The Scope and Standards of the Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Thomas C. Reeves
University of Georgia, USA


The Journal of Interactive Learning Research (JILR) publishes papers related to the underlying theory, design, implementation, effectiveness, and impact of interactive learning environments in education and training. Each of the terms in the title of this publication deserves some additional explanation.


There is much speculation in academe and elsewhere about the future of the referred journal. Some suggest that in the light of advancements in information technology such the Internet and the World Wide Web, traditional print journals will soon be a relic of the past. Although print journals may gradually disappear, the function of refereed journals will remain important as long as science is a primary human activity. Casti (1989) reminds us that two pillars of scientific inquiry are verifiability of claims and peer review. Refereed scientific journals remain the primary vehicles for ensuring that science will be as honest a process as humanly possible. Despite the checks and balances provided by verifiability and peer review, scientific misconduct is still found at the highest levels of disciplined inquiry in medicine, physics, and other fields (cf. Lock & Wells, 1993; Taubes, 1993). Without these checks, fraud and corruption would quickly become as rampant in science as it is in other spheres of human activity.

The alternative research methodologies that are increasingly used in social sciences (e.g., ethnography) inevitably make verifiability and review more challenging, but similar challenges are evident in the physical sciences where only a handful of scientists have the technology and expertise to replicate, verify, or even comprehend the procedures or results of increasingly complex investigations. Pagels (1988) argues that the future of science will demand a skillful integration of theory, experimentation, and computer modeling. Similarly, the time is drawing near when representing the methods and results of a given investigation in print alone will be unfeasible; other media such as video, audio, and electronic visualization tools will be indispensable. With this future in mind, JILR will coordinate electronic resources with its print version from the beginning. For example, we will encourage authors to post a paper on the JILR World Wide Web site for public critique and revise the paper based on the feedback before it is subjected to peer review.


While it may be argued that all learning is interactive in one way or another, the term “interactive” in the title of this journal refers to the presence of a “computer” with a significant role in the learning environment being studied. While any list of the types of interactive learning environments that could be involved in research reported in JILR will be obsolete tomorrow, a preliminary enumeration includes:

  • authoring systems
  • cognitive tools for learning
  • computer-assisted language learning
  • computer-based assessment systems
  • computer-based training
  • computer-mediated communications
  • computer-supported collaborative learning
  • distributed learning environments
  • electronic performance support systems
  • interactive learning environments
  • interactive multimedia systems
  • interactive simulations and games
  • intelligent agents on the Internet
  • intelligent tutoring systems
  • microworlds
  • virtual reality based learning systems

A learning environment is “interactive” in the sense that a person can navigate through it, select relevant information, respond to questions using computer input devices such as a keyboard, mouse, touch screen, or voice command system, solve problems, complete challenging tasks, create knowledge representations, collaborate with others near or at a distance, or otherwise engage in meaningful learning activities. Interactive environments have many functions including entertainment, commerce, and scientific visualization, but JILR is primarily focused on interactive environments designed to support learning within the contexts of education and training.


Our conception of learning has evolved over the last century. Grabinger (1996) lists some of the major changes in our assumptions about learning:

Table 23-1. OLD VERSUS NEW ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT LEARNING (Grabinger, 1996, p. 667)

Old Assumptions New Assumptions
1. People transfer learning with ease by learning abstract and decontextualized concepts. 1. People transfer learning with difficulty, needing both content and context learning.
2. Learners are receivers of knowledge. 2. Learners are active constructors of knowledge.
3. Learning is behavioristic and involves the strengthening of stimulus and response. 3. Learning is cognitive and in a constant state of growth.
4. Learners are blank slates ready to be filled with knowledge. 4. Learners bring their own needs and experiences to learning situations.
5. Skills and knowledge are best acquired independent of context. 5. Skills and knowledge are best acquired within realistic contexts.
6. Assessment must take more realistic and holistic forms

Learning in JILR refers to the development of mental states and abilities of all types including conceptual knowledge, technical skills, automatic rules, mental models, and problem-solving. Forms of higher-order outcomes such as motivation, intellectual curiosity, and the habits of lifelong learning are especially relevant because these are the most challenging types of learning to develop. Every type of learning is difficult to assess, and JILR will publish results based upon a wide range of traditional and alternative assessment strategies.


Many researchers fail to distinguish clearly between the goals of their research and the methods they employ. Figures 1 and 2 present a classification scheme intended to distinguish between the goals and the methods of research. Most research studies submitted to JILR should be able to be classified according to the six research goals represented in Figure 1. This scheme reflects the debate about research “paradigms” that has dominated social science research literature for decades. For example, Soltis (1992) claims there are currently “three major paradigms, or three different ways of investigating important aspects of education” (p. 620): 1) the positivist or quantitative paradigm, 2) the interpretivist or qualitative paradigm, and 3) the critical theory or neomarxist paradigm. The three categories presented by Soltis (1992) fail to capture the full breadth of research goals in the fields of inquiry relevant to JILR, and therefore the scheme in Figure 1 includes more categories. However, the goals of inquiry represented in Figure 1 are not intended to be a complete and final listing of research goals.

Theoretical research focused on explaining phenomena through the logical analysis and synthesis of theories, principles, and the results of other forms of research such as empirical studies.
Empirical research focused on determining how education works by testing conclusions related to theories of communication, learning, performance, and technology.
Interpretivist research focused on portraying how education works by describing and interpreting phenomena related to human communication, learning, performance, and the use of technology.
Postmodern research focused on examining the assumptions underlying applications of technology in human communication, learning, and performance with the ultimate goal of revealing hidden agendas and empowering disenfranchised minorities.
Developmental research focused on the invention and improvement of creative approaches to enhancing human communication, learning, and performance through the use of technology and theory.
Evaluation research focused on a particular program, product, or method, usually in an applied setting, for the purpose of describing it, improving it, or estimating its effectiveness and worth.

Figure 1. Research goal classification scheme.

Quantitative experimental, quasi-experimental, correlational, and other methods that primarily involve the collection of quantitative data and its analysis using inferential statistics.
Qualitative observation, case-studies, diaries, interviews, and other methods that primarily involve the collection of qualitative data and its analysis using grounded theory and ethnographic approaches.
Critical Theory deconstruction of “texts” and the technologies that deliver them through the search for binary oppositions, hidden agendas, and the disenfranchisement of minorities.
Literature Review various forms of research synthesis that primarily involve the analysis and integration of other forms of research, e.g., frequency counts and meta-analyses.
Mixed-methods research approaches that combine a mixture of methods, usually quantitative and qualitative, to triangulate findings.

Figure 2. Research methods classification scheme.

A methodology classification scheme is represented in Figure 2. There are numerous methods available to researchers in areas as diverse as cognitive psychology, instructional technology, and computer science (cf., Driscoll, 1995), but for the sake of simplicity, these five methodological groupings provide sufficient discrimination to represent the major approaches likely to be used in investigations reported in JILR. This journal will be especially open to submissions that involve alternative methods (e.g., qualitative and critical theory) which seem to be underrepresented in more traditional publications.


Rigor and Responsibility

A major challenge confronting the interactive learning research community is that while all of us agree that that we must hold our research up to the highest standards, we also wish to conduct our studies so as to provide maximum benefits for society. Interactive learning research is an applied field, and as such we have a responsibility to assure that our work is both scientifically sound and socially responsible. Social relevance is an issue that is obviously subject to much debate. One’s age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, education, religion, political allegiance, etc. are likely to influence one’s interpretation of the social relevance of any given research study. The following principles should guide the research reported in JILR (derived from Casti, 1989):

  • Science is an ideology that consists of a cognitive structure concerning the nature of reality together with processes of inquiry, verification, and peer review.
  • Views of reality differ according to one’s philosophy of science, e.g., realism maintains that an objective reality exists, instrumentalism asserts that reality is the readings noted on measuring instruments, and relativism claims that reality is what the community says it is.
  • Scientific research is a social activity that has certain standards and norms, e.g., it should not intentionally harm humans and it must be able to be replicated by other researchers.
  • Socially responsible research in social sciences such as education adheres to the basic principles listed above while at the same time it addresses problems that detract from the quality of life for individuals and groups in society, especially those problems related to learning and human development.

Types of Submissions

In addition to social relevance, there is an obligation on all JILR authors to make their papers accessible to a broad spectrum of readers. Specialist terms should be explained, theories in particular fields should be briefly summarized, and over-reliance on specialist jargon should be avoided. Where it is difficult to do this in the space available, references to relevant sources should be provided. In terms of structure, most JILR papers will identify a learning problem, clarify the kinds of learning opportunities which a given environment or system is intended to provide, describe its implementation, and if appropriate to give some evidence of effectiveness and impact. However, we encourage many different kinds of papers as indicated by the partial descriptions below:

A description of a learning environment: Such a paper would describe a learning environment, authoring tool or other interactive learning system within an education or training context. Some aspect of the environment would be novel and the benefits of that novelty would be demonstrated, typically through some investigation of the environment in use. The relationships between the design of a learning environment and theoretical principles should be explained and its implementation described in great detail. When it is difficult to completely represent the nature of the interactive learning environment in print, the paper should be supplemented with materials that can be accessed via the JILR Web site.

A theoretical study: For interactive learning research to progress, researchers and developers need new and deeper theoretical perspectives to guide R&D. Original theoretical contributions are encouraged. Theoretical perspectives such as situated cognition (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989), anchored instruction (Bransford, Sherwood, Hasselbring, Kinzer, & Williams, 1990), cognitive flexibility (Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1991), and learning by design (Perkins, 1986) have inspired a generation of developers and researchers, but more and better theories are needed.

An experimental study: There are many kinds of experimental investigations, ranging from preliminary studies of learners intended to inform the design of a learning environment to large-scale summative experiments using robust systems. There are also empirical studies of teachers and learners that may lead to principles to support the development of interactive learning environments. In all cases, the relevance to interactive learning environments must be clear and the study itself must follow the standard practices of behavioral science.

A literature review: An acceptable review will be comprehensive and balanced. To be comprehensive, the review must be of a topic which can be adequately covered in a journal-length paper: a reader must be confident that no significant work in the field discussed has been omitted. To be balanced, the review must discuss work in proportion to its importance and derive conclusions justified by the field as a whole. A review is not just a catalogue of relevant work: it is an analysis based on some informative conceptual framework. JILR prefers reviews which are timely, that is, are concerned with some emerging issue, but historical perspectives may also have merit.

A methodological study: Such a paper develops a new conceptualization of the field of interactive learning, or some aspect of it. It would explore the implications of some educational, sociological, cultural, or other paradigm for the field. It may explore the impact or influence of some of the more philosophical aspects of educational theory and practice. It may be more speculative than other kinds of papers, but it would identify clearly the implications for the field if the arguments presented are considered sound.

A viewpoint: Ours is a somewhat controversial field, and thus JILR welcomes ‘viewpoint’ papers in which the normal standards of objectivity and expectations of results are relaxed in order that an author can present a challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy. Viewpoints may be polemical and less balanced than a review but the arguments must be clearly presented and based upon a deep understanding of the relevant issues. Ideally, they should serve to provoke discussion among the readership. Often a viewpoint will be published together with one or more short responses to it in order to initiate such a debate. A paper submitted as a viewpoint should be clearly identified as such because the reviewing criteria are different from ‘normal’ papers.


JILR is intended to be a “going concern” rather than a staid archive of “old news.” We intend to publish many special issues with controversial positions and responsible critiques. Through an “Alternative Interpretations” section and the JILR Web site, we hope to encourage an interactive dialogue that will influence the field as a whole. This is an ambitious agenda, but with the caliber of people involved in this field around the globe, it is one that we can surely accomplish. We welcome your participation.


Bransford, J. D., Sherwood, R. D., Hasselbring, T. S., Kinzer, C. K., & Williams, S. M. (1990). Anchored instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Spiro (Eds.), Cognition, education, and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology (pp. 115-141). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-41.

Casti, J. L. (1989). Paradigms lost: Images of man in the mirror of science. New York: William Morrow.

Driscoll, M. P. (1995). Paradigms for research in instructional systems. In G. L. Anglin (Ed.), Instructional technology: Past, present, and future (pp. 322-329). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Grabinger, R. S. (1996). Rich environments for active learning. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology (pp. 665-692). New York: Macmillan.

Lock , S., & Wells, F. (Eds.). (1993). Fraud and misconduct in medical research. London: BMJ.

Pagels, H. R. (1988). The dreams of reason: The computer and the rise of the sciences of complexity. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Perkins, D. N. (1986). Knowledge as design. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Soltis, J. F. (1992). Inquiry paradigms. In M. C. Alkin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of educational research (pp. 620-622). New York: Macmillan.

Spiro, R. J., Feltovich, P. L., Jacobson, M. J., & Coulson, R. L. (1991). Cognitive flexibility, constructivism, and hypertext: Random access instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structure domains. Educational Technology, 31(5), 24-33.

Taubes, G. (1993). Bad science : the short life and weird times of cold fusion. New York: Random House.