Means, motive and opportunity might be necessary if you are to convince a jury to convict in a trial, but they also apply in a wide variety of other circumstances, not least whether or not learning technologies make sense for a particular population:
Learners need the means to engage with technology, in particular the IT literacy. While not so long ago this was a major obstacle, even in developed economies, the problem is fast reducing. Of course, some of the credit must go to employers who have provided IT training and support to those who work with computers, but a much more major influence has been the increasingly widespread use of technology outside the home. Just about every electronic gadget we use – a telephone, a tablet, a TV, a DVD player, a games console – is at heart a computer and works like one. Most people have become computer literate without trying.
To make good use of the opportunities afforded by online learning, users also need some more specific skills, including the ability to search, to communicate appropriately using forums, blogs, wikis and social networks, and to study effectively on their own. While these skills are also becoming more commonplace, they cannot be taken for granted.
Learners may need the language skills to make use of available content and to communicate with tutors and follow learners. As an English speaker, it’s easy to take this for granted, but many learners are having to manage with a second language.
Lastly, learners need the physical capability to use the available computing devices. A great deal of content is still inaccessible to those with disabilities.
Learners need a motive to engage with technology. This motive will depend, to some extent, on the quality of the experience they have had using alternative media, in particular books and face-to-face learning. For those who are located remotely from classrooms, libraries and conference facilities, then the advantages of online learning are only too obvious. For those, wishing to obtain more control over when, where and how they learn, then again the door is likely to be wide open.
But not every potential online learner is going to be convinced of the opportunity. Some will have had a poor experience of e-learning, some a dislike for what they expect is likely to mean learning on their own. Some may be sceptical that what they need to learn can be effectively accomplished online. They may be right. In these cases the onus is very much on the provider to offer experiences that really do exploit the potential of computers (fast, immersive, media-rich, adaptive) and networks (global, supportive, collaborative, scalable).
Finally, learners need the opportunity to engage with technology. That means the time and the place, whether at home or at work, as well as an appropriate device and adequate bandwidth. In all of these respects, opportunities are growing, not least because of the increasing power and availability of mobile devices and rapidly improving broadband capability. Smart phones and tablets are not only freeing us from dependence on desktop computers and bulky laptops, they also provide the potential to make the use of what might otherwise have been dead time, on trains, planes and in hotel rooms.
But yet again we have to be aware that many learners are not presented with all of these opportunities. They may not have access to the devices or bandwidth. They may have no appropriate place in which to learn or not be granted the necessary time. There is still much work to be done before online learning can be regarded as universally accessible.