Barriers to learning are problems that have been in and out of the spotlight in education since before the beginning of this century. There's nothing new about these barriers. Frustrating reassessments of them are revisited regularly. In a selection of featured sites , ,  on barriers to learning, there is a universal lack of reference to elearning. It is almost as if the nonappearance of any specific reference to that mode of learning is a silent acknowledgement that there are no barriers within it.
Any thought that elearning can provide a way through the charted and well known barriers to learning should be immediately applauded as showing insight and genuine vision. It's a wonderful way to look at things, it's the height of optimism and such confidence has to be admired. Anyone who suggests that elearning could be anything other than the true way to go about learning deserves the name Carmudgeon.
There are many barriers to elearning that appear to be ignored, however, often by the authorities purporting to address barriers to learning. Obvious and common barriers are to do with lack of online capability, poor or lack of accessibility to a computer or the unavailability of necessary software. These very real situations often appear to be overlooked when programmes of learning are planned for distance-learners.
Add to cart
Elearning presents a whole range of new blocks that can be added to those barriers already in the cart. Most were previously identified as significant well before the advent of the present elearning drive. Barriers introduced by the hardware and software of the electronic interface between student and learning material have been acknowledged and recorded since online course delivery began. The advent of learning resources based exclusively on electronic means, or that require the use of electronic agencies, simply provide a new set of barriers to student learning.
If this is to be believed, then why is it that so many proponents of the method claim that elearning is the best thing to happen to education since sliced bread? Clearly there must be shades of grey. There must be learning topics that just seem to be made for elearning.
Animation a saviour
There is no doubt, and it has been proved, that animated diagrams are a saviour to learners in Biology, Physics, Chemical Thermodynamics and a whole raft of other heady topics where student access to understanding difficult concepts can be opened in ways that were not possible before. It has been shown that online communities really do work when it comes to putting learning through networking on the map. Do I believe there is a place for elearning? You bet I do, but . . .
Many learners who can write well are often at the seek-and-pick with one finger stage for a significant time during the initial stages when studying with a computer. Achieving proficiency in this often represents one necessary and extra step that must occur before topic learning begins. For many, unfortunately, it also represents a major barrier. It means that the aims associated with the programme of learning may not be achieved through that means. Digital participation that is free from significant obstacles relies so much on keyboard expertise, yet many students who frequently use the keyboard cannot touch-type.
Barrier to communication
The keyboard also presents a real barrier to student communication in special subject areas like Chemistry and Mathematics. Likewise in language learning, such as in Chinese and Japanese, as well as many other areas of learning, it is either impossible or extremely difficult to use the keyboard to write script or complex expressions and formulae. In many instances, one of the accompanying skills the student has to acquire is the use of a pen, for which the keyboard provides no easy substitute.
The interface and required associated technical skills
Learning management systems require a level of technical competency that is not possessed by a significant proportion of learners. Depending on the requests from the teacher, a student may have to perform a range of technical activities, from optimising an electronic file transferred from a digital camera or photo scanner, to depositing a data file in a 'digital drop box'. All of the individual tasks may seem simple enough. But it is rare that students can get through a day of learning without performing several combinations of technical tasks to do with the receipt, processing and return of their study assignments. Many students, especially the younger ones, are dependent on the competency and guidance of a parent, caregiver or supervisor to accomplish these.
Barriers in resource design
The design of elearning resources is extremely important, but it must be one that is suited to learning and not simply a design that's emerged from the craft of making the screen look good. Gina Minks has already highlighted the need for good design of Web 2.0 tools.
Many of the qualities of good page design for educational print resources apply equally well to an elearning context. There is need for designers to discard the myth that text is a necessary evil, for the place of text in educational resources is as important today as it ever was. Relegating text to the background, a practice used by many Web 1.0 developers at the turn of the century, is simply not smart if the environment is to be of any use to learners. Paradigm shifts in elearning resource design should neither eschew the fundamental principles of good pedagogy, nor should they deny the need for necessary content, or iterative skills practice.
Barriers to assessment
While the move to elearning is undoubtedly innovative in what it affords the learner, acquisition of elearning techniques are not necessarily helpful when it comes to assessment. Nearly all examinations require the student to read questions from the printed page and write their answers with a pen. The exclusive use of the screen and keyboard simply does not provide the necessary experience for a student to be adequately prepared for those assessments. What's more, skills that the student eventually acquires in using screen and keyboard are not universally useful for the entry of assessable material.
Clearly there's a long way to go for elearning to become the A B C of learning for many of our students.