Moving Towards Sustainable Policy and Practice – A Five Level Framework for Online Learning Sustainability | Progresser vers des politiques et des pratiques durables : un cadre à cinq niveaux pour un apprentissage en ligne durable

Diogo Casanova, Linda Price


This paper addresses the issue of sustainability in online learning in higher education. It introduces and discusses a five-level framework for helping higher education institutions to make the transition from enterprise to sustainable policy and practice in online learning. In particular, it responds to evidence in the literature regarding the lack of sustainability in online learning in higher education. Influenced by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this framework is characterized by three different clusters: basic needs, institutional motivation, and stakeholders’ motivations. It is presented hierarchically within five different levels. Examples are provided for each of the levels and suggestions are given to how institutions should respond to each level.

Cet article traite de la question de la durabilité dans l’apprentissage en ligne pour l’éducation supérieure. Un cadre de travail à cinq niveaux y est introduit et fait l’objet d’une discussion. Ce cadre a pour but d’aider les établissements d’enseignement supérieur à faire la transition des initiatives complexes aux politiques et pratiques durables en matière d’apprentissage en ligne.. Ce cadre répond notamment aux données probantes de la documentation concernant le manque de durabilité dans l’apprentissage en ligne pour l’éducation supérieure. Influencé par la hiérarchie des besoins de Maslow, le cadre se caractérise par trois grappes différentes : les besoins de base, la motivation de l’établissement et les motivations des intervenants. Il est présenté de façon hiérarchique, en cinq niveaux différents. Des exemples sont fournis pour chacun des niveaux, et des suggestions sont offertes sur la manière dont les établissements devraient réagir à chaque niveau.


sustainability; higher education; online learning; policy

Full Text:



Ali, B. A. (2000). Instructional design and online instruction: Practices and perception. TechTrends, 47(5). doi:10.1007/BF02763205

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC. Retrieved from

Azeiteiro, U. M., Bacelar-Nicolau, P., Caetano, F. J. P., & Caeiro, S. (2015). Education for sustainable development through e-learning in higher education: Experiences from Portugal. Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, 308–319. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.11.056

Bates, T., Desbiens, B., Donovan, T., Martel, E., Mayer, D., Paul, R., Poulin, R., & Seaman, J. (2017). Tracking online and distance education in Canadian universities and colleges: 2017. The National Survey of Online and Distance Education in Canadian Post-Secondary Education.Vancouver, Canada. Retrieved from

Bates, A. T., & Sangra, A. (2011). Managing technology in higher education: Strategies for transforming teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Becker, S. A., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Hall, C. G., & Ananthanarayanan, V. (2017). NMC horizon report: 2017 higher education edition. Retrieved from

Benson, R., & Brack, C. (2009). Developing the scholarship of teaching: What is the role of e-teaching and learning? Teaching in Higher Education, 14(1), 71–80. doi:10.1080/13562510802602590

Blin, F., & Munro, M. (2008). Why hasn’t technology disrupted academics’ teaching practices? Understanding resistance to change through the lens of activity theory. Computers & Education, 50(2), 475–490. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2007.09.017

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Brodie, M. (2012). Building the sustainable library at Macquarie university. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 43(1), 4–16. doi:10.1080/00048623.2012.10700619

Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.). Sustainability definition. Retrieved from

Casanova, D., & Moreira, A. (2017). A model for discussing the quality of technology-enhanced learning in blended learning programmes. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning (IJMBL), 9(4), 1–20. doi:10.4018/IJMBL.2017100101

Casanova, D., Price, L., & Avery, B. (2018). Supporting sustainable policy and practices for online learning education. In U. M. Azeiteiro, W. L. Filho, & L. Aires (Eds.), Climate Literacy and Innovations in Climate Change Education (pp. 323–339). Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-70199-8_19

Chen, K.-C., & Jang, S.-J. (2010). Motivation in online learning: Testing a model of self-determination theory. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(4), 741–752. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.01.011

Chew, E., Jones, N., & Turner, D. (2008). Critical review of the blended learning models based on Maslow’s and Vygotsky’s educational theory. In International Conference on Hybrid Learning and Education (pp. 40–53). doi:10.1007/978-3-540-85170-7_4

Conole, G., Smith, J., & White, S. (2006). A critique of the impact of policy and funding. In G. Conole & M. Oliver (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives in e-learning research: Themes, methods and impacts on practice (pp. 38–54). New York, NY: Routledge.

Czerniewicz, L., & Brown, C. (2009). A study of the relationship between institutional policy, organisational culture and e-learning use in four South African universities. Computers & Education, 53(1), 121–131. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.01.006

Englund, C., Olofsson, A. D., & Price, L. (2017). Teaching with technology in higher education: understanding conceptual change and development in practice. Higher Education Research & Development, 73–87. doi:10.1080/07294360.2016.1171300

Englund, C., Olofsson, A. D., & Price, L. (2018). The influence of sociocultural and structural contexts in academic change and development in higher education. Higher Education, doi:10.1007/s10734-018-0254-1

Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 95–105. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2004.02.001

General Assembly (2015). Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New York, United States: United Nations. Retrieved from

Giannoni, D. L., & Tesone, D. V. (2003). What academic administrators should know to attract senior level faculty members to online learning environments. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 6(1), 16. Retrieved from

Goodyear, P., Salmon, G., Spector, J. M., Steeples, C., & Tickner, S. (2001). Competences for online teaching: A special report. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(1), 65–72. doi:10.1007/BF02504508

Graham, C. R., Woodfield, W., & Harrison, J. B. (2013). A framework for institutional adoption and implementation of blended learning in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 18, 4–14. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2012.09.003

Gunn, C. (2010). Sustainability factors for e-learning initiatives. Research in Learning Technology, 18(2), 89–103. doi:10.1080/09687769.2010.492848

Hanson, J. (2009). Displaced but not replaced: the impact of e-learning on academic identities in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 14(5), 553–564. doi:10.1080/13562510903186774

Hanson, V. L. (2010). Influencing technology adoption by older adults. Interacting with Computers, 22(6), 502–509. doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2010.09.001

Hoskins, S. L., & Van Hooff, J. C. (2005). Motivation and ability: which students use online learning and what influence does it have on their achievement? British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 177–192. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2005.00451.x

Jankowska, M. A., & Marcum, J. W. (2010). Sustainability challenge for academic libraries: planning for the future. College & Research Libraries, 71(2), 160–170. doi:10.5860/0710160

Kirkwood, A., & Price, L. (2016). Technology enabled learning: Handbook. Burnaby, Canada: Commonwealth of Learning.

Kreber, C., & Kanuka, H. (2013). The scholarship of teaching and learning and the online classroom. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 32(2). doi:10.21225/D5P30B

Lee, C.-Y. (2000). Student motivation in the online learning environment. Journal of Educational Media & Library Sciences, 37(4), 367–375. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.03.004

Littlejohn, A., & Stefani, L. (1999). Effective use of communication and information technology: Bridging the skills gap. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 7(2), 66–76. doi:10.1080/0968776990070208

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370. doi:10.1037/h0054346

McGill, T. J., Klobas, J. E., & Renzi, S. (2014). Critical success factors for the continuation of e-learning initiatives. The Internet and Higher Education, 22, 24–36. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2014.04.001

McLean, N., & Price, L. (2016). The mechanics of identity formation: A discursive psychological perspective on academic Identity. In J. Smith, J. Rattray, T. Peseta, & D. Loads (Eds.), Identity Work in the Contemporary University: Exploring an Uneasy Profession (Vol. 1, pp. 45–57). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Milheim, K. L. (2012). Towards a better experience: Examining student needs in the online classroom through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8(2), 159. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2012.12.001

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. The Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9620.2006.00684.x

Moskal, P., Dziuban, C., & Hartman, J. (2013). Blended learning: A dangerous idea? The Internet and Higher Education, 18, 15–23. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2012.12.001

Musaeus, P., Wellbery, C., Walpole, S., Rother, H.-A., Vyas, A., & Leedham-Green, K. (2018). E-collaborating for environmentally sustainable health curricula. Climate Literacy and Innovations in Climate Change Education (pp. 151–167). Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-70199-8_9

Nichols, M. (2008). Institutional perspectives: The challenges of e‐learning diffusion. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(4), 598–609. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00761.x

Otto, D. (2018). MOOCs—a powerful tool for imparting climate literacy? Insights from parleys with students. Climate Literacy and Innovations in Climate Change Education (pp. 131–149). Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-70199-8_8

Oxford Dictionary (n.d.). Sustainability definition. Retrieved from

Palmer, S., & Holt, D. (2010). Students’ perceptions of the value of the elements of an online learning environment: looking back in moving forward. Interactive Learning Environments, 18(2), 135–151. doi:10.1080/09539960802364592

Price, L., Casanova, D., & Orwell, S. (2017). Modeling an institutional approach to developing technology enabled learning: Closing the gap between research and practice. In INTED2017 Proceedings (pp. 5009-5018). doi:10.21125/inted.2017.1168

Prosser, M., Ramsden, P., Trigwell, K., & Martin, E. (2003). Dissonance in experience of teaching and its relation to the quality of student learning. Studies in Higher Education, 28(1), 37–48. doi:10.1080/03075070309299

Rogers, E. M. (2010). Diffusion of innovations. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Salmon, G. (2002). E-tivities: The key to active online learning. London, England: Routledge Falmer.

Salmon, G. (2005). Flying not flapping: a strategic framework for e-learning and pedagogical innovation in higher education institutions. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 13(3), 201–218. doi:10.1080/09687760500376439

Salmon, G., & Wright, P. (2014). Transforming future teaching through “Carpe Diem”learning design. Education Sciences, 4(1), 52–63. doi:10.3390/educsci4010052

Selwyn, N. (2013). Distrusting Educational Technology: Critical Questions for Changing Times. New York, NY: Routledge.

Seaman, J. E., Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved from

Smith, J., & Oliver, M. (2000). Academic development: A framework for embedding learning technology. International Journal for Academic Development, 5(2), 129–137. doi:10.1080/13601440050200734

Stepanyan, K., Littlejohn, A., & Margaryan, A. (2013). Sustainable e-learning: Toward a coherent body of knowledge. Educational Technology & Society, 16(2), 91–102. Retrieved from

Taylor, A., & McQuiggan, C. (2008). Faculty development programming: If we build it, will they come? Educause Quarterly, (3), 28–37. Retrieved from

Trentin, G. (2007). A multidimensional approach to e-learning sustainability. Educational Technology, 47(5), 36–40. doi:10.17471/2499-4324/356

Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Waterhouse, F. (1999). Relations between teachers ’ approaches to teaching and students ’ approaches to learning. Higher Education, 37(1), 57–70. doi:10.1023/A:1003548313194

Walker, R., Voce, J., Swift, E., Ahmed, J., Jenkins, M., & Vincent, P. (2016). 2016 Survey of technology enhanced learning for higher education in the UK. Oxford, UK: UCISA. Retrieved from


Copyright (c) 2018 Diogo Casanova, Linda Price

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.