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E-learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice

reviewed by Ruby Evans - 2004

coverTitle: E-learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice
Author(s): D.R. Garrison and Terry Anderson
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415263468, Pages: 167, Year: 2003
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In the book’s preface, Garrison and Anderson assert that “the goal of ‘e-learning in the twenty-first century’ is to provide a framework for understanding the application of e-learning in higher education” (p. xi).  The authors operationally define e-learning as those learning activities conducted through electronic means on-line. 

The authors identify E-learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice as having broad audience appeal.  Primary audiences include “educators who wish to facilitate critical discourse and higher-order learning through the use of electronic technologies in a networked learning context” (p. xii), and “researchers, practitioners, and senior administrators in higher education who must guide the adoption in their institutions of this unique and rapidly proliferating technology” (p. xiv). 

The book poses two major questions to readers.  First, Garrison and Anderson rhetorically query whether e-learning is to be used simply to enhance inherently deficient existing practices such as lecturing.  Secondly, they beg the question of whether or not technology has the potential to transform the educational transaction towards the ideal of a community of inquiry.  Garrison and Anderson boldly proclaim that e-learning, combined with effective pedagogy and reflective teaching, has the potential to transform higher education. 


In the first chapter, the authors assert that e-learning is not just another tool, and not ‘infotainment’ (p. 8).  Instead, the opening chapter introduces e-learning as a powerful transformational medium for facilitating communication and critical thinking, thereby enabling those who interact in this medium to construct meaning and knowledge. 

Chapters 2 through 7 are offered as the conceptual framework for the book.  The second chapter provides the philosophical and theoretical frameworks which undergird our application of e-learning in higher education.   The chapter highlights eight guiding teaching principles that are needed to create a supportive and critical community of inquiry. 

The third chapter identifies the community of inquiry model within the conceptual framework of a learning community.  In this community of inquiry, the authors describe three primary elements—cognitive, social, and teaching presence.   In the fourth chapter, Garrison and Anderson provide an overview of the various technologies that create the context for e-learning.  Additionally, the chapter examines multiple sources of interaction (teacher-student, student-student, student-content, teacher-content, teacher-teacher, content-content). 

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 examine social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence, respectively.  The eighth chapter focuses on teaching presence but discusses related issues of social and cognitive presence.  Guidelines and specific suggestions for practice are provided. 

The ninth chapter highlights the importance of assessment and evaluation in the e-learning educational experience.  In the tenth chapter, Garrison and Anderson leave the classroom, and address organizational issues—leadership, policy and organizational infrastructure—that must be responsive to the dynamics of change manifested by technology integration.  The last chapter provides a futuristic look at e-learning and its transformational grip on higher education.  The authors reiterate the uniqueness of e-learning and its role as a change agent. 

This book provides a comprehensive analysis of e-learning in contemporary higher education with projections for future ramifications of this evolving medium for teaching and learning.  In E-learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice, the authors offer an optimal blend of theoretical discussion and practical suggestions for facilitating a collaborative community of inquiry in e-learning environments.  This book offers a wealth of valuable information and contributes to the existing research literature on e-learning.  The merger of theory with practice make this book a valuable resource for practitioners—both faculty and administrators.  

I would highly recommend this book to those in the higher education community who have a vested interested in harnessing the optimal benefit from e-learning.  The writing is clear and free from unnecessary jargon.  Garrison and Anderson effectively reach their intended audience with an outstanding discussion of the fundamentals of e-learning in the 21st century.   The book is everything the authors promise—basic, useful, and a valuable reference guide.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 8, 2004, p. 1661-1663
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11304, Date Accessed: 5/17/2022 5:23:33 PM

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About the Author
  • Ruby Evans
    University of Central Florida
    E-mail Author
    RUBY EVANS is Associate Professor and Program Coordinator for the Community College Specialization area in the College of Education at UCF. She teaches fully web-based and web-enhanced graduate courses in higher education and educational research and conducts research in the area of community colleges and online teaching and learning. Dr. Evans serves on a variety of editorial review panels for educational journals, conferences, and organizations.
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