Engagement must be included as part of an e-learning strategy, according to Heather Kanuka, director of the University of Alberta's Centre for Teaching and Learning.
Speaking to physorg.com, she explained she has conducted research which shows students struggle to engage with course material if it is all presented in text.
"I did a series of studies where I looked at reflection in an online class. One of the studies was content analysis of course transcripts to see if there was evidence of reflection," Ms Kanuka said.
She noted there was little evidence of reflective engagement found in the study and said there is a need for engagement if e-learning is to be a success.
Even self-directed learners need the direction in order to point them in the right way so they know what they are doing, pointed out the expert, who added discussions are an important method of reaching a higher level of learning.
Ms Kanuka said: "There is nothing about text-based, asynchronous forums that’s a discussion. At best, it is a very quick correspondence between one or more people. Can we really call that form of communication a discussion?"
She called for strategically structured activities to be included in e-learning projects, as this is a better way for students to get on track with the material.
But the specialist also highlighted the fact there is a need for a certain level of independence, as people need to be responsible for their own learning.
This comes shortly after the release of the 2011-12 eLearning Index from US higher education marketing information and technology services company EducationDynamics, which takes the guesswork out of the online education market, according to Carol Aslanian, senior vice-president of Aslanian Market Research at EducationDynamics.
The report examined over 3,400 degree programs in more than 200 institutions and the most successful were discovered to use e-learning.