Filed Under (mobile devices) by Mark A.-W. on 06-12-2010

Today’s announcement of Google’s ebookstore of over 3 million titles that can be accessed on a wide range of platforms and devices appears to counter recent trends of device-specific content delivery systems.

Will this, in turn, lead to greater openness, accessibility, and compatibility? Or just more traffic in Google streams that can be captured for advertising dollars?

Whatever the case, hooray for the continuing interest in reading.

The term “access” is used with great frequency and sense of purpose in education these days. We’ve got our accessibility standards, an open access movement, and just plain access. It is a good word. But it is insufficient.access

The basic definition of “access” is simply to gain entrance. There is nothing inherently educational about gaining entrance. An unlocked door, for example, gives us access to a building; a gate gives us access to a park. The door and the gate are essential—without them, we would not be able to enter the building or the park. But what happens in the building or park is the important thing.

In addition to providing access, educators and e-learning developers need to provide a memorable experience (experiential learning) and stepping stones for life’s next steps (opportunity).


Access is worth understanding. Accessibility is sometimes confused with availability. All sorts of scientific, medical, legal, and financial technical information is openly available on the Web, but that does not make it accessible.

Turning availability into accessibility requires accommodation—that is, translating information into something usable to target audiences. Many factors contribute to whether e-learning materials are accessible. E-learning is accessible when …

  • It fits with their existing knowledge, vocabulary, and proficiency.
  • It is delivered in formats (text, images, audio, etc.) that match the learning styles of the learners.
  • It accommodates users with disabilities (for example, is compliant with ADA Section 508).
  • It is technically compatible with the learners’ equipment (computer, software, Internet connectivity, etc.)
  • The cost to the students does not exceed what they are willing and able to pay.

Clearly, access is a continuum. Nothing can be accessible to everyone.


Once learners have crossed the access threshold, e-learning materials should effectively engage them in a memorable, preferably interactive experience.

The value of experiential learning has long been documented. John Dewey outlined a progressive education based on experience (for example, see his book Experience and Education, 1938). In Freedom to Learn (1969), Carl Rogers described his view of experiential, social learning. More recently, David A. Kolb has explored many facets of the topic over decades, most notably in Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (1984).

New technologies, such as those frequently discussed here, now provide an abundance of tools for educators to engage learners online.


Someone I know at another institution of higher education got me thinking about the inadequacy of “access” in the first place. He recently performed an informal survey of students and found that the word “access” does not resonate with them. But they really like the word “opportunity.” Educational opportunity conveys that the student and the educators will be active participants in an experience that will be useful to the student.

“Opportunity” goes hand in hand with another educational term—learning outcome. But from the students’ perspective, they don’t seek learning experiences in order to receive an “outcome.” They would prefer it be put in simpler, more learner-centric terms.

When you buy a car, you assume it will come with keys—that is, you will have access into the car. So why do educators keep focusing on the access to learning. Instead, answer the learner’s question: “What will I get out of it?”

Education should provide the experience that creates opportunity.