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Munro, Morag
The Next Generation: Digital Learning Research Symposium
E-Learning Policy: A Trojan Horse for Neoliberalism
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This paper will present a snapshot of the findings from my recently submitted doctoral research, a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) of thirteen e-learning policy texts published in the UK between 2003 and 2013. Via thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006) I identified recurring themes across the 138, 900 word corpus. These were then clustered around a trinity of neoliberal ‘Master Narratives’ (Jessop 2004; Fairclough 2006): Marketisation, Instrumentality, and Modernisation. The themes and narratives were then subjected to an ‘Ideology critique’ (Held 1980) in order to expose evidence of myths, contradictions, biases, hegemonies, and omissions. CDA sees the wider context as essential to making sense of a text (Bloor and Bloor 2007; Van Dijk 2008), thus I also examined each text within its historical and socio-economic context. Furthermore, since ideologies can be enacted and obscured by language (Bloor and Bloor 2007; Henriksen 2011), my analysis also examined the role of visual presentation, lexical choices, and rhetorical techniques in communicating the policies. My findings demonstrated that, overall, the policies considered were predominantly motivated by neoliberal imperatives aimed at placing HE within the realm of the market and enhancing the UK’s economic competitiveness. Furthermore, the policies persistently reflect a deterministic and uncritical perspective towards technology, while many of the claims made about the supposed characteristics and capabilities of e-learning are exaggerated, unsubstantiated, duplicitous, or justified via reference to contested discourses. I contend that this problematic framing of e-learning is exacerbating the negative impacts of neoliberalism on HE’s social, cultural, and intellectual role as a public good, and is intensifying social inequalities. It is also channelling e-learning into a restricted form that limits any possible pedagogical or egalitarian opportunities that the judicious application of digital technologies in HE teaching and learning might support.
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