CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS IN E-LEARNING FOR PROJECT-BASED COURSES
During the last ten years or so, e-learning has become an established technology platform for higher education. Together with e-learning, other alternative teaching methods have become more common, e.g. project based courses especially in the later stages of Master education. Much is known already about critical success factors (CSF) for e-learning in general, but e-learning for project-based courses is an essentially unexplored area. This paper presents a study focusing on the research question: “What are the main critical success factors in e-learning for project-based courses?” We interviewed teachers with experience in both e-learning and project-based education in order to fill in this gap.
First we conducted a literature review looking at what others have found to be the most significant factors when it comes to e-learning. Most frameworks found the student dimension to be significant. Many frameworks found the teacher, course design, and support dimensions, as well as the factor effectiveness of IT within the technology dimension to be significant. While, the interaction possibilities and socially inviting factors in the technology dimension both had fewer frameworks identified as significant. Secondly, we interviewed teachers with e-learning in project-based courses experience. In comparison to the literature review our interviewees emphasized the interaction and collaboration possibilities as very important or even the most important factors in project-based e-learning. However, when it came to the technology to be socially inviting as a key factor, the interviewees did not completely agree on its criticality. This could be due to the fact that some are stuck with a platform chosen by the university, which mostly handles the administrative side of the course. Instead, this interviewee put forward the experience of using a tool as important for the students. Our interviewees agreed that teacher and student technical competence and attitude are important for e-learning. This is also true for project-based courses. Technical support is also necessary. The course design is not only important for e-learning but learning in general. This is also true when it comes to project-based courses. However, in project-based courses collaboration and communication become extremely important since no student can complete such a course by its own. Students need to interact with each other, with teachers and mentors in order to succeed. Thus, for project-based courses this is probably the most critical factor to consider when choosing or designing the e-learning solution. A key issue to enhance the interaction and creative learning is having a socially inviting environment.
According to our literature review there seems to be CSFs important for higher education learning in general that are applicable for e-learning and project-based courses, e.g. the importance of high quality course design and both student & teacher motivation. Then there are CSFs that are more specific for e-learning, i.e. teacher/student technical competence, technology effectiveness, and support issues. For project-based courses using e-learning platforms our interview based findings suggest that typical standout CSFs are related to collaboration, interaction, and communication possibilities in the technology helping the students to get together, as close as possible to a real life situation. Creative learning and having a socially inviting online platform is also important.