May/June 2003 // Commentary
The Global e-Learning Framework:
An Interview with Badrul Khan
by James L. Morrison and Badrul H. Khan
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: James L. Morrison and Badrul H. Khan "The Global e-Learning Framework:
An Interview with Badrul Khan" The Technology Source, May/June 2003. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

With the advent of e-learning methodologies and technologies, many educational institutions are beginning to view the world as their market. What does it take to provide the best open, flexible, and distributed e-learning environments for diverse learners across the globe? Badrul Khan, who grew up in Bangladesh dreaming of having access to well-designed learning resources that were available only to students in industrial countries, now directs George Washington University's educational technology leadership graduate cohort program. His desire for broadly available distributed e-learning systems, as well as his scholarly grounding in the field of educational systems design and technology, have enabled him to present a total vision for the educational and training possibilities of the new worldwide communications. I interviewed Khan in April 2002.

James Morrison [JM]: Badrul, what does it take to create a successful e-learning system?

Badrul Khan [BK]: A successful e-learning system involves a systematic process of planning, design, development, evaluation, and implementation to create an online environment where learning is actively fostered and supported. An e-learning system should be meaningful not only to learners, but also to all stakeholder groups, including instructors, support services staff, and the institution. For example, an e-learning system is meaningful to learners when it is easily accessible, well-designed, learner-centered, affordable, efficient, flexible, and has a facilitated learning environment. When learners display a high level of participation and success in meeting a course's goals and objectives, this can make e-learning meaningful to instructors. In turn, when learners enjoy all available support services provided in the course without any interruptions, it makes support services staff happy as they strive to provide easy-to-use, reliable services. Finally, an e-learning system is meaningful to institutions when it has a sound return-on-investment (ROI), a moderate to high level of learner satisfaction with both the quality of instruction and all support services, and a low drop-out rate.

JM: How do you view e-learning, and what does it take to create a meaningful e-learning experience for diverse learners?

BK: I view e-learning as an innovative approach for delivering electronically mediated, well-designed, learner-centered, and interactive learning environments to anyone, anyplace, anytime by utilizing the Internet and digital technologies in concert with instructional design principles.

A clear understanding of the open, flexible, and distributed nature of e-learning will help us create a meaningful e-learning environment. According to Calder and McCollum (1998), "The common definition of open learning is learning in your own time, pace and place" (p. 13). Ellington (1997) notes that open and flexible learning allows learners to have some say in how, where, and when learning takes place. Saltzberg and Polyson (1995) contend that distributed learning is not merely synonymous with distance learning. Instead, they stress its affinity with the concept of distributed resources:

Distributed learning is an instructional model that allows instructor, students, and content to be located in different, non-centralized locations so that instruction and learning occur independent of time and place. . . . The distributed learning model can be used in combination with traditional classroom-based courses, with traditional distance learning courses, or it can be used to create wholly virtual classrooms. (p. 10)

The Internet supports open learning because it is independent of device (hardware or platform), distance, and time. It is designers who take advantage of the openness of the Internet to create learning environments that are flexible for learners. Therefore, openness is a technical thing; flexibility is a design thing. The Internet, by its very nature, distributes resources and information, making it the tool of choice for those interested in delivering instruction using the distributed learning model (Saltzberg & Polyson, 1995). Thus, the Internet is well-suited for open, flexible, and distributed learning.

Please note that the scope of this openness and flexibility is dependent on the designer's approach to e-learning activities. One may find that designing open, flexible, and distributed e-learning systems for globally diverse learners is challenging; however, as more and more institutions offer e-learning to learners worldwide, designers will become more knowledgeable about what works and what does not work. For example, for assignment due dates, is the instructor sensitive to national and religious holidays observed by students (but not observed by the instructor)? Learners in some countries may not feel comfortable about submitting an assignment on certain holidays. Coordination across time zones can also complicate matters. Students from different time zones may find it difficult to participate in scheduled chat discussions or coordinate their schedules for group work. (In the US alone, there are six time zones.) All e-learning courses should be organized with such issues in mind, and the instructor of a diverse population should develop guidelines that are fair to all.

JM: I understand that you have created a framework for e-learning. How did you develop the framework?

BK: The seeds for the e-learning framework began germinating with the question, "What does it take to provide flexible learning environments for learners worldwide?" After the publication of Web-Based Instruction (Khan, 1997), readers began e-mailing me to ask whether I could point them to a Web-based course that I thought was truly Web-based instruction, as I defined it in the book. Unfortunately, I didn't have an answer for them. In 1997, the Web was used more for presenting information than for designing instruction; people were still experimenting with the Web. However, the rapid growth of e-learning over the next few years provided a rich climate for further exploration of this question.

Since then, I have communicated with learners, instructors, administrators, and technical and other support services staff involved in e-learning (in both academic and corporate settings) all over the world. I have researched e-learning issues discussed in professional discussion forums, and I have designed and taught online courses. Also, as the editor of Web-Based Training (2001b) and the forthcoming Web-Based Learning (in press), I had the opportunity to work closely on critical e-learning issues with more than 100 authors worldwide who contributed chapters to these books.

Through these activities, I learned that e-learning represents a paradigm shift not only for learners, but also for instructors, administrators, technical and other support services staff, and the institution. We are accustomed to the structure of a traditional educational system where instructor-led, face-to-face classes are part of the learning environment. e-Learning, on the other hand, is an innovative way of providing instruction to diverse learners in an environment where students, instructors, and support staff do not see each other. The format of such a learning environment is different than traditional classroom-based instruction. The latter takes place in a closed system (i.e., within the confines of a given classroom, school, textbook, or field trip), whereas e-learning takes place in an open system (i.e., it extends the boundaries of learning to an open and flexible format where learners decide where and when they want to learn).

As we are accustomed to teaching and learning in a closed system, the openness of e-learning is new to us. To create effective e-learning environments for diverse learners, we need to jump out of our closed system mentality. We need to change our mindset?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùthat's the paradigm shift. In order to facilitate such a shift, and in response to the range of issues I saw in my research, I created a framework for e-learning (see Figure 1).

JM: What are the components of this framework, and how does it guide the design of a meaningful learning environment?

BK: To develop the framework, I clustered various e-learning issues and factors into eight critical dimensions: pedagogical, institutional, technological, interface design, evaluation, management, resource support, and ethical considerations. Each dimension has several subdimensions, and each subdimension consists of issues related to a specific aspect of an e-learning environment (see Table 1). These issues generate many questions that course designers can ask themselves when planning or designing an e-learning system. For example, for the pedagogical dimension, consider the following content analysis question:

How often is dynamic course content updated? In designing e-learning, we need to explore the stability of course content. For example, static content?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùsuch as historical events, grammar rules, and statistical formulas?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùdoes not require updating. Content that has the potential to change over time?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùsuch as laws, policy, and the like?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùcan be categorized as dynamic content, and dynamic content requires updating. It is therefore necessary to identify all dynamic content in a course and ensure that proper, timely updating is done. Learners will be frustrated if they find obsolete information within the course content.

For another example, the institutional dimension, consider the following faculty and staff support issue:

Does the institution have a program or initiative to intrinsically motivate instructional and support staff to devote more time and effort to facilitating students' learning? Online teaching demands more time and effort from instructional staff. Sometimes they have to go out of their way to help learners. If they are not paid for their extra efforts, they may not be motivated to go the extra mile to provide their services.

Some issues can be understood in terms of how they represent a distinctive overlap between two different dimensions. For example, with respect to the interface design and ethical issues related to designing e-learning for a cross-cultural population, consider these questions:

1. To improve cross-cultural verbal communication and avoid misunderstanding, does the course make an effort to reduce or avoid the use of jargon, idioms, ambiguous or cute humor, and acronyms? We should avoid using jokes or comments that might be misinterpreted by some. For example, in Bangladesh, we use the thumbs-up sign to challenge people, but to other cultures, that means you did well.

2. To improve visual communication, is the course sensitive to the use of navigational icons or images? For example, a pointing hand icon to indicate direction would violate a cultural taboo in certain African cultures by representing a dismembered body part. Right arrow for the next page may mean previous page for Arabic and Hebrew language speakers, as they read from right to left.

3. Does the course use terms or words that may not be used by worldwide audiences? For example, people use the term "sidewalk" in the US and "pavement/footpath" in the UK. When such a term is needed, we should include both forms for a diverse audience (e.g., Students should use the sidewalk [or pavement] rather than trample the grass.).

4. Is the course offered in a multilingual format? Since text found in buttons or icons is harder to change, it is better not to include text within graphics when the e-learning content may be translated into other languages.

As you can see, you can ask many questions about cross-cultural issues and think about how these issues impact e-learning initiatives.

JM: Are all subdimensions within your eight dimensions necessary for e-learning?

BK: It depends on the scope of your e-learning initiative. If you are initiating an e-learning degree program, you must start with the institutional dimension of the framework and also investigate all critical issues in other dimensions. For example, you should conduct a readiness assessment (see Table 1, 1.1.2). If you are creating an e-learning lesson, however, some subdimensions of the institutional dimension of the framework?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùlike admissions (1.1.8), financial aid (1.1.9), and others?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùmay not be relevant.

Please note that it also depends on how accommodating you want to be. The more e-learning issues you explore and address, the more meaningful and supportive a learning environment you help to create for distant learners.

JM: Where can readers find more information about significant e-learning issues?

BK: I am currently working on two new books (to be published in several languages) about critical issues that encompass the eight dimensions of the framework. E-Learning Strategies (in press) is a detailed description of these issues, and E-Learning QUICK Checklist (in press) presents questions that one can use to design and evaluate e-learning materials and distance education programs. Several other authors (Hedberg, 2001; Cook & Heacock, 2003) have commented on factors vital to e-learning design.

JM: Who can use the framework, and how might it be applied?

BK: Teachers, training managers, distance education specialists, virtual education specialists, e-learning project managers, instructional designers, educational technology coordinators, webmasters, writers/editors, and technical support staff can use the framework to plan, design, evaluate, and implement e-learning modules, courses, and programs. Virtual/corporate university designers can use
the framework to plan, design, evaluate, and implement corporate/virtual universities. School administrators, higher education administrators, department of education staff, virtual and corporate university administrators, human resources managers, and consultants can use the framework to develop strategic plans for designing, evaluating, and implementing e-learning initiatives. Finally, anyone contemplating a career in training and development, curriculum planning, and Internet applications can use the framework to learn about e-learning design strategies.

Several authors who contributed to Web-Based Training used the e-learning framework as a guiding mechanism to:

  • review e-learning courses (Khan, Waddill, & McDonald, 2001);
  • review learning management systems (Dabbagh, Bannan-Ritland, & Silc, 2001);
  • design a comprehensive e-learning authoring system (Khan & Ealy, 2001);
  • design virtual universities (Khan, 2001a);
  • organize e-learning resources (El-Tigi & Khan, 2001); and
  • review Web-based assessment tools (Zhang, Khan, Gibbons, & Ni, 2001).

The subdimensions of the framework are by no means complete. I welcome comments and suggestions for improvement.

JM: It seems that the issues you raise in your framework can apply to a variety of learning environments.

BK: Absolutely! I am continuing to explore the utility of the framework for traditional and blended learning classes. I hope that others will join me.

JM: Many thanks, Badrul, for sharing your perspective on e-learning and giving us an overview of your framework. Interested readers can learn more at


Calder, J., & McCollum, A. (1998). Open and flexible learning in vocational education and training. London: Kogan Page.

Cook, J. R., & Heacock, W. B. (2003, January-February). e-Learning: Managing for results. Educational Technology 43(1), 25-31.

Dabbagh, N., Bannan-Ritland, B., & Silc, K. F. (2001). Pedagogy and Web-based course authoring tools: Issues and implications. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based training (pp. 343-354). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Ellington, H. (1995). Flexible learning, your flexible friend. In C. Bell, M. Bowden, & A. Trott (Eds.), Implementing flexible learning (pp. 3-13). London: Kogan Page.

El-Tigi, M. A., & Khan, B. H. (2001). Web-based learning resources. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based training (pp. 59-72). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Hedberg, J. (Ed.). (2001). Promoting inquiry and critical thinking in e-learning. In J. G. Hedberg (Ed.), Online learning environments: Research and teaching (pp. 21-43). Wollongong, NSW Australia: Research Center for Interactive Learning Environments (RILE).

Khan, B. H. (Ed.). (1997). Web-based instruction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. [Editor's note: A description of this book and ordering information were retrieved March 25, 2003, from]

Khan, B. H. (2001a). Virtual U: A hub for excellence in education, training and learning resources. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based training (pp. 491-506). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Khan, B. H. (Ed.). (2001b). Web-based training. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. [Editor's note: A description of this book and ordering information were retrieved March 25, 2003, from]

Khan, B. H. (2002, June). A framework for e-learning. Invited speech at the Virtual Learning: Academic and Corporate Conference, New York, NY.

Khan, B. H. (in press). E-learning QUICK checklist. Eskisehir, Turkey: Anadolu University Press.

Khan, B. H. (in press). E-learning strategies. Beijing, China: Beijing Normal University Press.

Khan, B. H. (Ed.). (in press). Web-based learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. [Editor's note: A description of this book and ordering information were retrieved March 25, 2003, from]

Khan, B. H., & Ealy, D. (2001). A framework for Web-based authoring systems. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based training (pp. 355-364). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Khan, B. H., Waddill, D., & McDonald, J. (2001). Review of Web-based training sites. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based training (pp. 367-374). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Saltzberg, S., & Polyson, S. (1995, September). Distributed learning on the world wide web. Syllabus, 9(1), 10-12.

Zhang, J., Khan, B. H., Gibbons, A. S., & Ni, Y. (2001). Review of web-based assessment tools. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based training (pp. 287-295). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

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