Re-Thinking E-Learning Research: November 9-27, 2009

Critical Theory; an Introduction

Critical Theory; an Introduction

by Norm Friesen -
Number of replies: 3
Hi all.

Thanks for some really interesting questions and contributions on the matter of narrative research.

A brief way of summarizing one of the key points in the discussion of narrative is that it helps us focus on micro-narratives to understand what is going on or what can go on in different contexts. It does this instead of emphasizing generalizable meta-narratives related to the "impact" of technology on education and to the story of technological progress more generally. (For a slightly different take on the narrative of Lisa and the way it fits with other ideas in the book, you can check out a slidecast of a presentation I gave last week in Quebec:

On to Critical Theory & E-learning: Some of the most important points I make in my chapter/article about critical theory and e-learning (see: are not unrelated to what I say about narrative. Both emphasize the importance of focusing on marginalized rather than dominant discourses and information sources; both privilege the realization that any particular experience will depart from grandiose claims about technological efficiency, inevitability and ubiquity (to give just two examples.)

So, I look forward to your questions and thoughts on the application of critical theory in e-learning research. So far, it has been an enriching experience!

Also, if you don't get around to reading the article/chapter on critical theory, you can listen to a short podcast of an interview I gave last spring in New Zealand: It covers at least part of the material in the chapter.

See you online, and happy thanksgiving to our American colleagues!


In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: Critical Theory; an Introduction

by Jeffrey Keefer -


Sorry that this time of the year has us so busy with holidays and work commitments, as I did not have an opportunity to reply to this question of yours within the discussion's established timeline.

That may be an extended element of critical theory in itself!

I recall the first time I encountered critical theory, which is something that is easier to dismiss depending on one's experiences within a cultural majority (or at least believing oneself to be). I then started to notice how there may be something to this in the work of he Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (who you did not mention), after which I then went back to Marcuse, Gramsci, et al. The work of Habermas never quite excited me, though I think we get to the same place when you explained (p. 177) "ideology critique is about asking questions of things that are otherwise considered too self-evident to be put into question" (which is exactly the first step for me (personally) into postmodernism; though others seem to keep these nicely separate).

From this perspective, I wish we were able to discuss the myth of the "knowledge economy" that you talk about in your text. I think about this and those who engage in this as "knowledge workers," and wish we has more time to flesh this out a bit (and while SCoPE here remains open, you probably have other commitments).

Can you perhaps offer some suggestions for further reading and research in this area, especial for those of us within an eLearning framework? 

Thank you.


In reply to Jeffrey Keefer

Re: Critical Theory; an Introduction

by Norm Friesen -
Hi Jeffrey,

Let me quickly recommend one book that provides an excellent critique of the kind of "knowledge society/economy/worker" discourse that has become so dominant as of late. This book is innocuously titled The Information Society: An Introduction. By Armand Mattelart (from Sage).

it is a great read!


In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: Critical Theory; an Introduction

by Jo Ann Hammond-Meiers -
Dear Norm,
Thanks for your interesting comments about the book and the research.

Jo Ann