Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Book Review: Jon Dron's Control and Constraint in E-Learning

Concept map of Dron's Control & Constraint in E-learning

Jon Dron's book "Control and Constraint in E-learning: Choosing when to choose" published in 2007 is a work that threads the current e-learning technologies using the concept transactional control. He defined transactional control as the "control exercised or capable of being exercised by an individual in a learning transaction at the point at which a learning trajectory changes direction. (Dron, 2007, p. 333)". It is supposed to be an extension of Michael G. Moore's theory of transactional distance. Dron equates "negotiated control" with dialogue and "teacher control" with structure. In this sense he is similar to Farhad Saba and Rick Shearer (1994) who seemed to have associated "learner control" with dialogue and "instructor control" with structure.

He then used transactional control to evaluate almost all of the current e-learning technologies from electronic publishing to social software. Towards the end Dron advocates social software based on design principles that will provide control specific to the needs of the learner. Dron does not necessarily prescribe total learner control but rather control based on the learner's situation and capabilities. Sometimes the learner would need more control, at other times less but he appears to be in favor of moving towards greater learner control as the learning proceeds in a path. This path is what he called a learning trajectory. Dron defined it as "an individual path that involves decisions about where to go next, what to learn, and how to learn it.(Dron, xiii)"

The pedigree of the "transactional control" is even guaranteed by a foreword by no less than Michael Graham Moore. Moore was even gracious enough to state "...I see the ideas developed in this book as breaking open some of my own primitive ideas...".

Reading Dron's book is like finding order in the chaos that is the study of e-learning. After having read so many journal papers from different disciplines treating individual parts of what Dron had threaded together, I felt like wading through a very murky body of water. Dron's work is like a purifier that made it easier to see what's at the bottom.

I am a bit dissapointed that he used more hypothetical data to explain his model, rather than empirical data. But I guess this is a challenge to future researchers. But when he did provide raw data like in he analyzed Text Chat in Chapter 10 (Dron, p.193) it was exactly like the chat that I had with my fellow online classmates. His analysis hit nail on the head.

But, this does not mean that I'm converted to following Transactional Distance Theory. I still think that the same technologies and concepts could better be explained under network analysis. In fact it would be a challenge to test Dron's conjectures using network analysis. I disagree with the reduction of dialogue to control, which I have modeled simply as communication ties between learner and instructor. I also dislike the imagery of a learning trajectory. I believe that Dron does not imply a single linear path, but when I see the word trajectory I always imagine a cannon ball travelling in a parabola and crashing on the ground. I still prefer the analogy of rhyzomes when dealing with the growth of learning and choices of the learner.

I think I have passed by this book online before but I ignored it because of the cover and the title. The cover is like grandmother's clothes on a bubling teenager. The brown cover does not do the book justice. And the title could be something like "The super duper present and future of e-learning" :-). Okay that was a bad title, but even Terry Anderson found that title confusing (2007).

Why am I reviewing something that was published three years ago? Well I only started studying distance education in 2007, and it took three years for me to even learn the foundation theories of Moore, Holmberg, Peters, etc. So for me it's like trying to catch up with the literature.

In general I think Dron's book is a landmark work in Distance Education that is a great source of hypotheses to test in future researches.


Sabine Graf's review of Control and constraint in e-learning: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7100/is_2_11/ai_n31337977/?tag=content;col1

Terry Anderson's review of Control and constraint in e-learning: http://terrya.edublogs.org/2007/04/09/book-review-control-and-constraint-in-e-learning/


Dron, J. (2007). Control and constraint in e-learning: Choosing when to choose. USA & UK: Idea Group.

Saba, F., & Shearer, R. L. (1994). Verifying key theoretical concepts in a dynamic model of distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 8(1), 36-59.

Anderson, T. (2007, April 9). Book Review - Control and Constraint in E-Learning. In Virtual Canuck; Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World [Blog]. REtrieved June 29, 2009, from http://terrya.edublogs.org/2007/04/09/book-review-control-and-constraint-in-e-learning/.

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