Ethical Issues in Qualitative E-Learning Research

  • Heather Kanuka Athabasca University
  • Terry Anderson Athabasca University


In the mid 1980s education researchers began exploring the use of the Internet within teaching and learning practices, now commonly referred to as e-learning. At the same time, many e-learning researchers were discovering that the application of existing ethical guidelines for qualitative research was resulting in confusion and uncertainty among both researchers and ethics review board members. Two decades later we continue to be plagued by these same ethical issues. On reflection on our research practices and examination of the literature on ethical issues relating to qualitative Internet- and Web-based research, the authors conclude that there are three main areas of confusion and uncertainty among researchers in the field of e-learning: (a) participant consent, (b) public versus private ownership, and (c) confidentiality and anonymity.