This thesis concerns technology use in distance educations and learning practices related to this use. The research was carried out over the period 2005 to 2009 in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and has been reported in 6 published papers. The research is situated within the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) and within this field e-learning. Education is important for development and for many students in developing countries distance education is often the only option to get educated. The research question is if the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in distance education can contribute to development, and if so, how?
This question is explored through two case studies in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. A variety of data collection methods have been used: interviews, questionnaires, participant observations and document review. The research approach is interpretative and findings are analyzed using Structuration Theory.
Initial findings showed that a major challenge for students was the change of learning practices that distance education required. Findings also showed that new constructive learning practices emerged through the use of ICT. For development to take place the learning practices of students are important. Students used to learning practices based on uncritical memorization of facts will not easily take initiatives for change, whereas students used to constructive learning practices will. Notwithstanding the fact that most students found this transition challenging, it was found that by introducing technology into long-established transmission structures, changes towards constructive learning practices occurred.
A major contribution of this thesis is to increase the understanding of how ICT in distance education can facilitate constructive learning practices. By arguing that constructive learning practices are conducive to societal change this finding also has implications for development. The thesis also makes a theoretical contribution by extending Structuration Theory’s applicability in demonstrating its explanatory power in settings where researcher and informants are geographically and socially distant.