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Critical Theory
Ideology Critique and the Myths of E-Learning

Ubiquity, Volume 2008 Issue June | BY Norm Friesen 

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Full citation in the ACM Digital Library

Critical theory designates a philosophy and a research methodology that focuses on the interrelated issues of technology, politics and social change. Despite its emphasis on technology, critical theory arguably remains underutilized in areas of practical research that lie at the confluence of social, political and technological concerns, such as the study of the use of the usability of information and communication technologies (ICTs) or of their use in educational institutions. This paper addresses this situation by first describing the methodology of ideology critique. This critical methodology operates comparatively, by "measuring" consensual truths against actual social conditions. In doing so, it frequently shows these truisms to have the quality of mystifications or "myths," claims possessing a "false clarity" and that are misleading in developing and justifying research plans and priorities. Focusing on the specific example of e-learning (or the use of ICTs in education), this paper shows how critical theory can be used to "de-mystify" three particular truths or myths. These are claims that 1) we live in a "knowledge economy," 2) that users enjoy ubiquitous, "anywhere anytime" access, and 3) that social and institutional change is motivated by a number of fixed "laws" of progress in computer technology. These claims are shown to simplify or obscure a complex social reality that is constituted by different and conflicting forms of knowledge, and these claims are shown to work to the benefit of interests that are hegemonic and conservative in nature.


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