User:Vtaylor/The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd ed.)

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Open Textbook review

The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd ed.)

The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (2nd ed.) - purchase $39.95 Canadian for Paperback

  • Release Date: 6/15/2008 ISBN: 9781897425084 472 Pages Distributed for Athabasca University Press
  • Publisher's notes...Every chapter in the widely distributed first edition has been updated, and four new chapters on current issues such as connectivism and social software innovations have been added. Essays by practitioners and scholars active in the complex, diverse, and rapidly evolving field of distance education blend scholarship and research; practical attention to the details of teaching and learning; and mindful attention to the economics of the business of education.
  • Editor: Terry Anderson is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Distance Education at Athabasca University. He has published widely in the area of distance education and educational technology.

Terry Anderson (Editor) is well regarded thought leader in online teaching and learning. He authored several of the chapters. His colleagues at Athabasca University, who contributed the other chapters discuss their background research that lead to the practices described. Each author has considerable authority in their subject area. Each manages an important aspect of Canada's most prominent and active distance learning institution.

... a blending of scholarship and of research; practical attention to the details of teaching and of provision for learning opportunity; dissemination of research results; and mindful attention to the economics of the business of education. -- Terry Anderson

Terry Anderson and his colleagues at Athabasca University have done a wonderful job of addressing all facets of developing a college-level distance learning program. As the title suggests, the book examines the theory as well as the administration and instructional aspects of online education.

I plan to use some of the textbook chapters for faculty development supplemental reading. It would a good text for a graduate course in Online Education. In addition to the practices of teaching and learning, there are chapters that address administration, and student support services - areas that are critical to student success that beyond the authority of the instructional staff.

The book has great applicability to anyone interested in setting up or expanding a distance learning program within a college or university setting.

Review criteria

  • Clarity and comprehensibility - content, including the instructions and exercises

Faculty and curriculum developers will learn a lot from the research, explanations, examples and analysis provided.

  • Accuracy

This is a scholarly work, including references to an enormous range of prior work. There is thoughtful analysis of much of what is known about online teaching and learning. By basis the practical information on a strong foundation of theory, readers are provided with background information that led to the practices described.

  • Readability - in terms of logic, sequencing, and flow

As chapters are written by a number of specializing practitioners, there is considerable variation in style and readability. Some chapters are very dense and scholarly, while others are very enjoyable reading while being thoughtful and informative.

  • Consistency of course materials - consistency in the content language and use of key terms as is necessary to facilitate understanding by novice users

Each chapter is self contained. All terminology used is defined or explained as needed. The chapters, although written by a number of different authors are arranged to progress from theory to practice.

  • Appropriateness of content - appropriateness of the material for community college level courses

Unlike most of the other community college level textbooks reviewed here, The Theory and Practice of Online Learning is written for and by administrators and faculty, and is suitable for use as a textbook in a graduate Education program or as reference by academic staff.

  • Interface - technological issues such as broken links, improperly displayed graphics, and ease of navigation

Again, the .pdf file format is static and attractive, but 400+ pages is a lot of screen reading. Browsing and skimming are difficult in this format. The extensive references in each chapter do include active links, all seem to be working as of this review (March 2009).

  • Content usefulness - the ways in which the content could be useful for teachers, students, and those with a general interest in the subject area

This isn't really a how-to book. There are lots of good ideas, many which could be implemented by instructors and curriculum developers. However, much of the book addresses infrastructure and administration issues. It isn't clear that the appropriate administrator with the authority and responsibility for these operational areas would access these nuggets within the book. Too bad, because there are some great lessons here.

  • Modularity - the ability to adapt, rearrange, add, delete and modify the content by sections

Individual chapters are available as separate .pdf file so there is some option to select portions of the book for reuse, remix and redistribution. However, as the Editor suggests this is an area of education that is evolving and it would have been nice to have the information in a format that could be used in more creative ways.

  • Content errors - the presence or absence of factual errors, grammatical errors, and typographical errors in the content

All the information and references appear accurate, well-researched and professionally edited.

  • Reading level - appropriate for community college level students

The book is written for academic practitioners and is appropriate for this audience.

  • Cultural relevance - use of examples that are inclusive of diverse races and ethnicities

There are a few references and word choices that are distinctly Canadian. The text as a whole, factually represents the work of a world-class educational institution and is acceptable for use in any global setting.

This is a great addition to the body of knowledge on the theory and practice of online learning. Terry Anderson and his contributors are to be commended for their continuing effort to make online learning better and to allow the rest of us to benefit from their work. I highly recommend The Theory and Practice of Online Learning to anyone interested in education in general, and distance learning in particular.

Table of Contents

PART I: Role and Function of Theory in Online Education Development and Delivery

  • 1. Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning - Mohamed Ally
  • 2. Towards a Theory of Online Learning - Terry Anderson
  • 3. Situating Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) in an Online Learning Environment - Dianne Conrad
  • 4. Understanding e-Learning Technologies-in-Practice through Philosophies-in-Practice - Heather Kanuka

PART II: Infrastructure and Support for Content Development

  • 5. Developing an Infrastructure for Online Learning - Alan Davis, Paul Little & Brian Stewart
  • 6. Technologies of Online Learning (E-learning) - Rory McGreal & Michael Elliott
  • 7. Characteristics of Interactive Online Learning Media - Patrick. J. Fahy
  • 8. “In-Your-Pocket” and “On-the-Fly:” Meeting the Needs of Today’s New Generation of Online Learners - Maureen Hutchison, Tony Tin & Yang Cao
  • 9. Social Software to Support Distance Education Learners - Terry Anderson

PART III: Design and Development of Online Courses

  • 10. The Development of Online Courses - Dean Caplan & Rodger Graham
  • 11. Value Added – The Editor in Design and Development of Online Courses - Jan Thiessen & Vincent Ambrock
  • 12. Making Relevant Financial Decisions about Technology in Education - David Annand
  • 13. The Quality Dilemma in Online Education Revisited - Nancy K. Parker

PART IV: Delivery, Quality Control, and Student Support of Online Courses

  • 14. Teaching in an Online Learning Context - Terry Anderson
  • 15. Call Centres in Distance Education - Alex Z. Kondra, Colleen Huber, Kerri Michalczuk & Andrew Woudstra
  • 16. Library Support for e-Learners: e-Resources, e-Services, and the Human Factors - Kay Johnson, Houda Trabelsi & Elaine Fabbro
  • 17. Supporting the Online Learner - Susan D. Moisey & Judith A. Hughes
  • 18. Developing Team Skills and Accomplishing Team Projects Online - Deborah Hurst & Janice Thomas

Reviewer remarks

  • only available in .pdf format - I hate .pdf format, although I understand why people use it.
  • ordering for US delivery - need to search by title, not in any of lists - print copy ordered March 5, 2009 has not arrived as of March 30, 2009
  • download entire book in .pdf format - cable internet - approx 4 minutes - didn't say how big the .pdf file was (3,039 KB), no download progress indicator or estimated time to download
  • used Stanza desktop to convert the .pdf files to mobile format and upload them to my iPhone, and Stanza iPhone app to display the text

Front Matter

  • The introduction provides a good overview of the background and the outline for the textbook. This is good information for faculty training, professional development and graduate studies in education and instructions design.
  • A representative summary of each chapter is provided along with discussion about the structuring and sequencing of the materials.
  • The content is presented in a very readable style.
  • Good flow to the discussion.
  • .pdf format - only options - download whole book or individual chapters, limited to chapter inclusion / exclusion and sequence only
  • Well written and edited.
  • intended for education professionals - faculty, instructional designers, administrators

  • 1. Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning - Mohamed Ally
    • The chapter is pretty academic - lots of references, with citations. There is ample justification for every point and observation.
    • The objective of the chapter is to set the stage for the remainder of the book with a review of literature and exploration of some theories that are further developed in subsequent chapters.
    • The Second edition revisions include material on a number of emerging topics in education. Connectism has been included, even as most in the academic research community are just hearing about this theory and the debate surrounding it.
    • The subject matter is academic and describes research, so the readability is appropriate but not easy.
    • Each of the learning theories are explained in detail along with the their application and applicability to distance education.
    • Given that is is not a community college textbook, but an academic book about the topic, the content is appropriate for its intended audience.
    • As readers are likely education professionals, the content is entirely appropriate, providing the theoretical basis for topics expanded upon in the rest of the book.
    • The .pdf format precludes any changes, adaptions, modifications, deletions within a chapter
    • Very complete, includes very current research and thinking on several topics - connectivism, for example.
    • Academic style is difficult reading, but appropriate to the education theories and research covered
    • No particular references or examples of diversity, beyond learning style preferences.


  • apply, analyze, synthesize, evaluate
  • Kolb - perceiving - concrete experience, reflective observation; processing - abstract conceptualization, active experimentation