people tending toward the other (Rose, 2000).

Powerful knowledge and knowledge of the powerful are concepts that exist within the framework of critical realism. Critical realism is a framework of viewing the society as a whole, with knowledge and norms outside of the viewer and even outside of the individual member of society. Essentially, from a critical realist point of view, curriculum development must take into account the “big picture” in order to serve the total needs of society (Priestley, 2011). Critical realism is closely connected to the idea of inequality in education as related to powerful knowledge. As Michael F.D. Young said, the knowledge issue is both an epistemological issue and a social justice issue, because those kids who don’t get to university often don’t get access to what I call powerful knowledge and they are the people who need it most, because they’re going to find life really tough without it (quoted in Whitty, 2010, p. 31). Is this an argument in favor of educational inequality…

Within the discussion of how education happens in light of powerful knowledge theory, there are further concepts to be defined. The classification of knowledge refers to how students view the knowledge that is available to them. For instance, school subjects are often separated from information gained at home and from each other, so that math, science, English, and history classes often have nothing to do with each other in a student’s school experience. As Bernstein explains it, “Classification reflects the distribution of power and the principles by which boundaries are established between categories. Strong classification is underpinned by the rule that ‘things must be kept apart.’ Weak classification is underpinned by the rule that ‘things must be brought together’” (Whitty, 2010, p. 36). Thus curricula that focus on integration between subjects and curricula that aim at bringing students’ home experiences into the classroom as a basis of reference are weak classification curricula, while curricula that separate out subjects and focus only on the things that are supposed to be learned in any given lesson (without reference to students’ extracurricular experiences) are strong classification curricula. Subjects that are heaviest in powerful knowledge tend to be the most strongly classified, and subjects that depend on esoteric knowledge are almost exclusively strongly classified. That is, there is usually quite a bit of overlap between elementary social studies and students’ home lives, but there is not likely to be much overlap at all between calculus and a student’s everyday life.

Framing is the way in which the material is presented and the methods of student engagement in the literature: “Framing, on the other hand, reflects the distribution of control over communication. Strong framing is where the transmitter has explicit control over the communication; weak framing gives the inquirer more apparent control over the communication” (Whitty, 2010, p. 36). Thus classes that are strongly framed are likely to be lecture-heavy, and students will learn facts from the instructor, the textbook, and other authorities. In classes that are weakly framed, students are likely to learn in a more discovery-based model. As with classification, subjects with significant amounts of powerful knowledge tend to be more strongly framed than subjects without powerful knowledge, and subjects with esoteric knowledge are the most strongly framed. As was stated above, esoteric knowledge generally requires an initiation, which often takes the form of strongly framed education.

Classification and framing are of utmost importance in this discussion. Classification is how students see the information they are learning – is it only important in the classroom, or is there overlap into real life? Strong classification education is self-referential in the classroom; weak classification education overlaps into everyday life. Similarly with framing, subjects that are framed strongly build up information systematically in a series of lectures; subjects that are framed weakly have little prerequisite knowledge required and allow students to approach problems according to their own curiosity and interest notably in educational inequality…. Whitty (2010) says that weak classification and weak framing have been largely unsuccessful in British systems, but that strong classification and strong framing also perpetuate an educational inequality, with the result that there is a need for a third solution.

Education Dissertations Essay Powerful Knowledge and Educational Inequality

Vertical knowledge and horizontal knowledge also play an important part in the discussion of powerful knowledge. Vertical knowledge is the abstract knowledge encountered in the higher-education system; it is what we refer to as powerful knowledge. Horizontal knowledge is day-to-day knowledge, such as vocational training knowledge (Wheelahan, 2010). Some disciplines require very structured instruction and have hierarchical (vertical) knowledge. Even problem-based learning requires a thorough instruction in the basics before students can understand enough to solve the problem. Physics is one such discipline. In academic disciplines, powerful knowledge is the knowledge passed down by the instructor. Other disciplines do not have such a specific set of vocabulary and concepts that need to be imparted by the teacher. These disciplines lend themselves well to problem-based learning and often deal with horizontal knowledge. Vocational skills are often this way (Wheelahan, 2010).

Knowledge-based education and project-based education are also terms that are used to make the distinction between curricula centering on powerful knowledge and curricula centering on practical skills. The fate of project-based education has been mixed since its original introduction as a revolutionary answer to the problem of school failure and drop-out rates. In Britain, as project-based education came en vogue as a progressive movement in education, it became clear through test scores that students were not gaining the abstract conceptual framework they needed for leadership success (powerful knowledge). As this trend became apparent, wealthier parents simply paid to send their students to private schools that taught knowledge-based subjects earlier, so the working-class students were primarily subjected to the lower standards and lower grades that resulted from the project-based reforms (Whitty, 2010).

Powerful knowledge in the modern educational system

Currently, the discussion of powerful knowledge centers on a discussion of career or vocational-oriented training as the model for education versus a more liberal arts, knowledge-for-knowledge’s-sake model of education. Education is commonly considered to aim towards the purpose of enabling students to acquire a well-paying job, and this is the case in the powerful knowledge discussion as well. In modern educational theory, “There has been a movement toward … wanting subject-learning to be thought of in terms of what the learner should be ableto do as a result of that teaching” (Yates, 2011, p. 34). This shift has been notable since 1975, and has changed the face of education from one of learning about the world to one of learning how to do a job (Yates & Collins, The absence of knowledge in Australian curriculum reforms, 2010). Digital technology is a force driving skills-based learning (Young & Muller, 2010). Easy access to education, more convenience in taking classes, and other factors lead people, especially working people trying to get better jobs, to take advantage of competency-based programs that will qualify them for a promotion or a more lucrative career path. Thus we recognize competency-based training (CBT) as an important aspect of education in the context that the vast majority of students, after college, will need to be able to support themselves with a career.

The question at hand is not whether education is intended to provide students with the means of entering the workforce, but what role their education forms them to play in that workforce. There is a significant difference between the roles that higher-education, academic programs prepare students for and the roles that vocational training programs prepare them for: “The purpose of an academic curriculum is to induct students into a field of knowledge (the academic disciplines) while the purpose of a vocational curriculum is to induct students into a field ofpractice. The process of selection (the classification of knowledge) and the way knowledge is selected, sequenced, paced and evaluated (the framing of knowledge) will be different in each” (Wheelahan, 2010, p. 55).

Vocational training provides students with the knowledge they need to do a specific job. As it is performed in Australian schools, CBT does not provide broader knowledge about the subject matter, or vertically-integrated knowledge that would allow students to move upwards in their career area, or to apply their knowledge to another, related field:

CBT excludes students from access to disciplinary knowledge because it collapses the distinction between vertical and horizontal discourses, and because knowledge in curriculum is weakly classified and framed. Students are not provided with the ‘recognition’ rules they need to access different kinds of knowledge. CBT does not provide students with the capacity to recognize and navigate the distinction between theoretical and everyday knowledge and between different kinds of theoretical knowledge. The boundaries are rendered opaque. (Wheelahan, 2010, p. 56)

That is, if CBT combined its job-based training with a vertical integration of knowledge, it would be providing students with powerful knowledge and preparing them to become leaders in their field. As it is, however, vertical knowledge and abstract reasoning are not included in CBT curricula. In other words, CBT teaches students how to do things, but it does not teach them how to think. In fact, currently, abstract knowledge in VET programs is limited to knowledge that has practical application. According to the Training Package Development Handbook, while knowledge must be expressed units of competency, their elements or performance criteria should not be entirely knowledge based unless a clear and assessable workplace outcome is described. Knowledge in units of competency:

  • Should be in context;
  • Should only be included if it refers to knowledge actually applied at work. (quoted in Wheelahan, 2010, p. 57)

Limiting generalized information also limits students’ abilities to synthesize information and come up with solutions to new problems, because it teaches a series of actions to take in a given number of scenarios and no more. Thus current standards of CBT in fact disadvantage students even in the workforce for which CBT supposedly prepares them. In one striking example, a competency-based program at a university and a parallel higher-education program at the same university set assignments aimed at the same general objectives. The competency-based program has the objective, “Develop and update the legal knowledge required for business compliance” in the tourism and hospitality industries, while the higher-education program has the objective, “provide students with an understanding and awareness of the basic principles of Contract Law, a familiarity with relevant case law and an introduction to the statutory provisions pertinent to the course” (Wheelahan, 2010, p. 58). The students in the CBT program learned specifics of current legal requirements for running a hotel. The students in the higher-education program learned the principles behind those specific requirements, thus enabling them to think about a multitude of different industries, and the reasons behind the requirements, and even be able to create a proposal for future policies given changing circumstances. The specific knowledge of the CBT students prepares them for a very specific job, with very little competence for upward mobility. The generalized, powerful knowledge of the higher-education students prepares them for a wide range of jobs, up to and including making new policies on a lobbying or legislative level. Powerful knowledge prepares students for power; failing to give students powerful knowledge sets them up for not being able to have power.

This is not only a problem of CBT versus higher education; it is also a problem of class. As one study on class in Australian education showed, “middle class children destined for professional and managerial occupations are taught a curriculum that emphasizes choice, flexibility and independent learning, whereas those destined for semi- or unskilled occupations are taught rote learning, punctuality and obedience” (Gerwitz & Cribb, 2009, p. 113). In other words, lower-class children are taught the skills of serfdom while middle-class and higher children are taught the skills of rule and leadership.

Educational Inequality

Educational inequality stems from class inequality, and begins long before students arrive for their first day of school. According to Bernstein’s theory, children learn by means of codes, and these codes are present from early childhood in the home (Hoadley & Muller, 2009). In Bernstein’s theory, these codes are the different things that students learn, which make the difference between education and socialization for leadership and education for labor work. These codes create a class divide at an educational level. The four original contexts of language that socialize children and determine their leadership place in later life are the “regulative, instructional, imaginative and interpersonal” (Hoadley & Muller, 2009, p. 70). That is, children learn social codes about the rules they must follow, the instructions that are given to them, the imaginative activities in which they engage, and the interactions they have with others, including parents, teachers, and friends. The home environment determines in a large part what the student’s success will be in learning the explicit, abstract knowledge presented in school. Therefore, students from middle- and upper-class families are at an advantage, while students from lower-class families are at a disadvantage, because lower-class children often communicate more literally and have less working language for abstract thought or creative instruction (Sadovnik, 1991). `Power and control are the two ends of the instructional spectrum, and the language in which children learn to understand and convey ideas sets them up to either have power over others or to be controlled by others (Hoadley & Muller, 2009, p. 71). These codes are the “how” of pedagogy – whatever students are learning, are they learning it through authoritarian/teacher-controlled discourse or through open-ended/student-controlled discourse? (ibid). Problem-based and inquiry-based pedagogy help to address these inequality issues, as they train students to take an active role in their education, and this has been the basis of progressive movements toward such modes of education.

However, there is another element in education which stands at odds to the importance of student-initiated learning: powerful knowledge. Curiosity-based and open-ended learning work well for “mundane or everyday knowledge,” but they do not provide an effective tool for students to gain “esoteric or universal, principled knowledge” (Hoadley & Muller, 2009, p. 75). Concept-rich subjects are often best taught in a specialist-centric or expert-centric learning environment (ibid). In addition, framing is extremely important in hierarchical subjects, and this affects the extent to which students can be in control of their own discovery (p. 76).

There is a strong link between higher income/higher academic achievement and lower income/lower academic achievement (Wheelahan, 2010, p. 52). Lower academic achievement often leads to CBT programs in tertiary education, while higher academic achievement often leads to “the elite professions and the academic disciplines” (ibid). This is an issue of income inequality. Students from higher-class backgrounds are more likely to already be in a position in which they can assimilate the presence of an authoritative teacher and still remain engaged as active participants in their own learning, but students from lower-class backgrounds are more likely to resort to the codes that they learned from childhood, responding to authority with passivity and rote obedience, which limits the effective engagement they take in the subject and thus their success at learning the powerful knowledge (Wheelahan, 2010). Meanwhile the school path destined for lower-achieving students, CBT, “acts as a mechanism for social stratification because it denies students access to the abstract theoretical knowledge they need to participate in ‘society’s conversation’” (Wheelahan, 2010, p. 47).

Competency-based training “ties knowledge and skill directly to workplace performance and roles, and not to systematic structured disciplinary systems of meaning” (Wheelahan, 2010, p. 48). Esoteric knowledge allows for abstract discussion of ideas; CBT does not deal in these abstracts (p. 49). This limits students’ abilities to move within their field to other jobs which are related but not exactly what they were trained to do, or to move upwards within their field to higher levels of management, if they were not trained for such positions, as they failed to gain the abstract knowledge that would let them apply their practical knowledge to other situations. Young and Muller (2010) say that learning powerful knowledge requires the background of a middle-class household; otherwise, the student will not have the theoretical and discursive framework to be able to learn the information as powerful knowledge – that is, as abstract knowledge – or be able to make use of it.

Not only is CBT a problem for job mobility, and therefore social mobility, but it is even a problem for a democratic government. As Wheelahan (2010) compellingly argues, “democratic access to theoretical knowledge is a precondition for an effective democracy because such knowledge is the means that society uses to conduct its conversation about what it should be like and how it should change” (p. 48). This idea builds on the definition above of knowledge of the powerful: it is necessary to have training in powerful knowledge in order to engage in the knowledge of the powerful, and therefore to effectively participate in a democracy.

Rather than lifting students out of poverty and enabling them to have a better life than their parents, CBT in Australia is currently perpetuating the cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement. The numbers confirm the analysis that this is a problem as low-income students only comprised 14.6% of the higher-education student body in 2002 (Thomas & Quinn, 2007, pp. 38-39).

Students from low socio-economic backgrounds are not only underrepresented in higher education (that is, academic environments aimed at providing powerful knowledge and preparing students for leadership) and overrepresented in CBT programs, but they are becoming more so. As the numbers of lower-income students in higher-education programs continues to lower, the wealth and class divide becomes more entrenched, with the children of the leaders becoming leaders and the children of the workers immediately becoming workers (Wheelahan, 2010, p. 53).


CBT programs must begin to offer theoretical, abstract, powerful knowledge as part of the program. By adding powerful knowledge questions and abstract reasoning sections to current testing standards for CBT programs, institutions would be required to teach this knowledge. This would enable students learning a particular profession to have the knowledge and skills they need to be able to become leaders and policymakers in that field, rather than having limited upward job mobility.

Of course, there are also differences in abilities that must be taken into account. One way to address this would be to include multiple hierarchies in the CBT programs. “Multiple hierarchies of knowledge” refers to hierarchies about how we value knowledge, and especially how we assess it (Nairn, 2012, p. 26). The failure of the current system demonstrates that single and dual forms of valuation are insufficient to ensure that each student has a fair chance. However, with more systems of standards, it would be possible to customize the taught skill sets (including the “skill” of engaging abstract knowledge) to reflect a wider variety of ability levels, rather than a simple dichotomy between the future powerful and the future not powerful.

When determining higher-level skills that will be tested on in the CBT programs, standards creators should use potential vertical career movement as a standard for the information and thinking skills that need to be taught. An example was given above of standards in a CBT program for the hospitality industry and a parallel standard in a higher education program, in which the CBT standard was quite specific as to laws in the single case and sector, while the higher education standard was broad and abstract, referring to underlying principles by which students would be able to understand and even create other policies.  By considering that a CBT student in the hospitality industry may move up to the position of regulator or lobbyist in the industry, classes should be offered that hone the cognitive skills required for those positions. In my own teaching practice, even without the benefit of redefined standards, I can use the paradigm of future career movement to determine what powerful knowledge my students will need to be successful in their fields of study, and introduce them to abstract concepts in class discussions regardless of their future educational path.


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