An Evaluation of Learning Models for Online Learning


 Learning is an active process that should be sustainable, immersive and productive. Because learning is highly dependent on the learner’s desire, the teacher is more than the deliverer of knowledge. An effective learning method will even elicit interest in a subject that was deemed difficult or boring (Graff, 2011).  However, students gain greater benefits if they have a need to learn, with a clearly defined result or goal (Horton, 2012). Educators have employed learning models for years, even before the advent of eLearning. Yet, successful instructional design requires the use of learning theories and objectives (Horton, 2011).  Too many times teachers and educators are asked to simply take their current course and turn it into a digitally delivered class. The idea of just dumping information into this format often does not take into consideration the models of learning that have been employed in the classroom. Also, the educational field is likely to produce new learning models as the demand for online learning increases and universities embrace eLearning. Competition for students will likely increase as more courses are offered in an open format – called massive open online courses or MOOCs (such as Coursera and Canvas).
Instructional Design Models for eLearning focus on helping instructors make successful courses. Although it is possible to adhere to only one model, designers may actually use a combination. Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, Keller’s motivational model of ARC, Wiggins McTighe’s Understanding by Design, and Anderson’s and Krathwohl’s Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy are options to consider.  The best design will support and align with a teacher’s learning model and create the enthusiasm needed to provide successful online learning.  Because most of the earlier design models were established before eLearning, designers of online courses must alter the models to fit this new technology (Horton, 2012).  
Some schools develop their own instruction design models for online courses, such as California State University, Humboldt (Van Duzer, 2002).   In this model, effective instructional design is broken down into five criteria:  (1) Interaction and communication, (2) course goals,  (3) learning objectives,  (4) multi-modal activities, and  (5) critical thinking and problem solving activities (Van Duzer, 2002).   Within each of these categories, educators evaluate course design as exemplary, effective, or baseline (Van Duzer, 2002).   For the first criterion, courses that offer only a limited opportunity for communication between students and instructors and content would be deemed baseline (Van Duzer, 2002).  Exemplary courses would offer many opportunities.  The goals of the course constitute the second criterion used to judge an exemplary online course, with those that are clearly defined and aligned with learning objectives to be rated the highest (Van Duzer, 2002).  If a course is designed without an understanding of the ultimate goal, it will be less effective.  The third criterion addresses the learning objectives of the course, which should be identified and supported with learning activities.  The fourth criterion includes evaluating the multi-modal activities.  These include multiple activities to enhance the learning experience by supplying visual, textual, kinesthetic and auditory activities.  The final criterion analyzes critical thinking and problem solving activities.  These types of activities push students to use their newly acquired information or skills to solve problems (Van Duzer, 2002).
Online course design can be developed around Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, which has been utilized by the University of Florida’s Center for Instructional Technology and Training (University of Florida, 2013).  Even though Gagne’s model was first published in 1965, instructors can effectively use it to design online courses.  The nine events are steps that are based on effective learning:   (1) Gain attention,  (2) inform learners of objectives,  (3) stimulate recall of prior learning,  (4) present the content,  (5) provide “learning guidance,”  (6) elicit performance (practice,)  (7) provide feedback,  (8) assess performance, and  (9) enhance retention and transfer to the job (University of Florida, 2013).  When applying these steps to an online course, a designer has options available to traditional classes as well as to eLearning classes.  
            One of the first steps for effective online learning is to capture your audience, in this case, your students (University of Florida, 2013).   Not addressed in Gagne’s model, and yet highly important for online courses, is the ease of navigation through the course, and especially an effective homepage.  This would be part of the step titled “gain attention.” In fact, all of the steps listed in Gagne’s events of instruction could be assessable from the homepage, giving the online course structure and ease of use.  For an exemplary course delivered online, the student’s ability to use the Internet and technology needs to be addressed. Although most students have familiarity with computers and mobile devices, easy access to an explanation of the necessary skills should be included and sufficient time to master these before the official start of the class.        
            An example of a homepage on the Canvas platform identifies key elements (Canvas Network, 2013).  The use of a visual start button in this homepage is an effective way to guide students through the learning process and avoid confusion from the initial opening of the course. The left side bar clearly identifies key resources for the course, including the “home” button, announcements, discussions, and modules. A simple outline of things to do are listed on the right, and if completed, checked off. While this is not outlined in Gagne’s list it does fulfill the requirements listed in the California State University list to promote interaction and communication (Van Duzer, 2002).  The homepage is the first step to gaining a learner’s attention. Even before enrolling in an online course, the description is paramount. Massive open online courses offer a short explanation and video from the instructor. For example, the MOOC, coursera.org uses the format of a video introduction and text written by the professor about the course to gain attention. Also, the necessary prerequisites if any should be listed for optimal success. Other universities use homepages to grasp the attention of students from the initial stages.

Step two in Gagne’s list is to inform the learner of the course objectives (University of Florida, 2013).   This step provides direction and the need for learning new information.  If the objectives meet the student’s need, they will be more focused and goal oriented. These can be listed on the homepage, but should also be included in each activity. The third step in the learning process is to stimulate recall of prior learning (University of Florida, 2013).  This addresses the theory of constructivism, in that students build upon information they already have acquired (Horton, 2012).  Every learner approaches a course with some prior understanding that often lends to a collaborative effort of shared knowledge. Discussion boards provide this avenue, as well as polls or surveys. As the course progress, opportunities to use the information from a previous screen or module will stimulate recall and reinforce knowledge.
            The fourth instructional event in Gagne’s design is the process of presenting in a variety of methods – video lectures, readings with links, activities, projects, discussion boards, wikis, and podcasts (University of Florida, 2013).  Although the theory of constructivism addresses the understanding that students build upon prior knowledge, it does not provide the need for what Gagne terms “learning guidance.” This is an important part of learning and keeps learners from becoming frustrated looking for information and building upon incorrect facts. The idea that great men/woman stand on the shoulders of others fits into this model of learning. One method is to include a rubric for projects and writings. Another way to address this issue is to encourage interaction with other students in discussion activities. This method will embrace the learning theory of connectivism (Stahl, Koschmann, & Suthers, 2006).  However, once again, this could lead to misinformation. Instructors should be available to direct students to online locations to find information, which alleviates the frustration of searching for applicable and reliable sources.
            The Sixth step requires a learner to practice and apply knowledge and skills that have been learned (University of Florida, 2013).  This can be done with writing assignments, quizzes, projects and activities. A Coursera.org course had students write short essays that were then graded by peers. This approach addresses the value of applying information learned, but has the drawback of peers that may not have understood the information to be learned (either due to a lack of desire or communication problems such as native language.)
            Gagne sets forth a seventh step, which is to provide feedback to the learner – a valuable step in learning and correcting errors (University of Florida, 2013).   Timeliness in feedback is encouraging to students and improves overall communication and concern. Activities that have immediate answers and feedback built into the program are effective in promoting and instilling newly learned information. An example of this type of feedback was instituted in an online course in writing offered from the University of San Francisco. Passages were presented on the screen with the corrections for more concise writing. After several examples with the instructor speaking, students were given the opportunity to try to correct a passage on their own. Immediate feedback was a screen away, reinforcing the newly learned material. This also leads into Gagne’s eighth step of assessing performance. Online courses can include quizzes and short answers that assess success or not. The final step is to enhance retention and personalize the material learned (University of Florida, 2013).
            Learning models continue to undergo changes, as education becomes a global reality with the Internet and competition of universities and online course delivery.  Technology offers new ways to meet those models, but instructors and designers will need to meet the growing trend with successful courses.


Canvas Network. (2013). Social media. Retrieved March 29, 2013, from https://www.canvas.net/courses/social-media

Coursera. (2013). Understanding einstein. Retrieved March 29, 2013, from https://www.coursera.org/course/einstein

Graff, N. (2011). “An effective and agonizing way to learn”: Backwards design and new teachers’ preparation for planning curriculum. Teacher Education Quarterly, 38(3), 151-168. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ940642&site=eds-live; http://www.teqjournal.org/

Horton, W. (2012). E-Learning by Design.  San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer

Keller, J. (2008). First principles of motivation to learn and eLearning. Distance Education, 29(2), 175.

Stahl, G., Koschmann, T., & Suthers, D. (2006). Computer supported collaborative learning:An historical perspective. Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 409–426). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://www.gerrystahl.net/cscl/CSCL_English.pdf

University of Florida. (2013). Gagne’s nine events of instruction. Retrieved March 29, 2013, from http://citt.ufl.edu/tools/gagnes-9-events-of-instruction/

Van Duzer, J. (2002). Instructional design tips for online learning. Retrieved March 29, 2013, from http://www.csuchico.edu/tlp/resources/rubric/instructionalDesignTips.pdf



eLearning Trends in K-12

Online learning for grades K -12 requires a different approach than that used for higher education or corporate training (Barth & Hull, J. & St. Andrie, R., 2012).  In traditional primary and secondary grades, students attend brick and mortar schools where certified teachers meet the state and federal standards (Barth, et al., 2012).  If online learning is available it is often when a student is enrolled in a virtual campus that falls under the umbrella of public schools or private institutions that meet the requirements of the state and federal government (Beldarrain, 2006).  However, there is a trend for using some form of online learning in grades kindergarten through twelve, whether that be a full-time online virtual academy or a blended form of eLearning and traditional classroom learning (Thornburg, 2012).  Education futurist, Dr. David Thornburg, believes that technology is not in the future, but here now and evolving quickly to enhance education (Thornburg, 2012).  Teachers will be able to focus on knowledge and understanding when information is provided through the Internet (Thornburg, 2012).  Thornburg notes that students need teachers to help them determine what information is valid in this vast Internet of shared data and information for virtual schooling to be effective (Thornburg, 2012).
            As of fall 2012, state virtual schools existed in 27 states in the U.S., enrolling approximately 275,000 full-time students in almost 620,000 courses (Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning.2013).  Thirty-one states, including Washington D.C. have at least one virtual school that draws students from a statewide program, and not just a district located virtual school (Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning.2013). Some of these schools are funded through the state and others privately. While most states have utilized some online courses and blended courses, Florida has offered a full range of online programs as of 2004 (Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning.2013).  States handle virtual school programs differently, some at the district level and others at the state level.  Most often it has been offered only at the high school level; yet, there is a trend to include virtual K-12 schools (Clark, 2001).
            The research on virtual schools is limited, but the eLearning, online learning trend is beginning to move from a ‘trendy’ educational alternative to a more substantial form of education and learning (Barth & Hull, J. & St. Andrie, R., 2012).  Even the definition of what a ‘virtual school’ is has been debated and delineated (Cavanaugh, Barbour, and Clark, 2009).  Clark (2001) has categorized virtual schools into seven types; whereas, Watson, Winograd, and Kalmon (2004) have suggested five different categories. Cavanaugh, et. al, (2009) report on these varied definitions in their review of current research in K-12 eLearning.  The following tables describe these categories:

 (Cavanaugh, et. al, 2009).

Virtual schools for K-12 tend to be a replacement for the traditional school setting, appealing to homeschooling families, those living abroad with parents working out of the country, children in sports or film, and families that are unhappy with the assigned school district. For example, the virtual academy, K12, is accessible as a private virtual school or often part of a state run program or district option (Clark, 2001).  Parents without the financial means to enroll their children in a private virtual school will gravitate to the option that is “free” and covered by the public school system. These district and state run programs are advancing, and becoming some of the standards for alternative education (Picciano, Seaman, Shea, & Swan, 2012). Students enrolled do not attend a brick and mortar type school, but log-on to their courses through the Internet where they engage in a synchronous classroom. The teacher is visible and can call on class members from those that are “present” in the virtual classroom. Students log -in where their names are listed, with options to raise their hands, speak, and talk with the instructor. The instructor explains coursework, answers questions, and interacts with students much as in a traditional format. Other material for the course is accessible through asynchronous technology. Science courses have labs where all materials are delivered to the student before the start of the course. Teachers and students collaborate on discussion boards, wikis, Skype, and whiteboards. Virtual classrooms are set-up through software such as Eluminate as part of the K12 virtual academy (Picciano, Seaman, Shea, & Swan, 2012).
Another trend in K-12 online learning is the blended classroom, which utilizes the traditional classroom setting as well as eLearning (Halverson, Graham, Spring, & Drysdale, 2012). In this trend, teachers interact with students in a typical classroom setting, but then students break up into groups to use the Internet for specific learning modules (Halverson, Graham, Spring, & Drysdale, 2012). Teachers can use visual technologies to explain difficult concepts better than the chalkboard and lecture method (Thornburg, 2012). Afterwards, the teacher and students can discuss the information in a manner to promote higher learning and thinking skills that utilize constructivist theories of learning (Thornburg, 2012). Schools that offer online or blended courses do so for a variety of reasons to meet the needs of students (Picciano, et. al, 2012). Some of these reasons include providing courses that are not available at the traditional high school, credit recovery, AP courses, reducing scheduling conflicts, preparing for 21st century career skills, extending the school day, building links with colleges, lack of certified teachers, financially beneficial, alleviate limited space, pedagogically beneficial, and to extend the school year (Picciano, et. al, 2012).  The blended method of learning has been studied in a charter high school that tested this hybrid model where students attend class one day a week for four hours in a face-to-face situation (M. K. 1. Barbour & Plough, 2012).  The teachers in this high school created a social network called ‘Odyssey of the Mind NING’ where they could interact with students that were enrolled in the blended online high school (Barbour, et. al, 2012). This platform provided a safer environment than the Facebook social network they first experimented with (Barbour, et. al,  2012). It also fulfilled the need for students to discuss ideas and collaborate on our projects while still being under the supervision of a teacher (Barbour, et. al, 2012).  This study found that online social learning environments need to address the concerns of Internet safety and etiquette (Barbour, et. al, 2012).
Technology is driving the trends in online education and eLearning platforms are improving for a successful, pedagogical-based learning environment (Beldarrain, 2006).  Synchronous and asynchronous learning is becoming part of the wave of technological advances, as students learn to interact in real-time and at their leisure (Beldarrain, 2006).  There are advantages of asynchronous learning in that students can return to a demonstration or lecture, whereas in a live setting in a classroom this is not possible. Technology for online learning is having an impact on learning theory and challenging the older traditions of delivering information to a classroom of students sitting at their desks (Beldarrain, 2006).


Barbour, M. K. 1., & Plough, C. (2012). Odyssey of the mind: Social networking in cyberschool.  International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 13(3), 1-18. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=77482719&site=eds-live

Barth, P., & Hull, J. & St. Andrie, R. (2012). Searching for the reality of virtual schools. ().Center for Public Education National School Boards Association.

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interraction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139.

Cavanaugh, C. S., Barbour, M. K., & Clark, T. (2009). Research and practice in K-12 online learning: A review of open access literature. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 10(1), 1-22. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=36875659&site=eds-live

Clark, T. (2001). A study of virtual schools in the united states. (). Illinois: Distance Learning Resource Network A WestEd Project.

Halverson, L. R., Graham, C. R., Spring, K. J., & Drysdale, J. S. (2012). An analysis of high impact scholarship and publication trends in blended learning. Distance Education, 33(3), 381-413. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2012.723166

Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning. (2013). Retrieved March 16, 2013, from http://kpk12.com

Picciano, A. G., Seaman, J., Shea, P., & Swan, K. (2012). Examining the extent and nature of online learning in american K-12 education: The research initiatives of the alfred P. sloan foundation. Internet & Higher Education, 15(2), 127-135. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.07.004

Watson, J. F., Winograd, K., & Kalmon, S. (2004). Keeping pace with K12 online learning: A
snapshot of state-level policy and practice. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.

Image Credit


10 years of online education

10 Years of Online Education

Infographic from Online College

Ethics in Research

Research often involves human life and no matter what race, religion, health, or mental capacity of the participants, the researchers have a responsibility to make ethical decisions from the initial steps of the study to the culmination of the publication. Teachers, students and governmental officials advocate tolerance, diversity and rights; yet sometimes these groups are involved in unethical research practices. Even when researchers presumably take necessary measures to ensure ethical procedures, participants may not fully understand their rights or have enough knowledge about the research to make an informed decision (Broom, 2006). Educators must always be aware of the ethical aspects of any research when formulating a good research topic.  In one sense it may seem easy to just avoid conducting research that may be unethical, but it is always advisable to follow steps to ensure that no one is being harmed and that the published work will be ethically sound. This is especially true with qualitative research that often involves looking into the lives of the subjects. Even with quantitative studies, the data is often of a sensitive nature and researchers must take steps to ensure that subjects’ rights are protected (Creswell, 2012).
The American Psychological Association’s Science Directorate recommends five steps to help researchers avoid unethical problems (Smith, 2003).  One of the first steps is about intellectual property, which must be discussed with the other researchers and graduate students that may be contributing as well. The APA Ethics Code advises that researchers and faculty discuss the contributions of each and have the relationship in writing (Smith, 2003).  Even when the research is published, if the authors find errors, they are ethically obligated to correct them (Smith, 2003).
The second step is to be conscious of multiple roles and avoid relationships that could impair the professionalism of the research (Smith, 2003). Professors should not coerce students to participate either as graduate student co-researchers or subjects (Smith, 2003). All understandings and agreements should be committed to writing and specific assignments for each outlined in writing (Smith, 2003).
Third, the APA Ethics Code recommends that researchers follow all informed-consent rules (Smith, 2003).  This process should ensure that individual subjects have volunteered to participate in the study and are aware of the risks and benefits (Smith, 2003).  Participants of research should be made aware of the following items delineated by the APA Ethics Code: 1) the purpose, duration and procedure of the research, 2) rights to decline at any time of the research, 3) potential risks, adverse effects or discomforts associated with the study, 4) possible benefits of the research, 5) confidentiality limits, when data is shared, and how it is shared and stored,  6) participation incentives – monetary or other, 7) Contact person for any questions during or after the study (Smith, 2003).  Informed consent forms must be signed, and explained as well. The 2002 APA Code of Ethics states that there are two instances when psychologists can skip the informed consent – if permitted by law or when research  “would not reasonably be expected to distress or harm participants” and involves “the study of normal educational practices, curricula or classroom management methods conducted in educational settings.” (Smith, 2003) 
The fourth recommendation is for researchers to be aware of confidential information and privacy rights of participants (Smith, 2003).  Researchers must know federal and state laws with regard to research ethics. The Goals 2000: Education Act of 1994 prohibits researchers from asking children about their religion, family life and anything about sex, without parental consent (Smith, 2003). Researchers should plan ahead and take steps to secure all critical records, be careful in how it is shared and how it is transmitted (especially in the digital internet age) (Smith, 2003).
Fifth, the APA Ethics Code recommends that researchers stay up to date with current codes, laws and rules (Smith, 2003). In 2010, the APA has updated the 2002 Code of Ethics with some amendments.
Other scientific and professional organizations have developed guidelines for ethical research (Horner & Minifie, 2011).  The Office of Research Integrity places ethical research as a priority in its articles (Horner & Minifie, 2011). Due to the history of unethical practices, more agencies have become involved to protect the innocent (Horner & Minifie, 2011).
Unfortunately, the government by the people and for the people has often been the instigator and source of research that violates ethical principles. This is difficult to grasp – that federal and state laws can circumvent the ethics standards that are instituted by groups such as the American Psychological Association (Smith, 2003).  During the 1960s, Henry K. Beecher, Harvard School of Medicine Professor, exposed 22 examples of research that he deemed unethical in the New England Journal of Medicine (Gaw, 2012).  Maurice H. Pappworth, medical doctor in the United Kingdom published 200 unethical cases during this same time period (Gaw, 2012). Of interest is the testimony of Dr. Howard M. Spiro in a letter to the editor of the May 2012 Annals of Internal Medicine, where he shares the unspoken compact between doctors and patients (Gaw, 2012).  He was a graduate of the prestigious Harvard Medical School and intern at Brigham Hospital in the 1940s, yet he shared that “we took care of them [ward patients] for free, and in return they gave us their bodies to study.” (Gaw, 2012).  He explained that they, as medical doctors in Boston, were always respectful of life and compassionate towards patients, but had no concept of the “informed consent.” (Gaw, 2012).  They did not see themselves as the Nazi doctors implied by Pappworth (Gaw, 2012).
Eugenics played a role in unethical studies throughout the ages and often was based on perspectives of the era about certain types of people – be that a race or mental capacity. Governments in North America adopted practices that involved the sterilization of “mentally deficient” patients without their consent (Park & Radford, 1998).  By 1920, sterilization without consent was legal in 16 states in the United States and parts of Canada, under the assumed belief that there was some danger in passing on the genetics of those with abnormal behavior and intelligence (Park & Radford, 1998). Scientists seemed to focus on the theory of survival of the fittest and the overall belief of the good of society rather than the sanctity of life. After World War II, the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene (CNCMH) surveyed the provinces to determine the number of people with ‘feeblemindedness’ which were used to justify the sterilization programs of 1928 (Park & Radford, 1998).  Research in this area requires the reader to look at individual case studies and try to understand the thinking of the time – which reached its height around the 1960s (Park & Radford, 1998). However, the patients’ voices are not part of any of these case studies, which does not give a full view of what was happening (Park & Radford, 1998). When the government takes responsibility for it’s citizens and provides the money and care, they ultimately make decisions based on what is best for the government and country. Because of the prevailing beliefs during this time period, researchers employed by the government often used mentally deficient subjects for their studies. While many of these instances of sterilization do not constitute a formal research study, those involved deemed these patients as subjects. Reviews of cases in Alberta, Canada reveal that families could commit teens to Provincial Mental Hospitals when they did not get along at home – ‘bad tempered in her own home.’ (Park & Radford, 1998). The overarching belief was the need to sterilize those that may pass these genes on to the next generation (Park & Radford, 1998). Young women were sterilized for reasons as simple as being on welfare or under the care of the government (Park & Radford, 1998).  However, case studies also reveal sexual behavior that constituted rape and assault – which understandably invoked human emotions to curtail criminal activities that affected other people (Park & Radford, 1998). The huge span of what constituted mental illness had a bearing on these case studies where government boards and individual investigators made decisions without a subject’s consent (Park & Radford, 1998).  Similar cases have been revealed involving American natives that were sterilized by the government without informed consent, or consent obtained through coercion (Hodge, 2012).  Often at the core of reasoning for these procedures, was the belief that this helped control population and reduce racial tensions and the tax burden (Hodge, 2012). The federal Indian Health Services performed appendectomies that also included sterilizations without consent (Hodge, 2012).
The Tuskegee Study involved the unethical approach of studying syphilis in the Alabama Black, male sharecroppers in the United States during the era of 1932 to 1972 (Horner & Minifie, 2011). The men thought they were receiving healthcare from the government but in actuality they were part of a study – comparing those with syphilis to a group without the disease (Horner & Minifie, 2011). Even when penicillin became the drug of choice in the 1950s for treating syphilis, the researchers failed to treat their study subjects with the antibiotic, offering instead healthcare and meals (Horner & Minifie, 2011). The sanctity of life for these groups of people was not valued, but instead they were considered at the disposal of the government for research because they were receiving government aid. Often, the staff would employ a Black nurse to convince the Black sharecroppers to participate (Horner & Minifie, 2011).
Unethical studies often involved the population that were feeble, poor, at the mercy of the government, racially different, or considered mentally deficient (Horner & Minifie, 2011).  Even with the Hippocratic oath of 470-360 B.C.E., to ‘do no harm’; medical research and researchers have had differing opinions interpreting this oath and obligation (Horner & Minifie, 2011).  In the 1950s to 1970s, researchers at the New York state school, Willowbrook injected the live hepatitis virus in mentally retarded children under the auspices of valid medical research (Horner & Minifie, 2011).  This deliberate infection of children and then trial treatment with gamma globulin constituted unethical procedures. The government offered spaces in the school to parents of mentally deficient children if they agreed to participation in the study, which could be termed coercion, in that the poor were unable to receive help in any other way (Horner & Minifie, 2011).
During the 1960s, researcher Stanley Milgram conducted studies at Yale University to determine authority and obedience responses in subjects that constituted an unethical study (Benjamin & Simpson, 2009). The subjects were college students that were divided into groups – some were given the role as learner or administrator (of a shock when the learner did not respond correctly). The learner was a ‘confederate’ in that they knew they would not be shocked, but they were to pretend to receive the shock, which would appear real to the subject that administered the shock (Benjamin & Simpson, 2009). Milgram found that the participants were willing to give higher shocks out of obedience to his direction, even at the cost of what seemed painful and unethical (Benjamin & Simpson, 2009).  The fact that deception was used as part of the study contributes to the side of unethical research.
In 1939, a graduate student at the University of Iowa conducted a research study about the effects of labeling orphaned children (ages of 5 to 16) as stutterers (Horner & Minifie, 2011). Tudor (the researcher) found that she could induce stuttering in otherwise normal-speaking children by using adverse responses from others and using the label of ‘stutterer’ (Horner & Minifie, 2011).  Tudor invoked the help of the orphanage staff to cooperate in the deception and call the normal speakers stutterers, which involved unethical measures of causing possible harm (Horner & Minifie, 2011). Years later, surviving subjects reported lasting psychological damage and hesitant speech patterns in a study that had no potential benefits for its subjects (Horner & Minifie, 2011).
Another area of concern in the ethics of research is the aspect of paying subjects for their participation in studies that may constitute risk and adversity (VanderWalde & Kurzban, 2011). This side of what constitutes ethical research includes the broad spectrum of taking advantage of people who are in need of monetary assistance and may even fall under the auspices of coercion (VanderWalde & Kurzban, 2011).
An unethical study similar to the Tuskegee case emerged recently when a professor of Wellesley College discovered an unpublished research of syphilis in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948 and supported by United States government (U.S. Public Health Service), the Pan American Sanitary Bureau and the Guatemalan government (Scheperle, 2012).  The uninformed subjects of this study were made up of prisoners, soldiers, orphans and mentally deficient patients in an asylum (Scheperle, 2012).  The participants were unknowingly infected infected with syphilis and then later treated with penicillin (Scheperle, 2012). Once again, this study the unethical practice of using subjects without their knowledge and taking advantage of the less fortunate who could not otherwise defend themselves.
The importance of research and the ethical methods of conducting and analyzing data remain obvious considering the history. Individuals who conduct and train others in the field of exploration and discovery must understand their responsibility to others and society (Lategan, 2012). However, once the initial approval for a research study is received, researchers may let ethical principles slip during all stages of the study (Lategan, 2012). According to Lategan (2012) there could be a void in the supervising of research teams and post-graduate students. Universities should have an ethical code in place and those conducting research should have the desire to live up to those expectations of honor (Lategan, 2012). Along with the oath of ‘do no harm’ Lategan (2012, p. 9) advises “no power relationship should be exercised between lecturer and student” which should extend into all areas of research. Other areas that need to be included in ethical practices include the use of hazardous material, execution of discipline, conflict of interest, privacy, risk, funds and equipment, authorship, use of data, integrity of data, unfair benefit, creation of knowledge, research teams, postgraduate supervision, teaching and learning, paradigmatic choices, and dictum of no harm (Lategan, 2012)
Ethical codes are available in various professions and include the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, the American Anthropology Association and the American Psychological Association (Creswell, 2012).  Overall researchers should take care to treat individuals with respect and cultivate a feeling of giving back to the community. Creswell (2012) gives the example of sharing book royalties with subjects in an HIV study. Researchers will vary, but the honest will reach to fulfill the demands of discovering new advances and at the same time value the life of those involved in that quest.


Angelski, C., Fernandez, C. V., Weijer, C., & Gao, J. (2012). The publication of ethically uncertain research: Attitudes and practices of journal editors. BMC Medical Ethics, 13, 4-4. doi: 10.1186/1472-6939-13-4

Benjamin, L. T. J., & Simpson, J. A. (2009). The power of the situation: The impact of Milgram's obedience studies on personality and social psychology. American Psychologist, 64(1), 12-19. doi: 10.1037/a0014077

Broom, A.Ethical issues in social research. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 14, 151-156. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2005.11.002

Creswell, J. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Gaw, A. (2012). Exposing unethical human research: The transatlantic correspondence of Beecher and Pappworth. Annals of Internal Medicine, 156(2), 150-155. doi: 10.1059/0003-4819-156-2-201201170-00012

Hodge, F. S. (2012). No meaningful apology for American Indian unethical research abuses. Ethics & Behavior, 22(6), 431-444. doi: 10.1080/10508422.2012.730788

Horner, J., & Minifie, F. D. (2011). Research ethics I: Responsible conduct of research (RCR)--historical and contemporary issues pertaining to human and animal experimentation. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 54(1), S303-S329. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2010/09-0265)

Lategan, L. O. K. (2012). The building of a responsible research community: The role of ethics. Journal of Research Administration, 43(1), 85-97. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ976743&site=eds-live; http://www.srainternational.org/sra03/template/tntbjour.cfm?id=3010

Park, D. C., & Radford, J. P. (1998). From the case files: Reconstructing a history of involuntary sterilization. Disability & Society, 13(3), 317. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=14018767&site=eds-live

Pocock, S. J. (2012). Ethical dilemmas and malfunctions in clinical trials research. Annals of Internal Medicine, 156(10), 746-747. doi: 10.1059/0003-4819-156-10-201205150-00015

Scheperle, M. C. (2012). The Guatemala STD inoculation study as the incentive to change modern informed consent standards. Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, 18, 425. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edslex&AN=edslex0675B3ED&site=eds-live

Smith, D. (2003). Five principles for research ethics. Monitor American Psychological Association, 34(1), 56.

Spiro, H. M. (2012). Exposing unethical human research. Annals of Internal Medicine, 156(10), 754-754. doi: 10.1059/0003-4819-156-10-201205150-00022

VanderWalde, A., & Kurzban, S. (2011). Paying human subjects in research: Where are we, how did we get here, and now what? Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 39(3), 543-558. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2011.00621.x

Wester, K. L. (2011). Publishing ethical research: A step-by-step overview. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89(3), 301-307. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=62807988&site=eds-live

Disqus for Online Learning