Collaborative ICT-supported learning for sustainable development

Sven Åke Bjørke, University of Agder, Norway


I keep meeting teachers who think they do e-learning if they make a power point available online. I also have encountered teachers who regard computers as enemies of teaching. They see machines acting as barriers between human beings who are adapted to communicate face-to-face – not through screens

There are school administrators who say that “Now, when your students are studying online, you, their teacher, have plenty of time to teach yet another class on campus”.

Myths about online education

There are many myths about online teaching. One persistent myth is that the only quality-assured way of teaching in tertiary education is the traditional lecture-based way of doing it. This in spite of the fact that research indicates that many lectures have low learning outcomes. Another myth claims that online education is distant, lonely, anti-social, alienating with too little feedback and corrections.

High learning outcomes

How do you ensure high learning outcomes online? The technology doesn’t help very much in this respect. Quality education always depends on the quality of the input in the form of content and the pedagogical process, whether online or on-campus. To create good online learning environments, you have to be structured; it must be interactive, socially intense and near. To achieve that, you have to be very conscious about what pedagogical methods you use. Online education is not distant, it is close-up. Education needs to be more learning than technology driven to succeed. The magic of dazzling technology must be matched with appropriate pedagogy.

Transformative pedagogy for sustainable education

The quest for sustainable development requires a change in attitudes, and intercultural and global cooperation. The combination of ICT and transformative pedagogy can be efficient tools for such change. Traditional education is inadequate to meet the challenges of a global environmental crisis. Education for sustainable development demands a new, transformational pedagogy. Traditional education systems are to some degree based on “Copy, Cram and Reproduce” or the “CCR-pedagogy”: Paulo Freire calls it the “Banking pedagogy”

Education for sustainable development should emphasize concrete and relevant knowledge, learning by doing, encourage creativity, information literacy, collaborative and cultural competence, individual and team management, ecological ethics, economic and social responsibility.

Modern technologies can be important tools to achieve sustainable development. The new pedagogy must consequently be adapted to new communication realities connecting the entire globe in an ever closer electronic network.

Development in a true sense is reaching a state of resilient, sustainable livelihoods with healthy and robust ecosystems rather than just increased consumption. Secondly, development does not have to go through stages. People can take short-cuts, or leapfrog over stages of development. A stunning example is the rapid dissemination in the use of mobile phones all over Africa

It should be possible to implement the state of the art online education technology in large parts of Africa and Asia, almost as rapidly as it happened with the mobile phones.


Broadband capacity is still an issue. A pedagogical challenge is to find solutions that make online education work despite outages – and affordable to ordinary people. Online education does not have to be synchronous, with live video streaming and same-time interaction between students and teachers. Asynchronous e-learning can be just as effective, or work even better than the more technologically demanding synchronous modes

The technology of ICT emphasizes communication while e-learning adds peer interaction, tutor guidance, and a holistic view on education. In addition to computer skills, the teacher needs the more advanced competence of being able to combine subject mastery with appropriate learning activities, progression, assessment, quality assurance, grading system and student support system – all required to ensure the achievement of learning objectives or learning outcomes.

A main pedagogical tool is asynchronous, threaded discussions arranged in a discussion forum in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The asynchronous mode is less demanding on broadband capacity than the synchronous alternatives and enables an intercontinental study programme to overcome complex time frames. Asynchronous interaction encourages reflection and gives room for information gathering and critical assessment before expressing opinions. The otherwise more timid participants are more easily included and it allows those with externally fixed schedules to participate. It seems that asynchronous, tutor-guided, peer interaction is conducive to cross-cultural and cross gender communication. Otherwise quiet women raised in patriarchal societies realize after some weeks that nobody can prevent them from contributing as equals.


Transformative, collaborative pedagogy is probably decisive for building good online learning environments. This approach also encourages information literacy, creativeness and critical thinking. These may be crucial factors for our ability to meet the challenges of a seemingly imminent global, economic and environmental crisis and to steer development in a sustainable direction.

This address is based on the article: Bjorke, S.A. (2011) E-learning for sustainable development – rationale, strategies, choices and actions. Experiences from the study programme MSc in Development Management: E-learning for sustainable development – rationale, strategies, choices and actions. Experiences from the study programme MSc in Development Management , vol 7, Issue 2

Short articles or lectures:


Student centered learning

Good practice

Online adult education

Collaborative learning and team work

Motivation and engagement

Flipping the classroom


Blended learning

Game based learning

Problem based and project based learning  PBL

Online tests and exams


Lifelong learning

Quality assurance


Making online courses

Quality assurance



Scientific thinking


Development and ICT

6 Responses to E-learning

  1. Pingback: Online education and Pedagogy – tracing possibilities and prospects | lupasenk

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    Liked by 1 person

  3. Divya Narain says:

    Thank you Mr. Bjørke for such an insightful post on ICT in ESD. I think it would be relevant to mention here that the UNESCO chair for ICT in ESD has launched an MSc programme titled, ‘ICTs in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)’. This programme is funded by the European Commission and is open for application.

    Liked by 1 person

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