Good Reads from 2021: Our NIDL Top 10 Journal Articles – Part 3

This is the third and final blog post in the process of introducing our NIDL top 10 “good reads” for 2021. Next week we will be sharing a separate list of “good reads” from last year with a specific COVID-related focus. In our first and second blog posts, we established the background context and explained how we go about selecting our annual list of top 10 “good reads”. 

In this final post, we begin by sharing some of the descriptive features of our 2021 selections and report on how they compare with those chosen over the previous five years. We then share our list of top 10 “good reads” for 2021 along with a brief commentary on each article helping to explain the rationale behind each selection. Finally, we offer five additional highly recommended articles and briefly comment on the gaps in our selections and the importance of continuing to access and keep a watchful eye on literature that can only be found in restricted publications. 

What’s included in this year’s top 10? 

We begin by sharing some interesting observations and providing comparative data on this year’s top 10 articles. Firstly, for the third year running a higher proportion of women authors feature in the list, as illustrated in Table 1. This reverses a trend over the first three years of our selections.

Table 2 shows that the number of multiple authored articles in the top 10 list consists of 50% of the final selection. Only two articles are single authored which is consistent with previous years. 

Notably, one author features in three of this year’s top 10 selections and another in two of them. The former author, Aras Bozkurt, has now featured in eight of the top 10 articles over the past six years. This number is matched by Olaf Zawacki-Richter who also features in this year’s selections and their prominence, along with Melissa Bond (n=4), reflects our bias towards major literature reviews. Another nine authors (Gourley, Kalz, Knox, Lee, Lundin, Sangra, Selwyn, Shea, & Weller) have featured twice in our annual top 10 “good reads” since we began this exercise.

This year’s No 1 article appears in E-Learning and Digital Media which appears for the first time. As shown in Table 3, an article published in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology took the No 1 spot over the first four years of selections. This year, two articles once again feature from this journal. In total, eight journals feature in this year’s top 10 list, with three appearing for the first time. Another new journal features in our list of five highly recommended articles, with the other four appearing in the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning and the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education.

Table 4 illustrates the distribution of journals included in the top 10 selections over the past six years. While some journals remain a consistent source of “good reads”, it is noteworthy that around 30% of the selected articles come from other types of journals, which we believe reflects our deliberate attempt to source a wide and diverse range of publications. In a similar pattern to 2020, this year half of our top 10 articles feature in such journals. 

We are less successful in selecting journal articles that are evenly spread in terms of geographical distribution. Table 5 reveals the dominance of English language speaking countries, with around 25% of the top 10 articles over the last six years having authors located in North America. While there is a strong trend of collaboration by authors across regions, which helps to increase the actual level of geographical inclusion, Asia, Africa and South America rarely feature in our selections. 

This year, six articles fall under the ‘across region’ category and for only the second time in six years there are no publications from authors exclusively based in North America. Having said that, three of our highly recommended articles have authors from this region, although we are pleased to report one is written by scholars based in South America. The other comes from Australasia. 

What are the top 10 articles for 2021?

The specific rank order of each article remains one of the most contentious aspects of the selection exercise, but to maintain consistency we have retained this practice.

Before listing our top 10 “good reads” in rank order, we would like to congratulate all of the authors who appear in our selections, including those in the highly recommended category.

We hope that you value this recognition of your work as it arises from lots of reading and a systematic review process. Additionally, we also trust that people find our brief notes on each article useful and they do justice to the authors and adequately describe the main focus and major contribution of each selection. The intention is to help explain why the article was selected as a top 10 “good read” and hopefully entice more people to slow read the ideas, thinking and perspectives contained in the writing and analysis of data.

No 1 – Selwyn, N. (2021). Ed-Tech within limits: Anticipating educational technology in times of environmental crisis. E-Learning and Digital Media, 18 (5), 496–510.

This article meets the criteria of challenging conventional thinking and stands out for the way it locates educational technology within wider societal concerns about climate change, ecological instability and environmental issues. While there have been several claims over the years that distance education is environmentally friendly and offers the opportunity to develop a low carbon higher education system, this article goes beyond any ‘feel good’ factor by raising serious questions about the ‘greening’ of schools and university provision through new digital technologies.

As Facer and Selwyn (2021) point out in a related UNESCO background paper, online learning may be an environmental solution to lowering emissions but massively increased global use of digital technologies in education require unsustainable levels of energy and place huge demands on natural resource consumption. They note that this includes the ‘dirty’ aspects of digital hardware production, the vast energy requirements of data-processing centres and the increasing problem of e-waste.

The uncomfortable truth is that these concerns feature rarely in the literature, despite evidence that the COVID reset has been a boon for the EdTech sector and this growth is likely to continue bolstering the uptake of new digital technologies for teaching and learning purposes. While the author acknowledges that technology can also be of the solution during a time of crisis, the sobering point is further planetary degradation may over the next decade put paid to ‘abundant’ and taken-for-granted forms of digital technology use. Therefore, the article calls for a new ‘within limits’ paradigm of educational technology that is both sustainable and more intentionally targeted towards addressing major societal challenges and those facing disadvantaged groups.

There is no question that this paper achieves its stated goal of provoking the field of educational technology to revalue, reconfigure, reprioritise and move beyond a complacency when it comes to the environmental crisis. The urgency and seriousness of this challenge left us with little choice when it came to ranking this year’s No 1 article, and we encourage everyone to ‘slow read’ and critically reflect on the big issues raised by the author as we plan for an unknown future. 

No 2 – Gourlay, L. (2021). There is no ‘virtual learning’: The materiality of digital education. Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research, 10 (1), 57-66.

This article stands out for what is says on the tin—that is, ‘there is no virtual learning’. It offers a deep, thoughtful and convincing argument why the notion of ‘virtual learning’ is a flawed one. The author draws on Sociomaterial and Posthuman theoretical perspectives to challenge the false binary between virtual and face-to-face forms of learning, with a central thesis highly relevant to practitioners, institutional leaders and educational policy-makers.

Even if readers are unfamiliar with some of the theoretical literature, the article illustrates, through several examples, why we need to challenge our traditional conceptions and understandings of space, distance, absence, and presence in digital higher education. It demonstrates the embodied nature of digital technologies and how they are entangled in our day-to-day living and learning. In practical terms, the article makes the case that all learning and digital engagement is ‘in person’ and therefore we need to change our thinking, modify our language and redefine traditional delivery modes to reflect this more complex reality.

More generally, the paper reminds us to be critical of dominant technologically deterministic notions which position ‘the digital’ as a separate or independent driving force from education and society. Further extrapolating the notion of ‘entanglement’ reveals the naivety of the popular tool metaphor for learning technology, which falsely implies a degree of neutrality. It also brings into question efforts to disembody ‘the digital’ from the interwoven nature of pedagogy as educators rally to the appeal of ‘pedagogy-first’. 

No 3 – Gourlay, L., Rodríguez-Illera, J.L. et al. (2021). Networked learning in 2021: A community definition. Postdigital Science and Education 3, 326–369.

This article also focuses on the language we use and the values and thinking this reflects in a highly engaging discussion on networked conceptions of learning. It begins by outlining how instrumentalist understandings and managerialist approaches to digital education have permeated our thinking in the field and traces the emergence of networked learning as a response to the dominant discourses of the day. This discussion returns to the fore the critical and emancipatory agenda underlying the notion of networked learning and those who formed the original academic and research community.

However, the paper acknowledges that a lot has changed since the definition of network learning over two decades ago and therefore it takes up the challenge to reframe the current meaning and understanding for future directions and developments. What makes the article unique is the way it is collectively authored by 40 contributors from six continents working across many fields of education. Moreover, the reviewers are acknowledged as authors as their feedback and viewpoints are incorporated within the paper.

While there was always a risk that contributions from so many different authors under separate headings may have resulted in a disjointed collection of works, this concern is unwarranted as the conversation is seamless and insightful as each section adds a new perspective and often critical twist to the search for a refined and potentially unified definition. What really stands out from the discussion is how difficult it is to define the undefinable and how our search for commons definitions and to pin down our language can inadvertently narrow thinking and foreclose on different perspectives.

As Siân Bayne writes in her contribution to the article, “To define a field is necessarily to put boundaries around it, to determine which writings, conversations, people are ‘inside’ and which are ‘outside’ (Gourlay, L., Rodríguez-Illera, J.L. et al., 2021, p. 333). This point has wider relevance beyond efforts to redefine network learning as there several ongoing definition wars in the wider field of educational technology. In summary, we recommend this article as it helps to stretch the current digital horizon to longer-term societal goals of equity and social justice through a rich variety of perspectives. 

No 4 – Castaneda, L., & Williamson, B. (2021). Assembling new toolboxes of methods and theories for innovative critical research on educational technology. Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research, 10 (1), 1-14.

This article continues the theme of critique and reminds us of the importance of ‘public intellectuals’ in the face of greater interest, reinvigorated attention and competing agenda promoting the potential of educational technology. Importantly, the authors point out that many of the concerns that have played out in the backdrop of the COVID crisis mirror issues already raised in previous research.

They highlight enduring tensions and often politicized debates between techno-utopian enthusiasts, sometimes referred to as ‘Boosters’ or ‘Deschoolers’ (Brown, et al, 2019), who promote the disruptive and transformative benefits of digital technology, and those offering more critical voices. While not singled out in the article it is useful to emphasise that those labelled as ‘critics’ are often confused with a group of techno-dystopian detractors, or ‘Doomsters’ (Brown, et al, 2019), who repeat arguments from previous moral panics or draw on a demon perspective to suggest a technocratic nightmare.

Arguably, true critics adopt a multi-focal lens recognising that educational technology needs to be framed beyond crude binary positions of good or bad. As the authors point out, neither boom or threat positions offer a constructive path forward. More specifically, they go on to share their concerns that current preoccupation with evidence of ‘what works’ in relation to ‘EdTech’ risks deflecting attention away from crucial educational questions that consider more complex and wider societal issues. In this sense, the article helps us to keep the bigger picture in mind alerts us to the danger of getting caught up in the digital forest.

A related concern is the need for critical research and theorising to evolve fast if we are to shape and influence the field, especially given the emergence of “Big EdTech” (Brown, 2021) with powerful new actors attempting to accelerate the pace and scale of change. With the objective of helping to assemble new toolboxes for critical research and innovative approaches, the article identifies several current gaps and under-researched issues. It introduces a valuable collection of papers that offer exemplars and useful guiding beacons for future lines of research and development.

No 5 – Tamim, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Bernard, R. M., Schmid, R. F., Abrami, P. C., & Pickup, D. I. (2021). A study of meta-analyses reporting quality in the large and expanding literature of educational technology. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology37(4), 100–115.

This article makes a valuable contribution by recognising that not all meta-analyses of educational technology are equal. In recent years, rapid reviews, scoping reviews, systematic literature reviews and other variations of meta-analyses have become increasingly common with many featuring in our list of “good reads” partly due to the selection criteria. However, we have become wary of a tendency towards technicist or instrumentalist approaches to these major literature reviews as they often lack a framing theoretical perspective and deeper level of critique.

Indeed, the reader may find it difficult to judge their true value and contribution to the field due to increasing techno-sophistication effects in the way the findings are presented using new data analysis software. In reviewing 52 meta-analyses in the field of educational technology over almost 30 years using the Meta-Analysis Methodological Reporting Quality Guide (MMRQG), the authors confirm our own suspicion that many studies meet only moderate levels of quality. Thus, there is a risk that this type of analysis potentially misleads researchers and practitioners alike. Accordingly, we suggest that anyone embarking on a literature review in the field should familiarise themselves with this article.

We also suggest that many educators and researchers, including current and prospective doctoral candidates, would benefit from delving more deeply into the literature on how to undertake a quality meta-analyses. Three recent publications are worthy of slow reading: i) Systematic reviews in educational research: Methodology, perspectives and application (Zawacki-Richter, et al., 2020); Rapid reviews as an emerging approach to evidence synthesis in education (Wollscheid & Tripney, 2021); and iii) The anatomy of an award-winning meta-analysis: Recommendations for authors, reviewers, and readers of meta-analytic reviews (Steel, Beugelsdijk & Aguinis, 2021).  

No 6 – Jiménez‐Cortés, R., & Aires, L. (2021). Feminist trends in distance and hybrid higher education: a scoping review. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education18:60, 1-20.

This article is the first in a sequence of four major literature reviews exploring different aspects of the field. It appears first in this sequence in light of our previous concerns about the growth of descriptive analyses of the literature lacking a deeper level of critique and theoretical perspective. Few could argue that feminist perspectives have featured prominently in the educational technology literature and there is growing evidence of what is known as the glass escalator in terms of how women are disadvantaged in the field, as Bond et al. (2021) recently illustrate in their survey of U.S. based instructional designers.

Therefore, this article reporting a review of 160 journals and 10 articles that meet the inclusion criteria is a welcome contribution to the field. Notably, the search protocol, methodology and review process over three phases is guided by the PRISMA-SCR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews), which helps to enhance the trustworthiness of data extraction and interpretation. Findings in terms of distance and hybrid models of education are reported based on three feminist approaches: i) feminist-pragmatist, ii) eco-dialogical feminist, and iii) intersectional-technofeminist. Those unfamiliar with feminist theories and pedagogical research will find these three perspectives relatively accessible and a real strength of the article is its description of how feminist digital pedagogy goes beyond critical digital pedagogy.

Importantly, the authors argue that digital enhanced teaching and learning platforms can limit feminist responses and reproduce dominant structures that reinforce existing power relations. While the article serves to highlight networked learning ideologies that from a feminist approach value connections, relationships, and collaborations, it also illustrates contrasting perspectives and their relationship to other theories concerning materiality, embodiment and hierarchies of power. Thus, the article flags an important gap in the literature and helps to border cross with other theoretical developments which have practical implications in terms of creating a more equitable and inclusive digital education ecosystem. 

No 7 – Bozkurt, A., & Zawacki-Richter, O. (2021). Trends and Patterns in Distance Education (2014–2019): A Synthesis of Scholarly Publications and a Visualization of the Intellectual Landscape. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning22(2), 19-45.

This article builds on several previous studies by the same authors exploring trends and patterns in distance education. Accordingly, in reviewing this article we had to ask the question: what makes it different from previous work and how does it contribute to new knowledge? Whether the six journals chosen for this analysis are truly representative of the field is open to conjecture, but two aspects standout in terms of answering this question. Firstly, the authors demonstrate how social network analysis (SNA) can be used to reveal new insights into a field.

More specifically, they model how researchers can deploy powerful data analysis software to undertake t-SNE analysis and content and co-word analysis using text mining techniques to visually identify and illustrate patterns, pivotal contributions and turning points. The underlying assumption that this type of visual analysis of the landscape has potential to better inform future research and development in the field is sound.

The second valuable contribution of this visual analysis is evidence of how since the 2000s, the fields of distance education and educational technology have intersected and triggered innovations in each other. Inclusion of more journals from the wider educational technology literature and mainstream publications would provide a means of further validating this type of cross fertilisation or symbiotic relationship. Also, greater consideration of what is missing from the published literature in terms of the issues raised by Castaneda and Williamson (2021) would further enhance the value of this type of analysis.

Drawing on their findings the authors conclude with recommendations for future research directions. Like several other articles in this year’s selection of “good reads”, they ask what our research agenda will and should be in the changing world. 

No 8 – Liu, C., Zou, D., Chen, X., Xie, H., & Chan, W. H. (2021). A bibliometric review on latent topics and trends of the empirical MOOC literature (2008–2019). Asia Pacific Education Review22 (3), 515-534.

This article ensures that we do not overlook the continuing influence of MOOCs on the education and digital learning landscape. As Bozkurt (2021) suggests in a separate analysis of the literature using data mining and analytic approaches, the MOOC continues to evolve and as new waves emerge their impact on traditional models and methods of education warrant ongoing investigation. We chose this particular bibliometric review of over 1,000 peer-reviewed MOOC studies published between 2008 and 2019 as it helps to bring an Asian perspective to the literature.

Notably, several of the research questions seek to investigate differences and collaborations across countries/regions, which gives further weight to the global perspective we hoped this article might provide. Not surprisingly, the review extracted its data from three reputable and influential publication databases, which unfortunately have a strong English language bias. This is something we have increasingly recognised over the years and places linguistic boundaries around our thinking and opportunities to share and co-construct new knowledge.

Mindful of this limitation and that many of us are unable to read what is published in other languages, the authors report that 11 countries contributed 81% of the total MOOC publications. The US (n=266) was the most prolific, with the UK (n=103), Spain (n=116) and China (n=172) featuring prominently in the literature. In terms of the latter, we know through our NIDL research collaborations with Chinese partners that the MOOC movement has generated an active local research community. To the author’s credit, some of this community and the level of global collaboration is revealed through social network analysis identifying scientific activity across countries/regions. The US collaborated with the most countries, followed by Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, China, Australia, and Germany. Ireland also features in this analysis, which is further illustrated through a visual representation of the most prolific institutions.

The main research topics and trends are also analysed at a country and institutional level helping this study to go beyond previous MOOC literature reviews. Thus, the authors generally meet their claim to have provided a deep and comprehensive understanding of current MOOC research up until 2019, which, in turn, builds on other reviews and supports future research.

No 9 – Tlili, A., Burgos, D., Huang, R., Mishra, S., Sharma, R. C., & Bozkurt, A. (2021). An analysis of peer-reviewed publications on Open Educational Practices (OEP) from 2007 to 2020: A bibliometric mapping analysis. Sustainability, 13, 10798, 1-15.

This article is the fourth major literature review featuring in this year’s selections with a focus on Open Education Practices (OEPs). The study reports a bibliometric mapping analysis of 156 publications listed in the Scopus and Web of Science databases that meet the inclusion criteria for OEPs. Importantly, the authors begin the paper by making a distinction between OEPs and more content-centred Open Educational Resources (OERs). The authors reveal how there has been a steady growth in OEP literature, with a peak in 2020. In light of the above comment about English language bias in research publication databases, perhaps not unexpectedly, 88% of the studies were in English, 6% were in Spanish, with 2% or less in French, Portuguese, Korean, and Russian.

The study identifies the leading journals publishing work in this area, with Distance Education contributing the most articles (n=18), which is ironic since this prestigious journal published by ODLAA is not fully open. Having said that, a special issue on OEPs does help to explain the journal’s position. The UK leads the country ‘league table’ with 38 documents followed by Spain (n=21) and Australia (n=20). The influence of North America on the OEP literature is better reflected when the tally for the US and Canada is combined as together they contribute 30 documents. Ireland is 10th in the list of countries with 4 documents, which is somewhat surprising given the level of interest in this area, although this number may reflect more of a content-centred emphasis on OERs.  

While the study shows on-going international cooperation regarding OEP amongst leading institutions and the contribution of several well-known scholars, the scale of global collaboration is limited. We believe this is an important finding. It would be interesting to compare the level of global collaboration between the OEP and OER communities, although many of the leading scholars work across both communities; and there is a question of where does the “Open Pedagogy” community ‘fit’ or map in terms of this type of relational analysis? We suggest the article needs to be read alongside a recent literature review on Open Pedagogy (Tietjen & Asino, 2021) as this is another branch of the literature.

The article is generally methodologically sound and helps to demonstrate how VOSviewer software can be deployed to undertake this type of bibliometric analysis. However, in light of the above comments, we would have liked a little more from the article. It offers limited analysis and critical insight into the competing drivers and attractors underlying the OEP movement. Given the thorny issue of definitions, different branches of the literature, and the politics of Openness, the question left unanswered is how do different OEP viewpoints, perspectives and understandings influence what is being researched, who is doing the research and what is being publishing in this area. It would also be interesting to analyse how the OER and Open Pedagogy literature is influencing OEP, and back again, based on citations and mapping the publication landscape.

Overall, the findings provide useful suggestions for future research and it is hard to disagree with the call for more inclusive practices that promote efforts to support and accommodate students with disabilities. In a similar vein, the value of focusing on cultural differences in education to internationalise OEPs makes good sense if we are to advance the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that everyone benefits from the openness movement.

No 10 – Lodge, J. M., Corrin, L., Hwang, G.-J., & Thompson, K. (2021). Open science and educational technology research. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology37(4), 1–6.

This final article has a strong focus on the quality of research informing decisions and the direction of new developments in educational technology. Borrowing from other fields the authors describe the ‘replication crisis’ that helps to reveal questionable research practices (QRPs) and the robustness and trustworthiness of quantitative research across many disciplines. They suggest one of the greatest problems is that many published works are low powered—that is, the research fails to establish whether an effect is occurring at greater than chance levels.

Another concern is that of hypothesising after the results are known (HARKing), although this is difficult to identify based on a published article alone. Serving as an editorial, the paper goes on to explore what the replication crisis means for educational technology research with suggestions for future responses by the academic and professional community. While the authors observe that educational technology research does not rely as much on experimental designs, there is often a degree of intervention which then involves the study of effects raising inherent questions of replicability and generalisability. Although not singled out by the authors, the novelty of any intervention, often described as the ‘Hawthorn Effect’, also needs to be taken into account.

Overall, this is a novel and timely critique of the published research where the authors conclude that ‘Low powered studies are common’ (p. 3). Poor statistical practices characterise the field and there is evidence of widespread publication bias. Looking to the future, the article promotes the benefits of greater transparency as part of the ‘Open Science’ movement and renewed emphasis on statistical practices.

While it is hard to disagree with the concluding statement that quality must take precedence over what attracts the most clicks, perhaps future editorials could give more attention to the contestable nature of what counts as quality in educational technology research. After all, the idea of replication has Positivist undertones and can be interpreted from many different research perspectives. 

What else is worthy of reading? 

In this final section we identify five additional articles that are worthy of slow reading if you have not already come across them. In alphabetical order we highly recommended the following articles. 

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Dell, D. (2021). Resonance and current relevance of IRRODL Highly-cited articles: An integrative retrospective. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning22(1), 243-258.

  • This article which notably is written by a current doctoral candidate at Athabasca University provides a useful summary of the top 100 highly cited publications from past issues in this leading open access journal. 

Murphy, M. (2021). Belief without evidence? A policy research note on Universal Design for Learning. Policy Futures in Education, 19 (1), 7–12.

  • This article might not be to everyone’s taste, but it asks some important questions about the quality of evidence supporting the growing adoption of UDL principles in both policy and practice. 

Guzman‑Valenzuela , C., Gomez‑Gonzalez, C., Rojas‑Murphy Tagle, A, & Lorca‑Vyhmeister, A. (2021).  Learning analytics in higher education: a preponderance of analytics but very little learning? International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education18:23, 1-19.

  • This article helps to keep the rapidly evolving area of learning analytics to the fore of thinking and offers a valuable critical perspective through an analysis of 385 papers by showing that much of the focus to date has been more on analytics than on learning.

Moon, J., & Park, Y. (2021). A scoping review on Open Educational Resources to support interactions of learners with disabilities. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning22 (2), 314-341.

  • This paper through a scoping review of the literature responds to the challenge presented in one of our top 10 selections to promote more inclusive practices that support students with disabilities.

Nkomo, L., Daniel, B., & Butson, R. (2021). Synthesis of student engagement with digital technologies: a systematic review of the literature. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education18:34, 1-19.

  • This article adopts a tripartite model to provide a systematic review of the literature on the degree to which social media, video, and collaborative learning technologies have supported student engagement over the past decade. 
Where are the gaps?

We conclude with a brief comment on what’s missing from this year’s list as arguably the gaps are just as important as what we choose to profile. It’s simply not possible to include everything and so we acknowledge there are valuable publications offering a synthesis of the literature on issues of qualitycreativitywellbeingteacher competencemobile learningblockchainimmersive VRvirtual laboratoriesuse of video, the growth of surveillance and online exam proctoring, and the unbundling movement, to name a few.

This last topic also serves to illustrate  that the abundance of open access journals does not diminish the need to monitor the literature that often is only available in restricted publications.

Therefore, we finish by drawing your attention to one such article on this topic that makes good reading if your institution provides access to the journal: 


Bond, J., Dirkin, K., Tyler, A.J., & Lassitter, S. (2021). Ladders and escalators: Examining advancement obstacles for women in instructional design. Journal of Applied Instructional Design,

Bozkurt, A. (2021). Surfing on three waves of MOOCs: An examination and snapshot of research in Massive Open Online Courses. Open Praxis13 (3), 296–311. DOI:

Brown, M. (2021). What are the main trends in online learning? A helicopter view of possible futures. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 16 (2),

Brown, M., Conole, G., & Beblavỳ, M. (2019). Education outcomes enhanced by the use of digital technology: Reimagining the school learning ecology.  EENEE Analytical Report No. 38 Prepared for the European Commission. March.

Facer, K., & Selwyn, N. (2021). Digital technology and the futures of education – towards ‘non-stupid’ optimism.Background paper for the Futures of Education initiative, Paris: UNESCO.

Steel, P., Beugelsdijk, S. & Aguinis, H. (2021). The anatomy of an award-winning meta-analysis: Recommendations for authors, reviewers, and readers of meta-analytic reviews. Journal of International Business Studies 52,23–44.,.1057/s41267-020-00385-z

Tietjen, P., & Asino, T. I. (2021). What is open pedagogy? Identifying commonalities. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning22 (2), 185-204.

Wollscheid, S., & Tripney, J. (2021). Rapid reviews as an emerging approach to evidence synthesis in education. London Review of Education, 19 (1),

Zawacki-Richter, O., Kerres, M., Bedenlier, S., Bond, M., & Buntins, K. (eds.). (2020). Systematic reviews in educational research: Methodology, perspectives and application.Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer VS. 

Good Reads from 2019: Our NIDL Top 10 Open Access Journal Articles

This the fourth year that our NIDL team has produced a list of top 10 “good reads” from open access journal articles published over the course of the year. Even though our list for 2019 is a little later than previous years (see 2016, 2017 & 2018) partly due to the demands of hosting and managing the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning in November, and because we wanted to include a number of journal issues published quite late in the year, we hope you find our selections both useful and valuable for your professional reading.


As we have previously mentioned, this exercise originally began as we wanted to share more of our good reads internally amongst our NIDL team, and encourage greater awareness and critical engagement with relevant research and professional literature. The decision to limit our selections to open access journal publications was primarily a reflection of our commitment to openness and more specifically Open Science. Although we decided after the first year that other people might find our list of top reads useful, one of the major benefits of this exercise remains the wider nomination process, which again generated a long list of articles and the internal debates, discussions and disagreements generated as we refine our selections.

It is important to note, therefore, that not everyone’s best read makes the final cut and our selection criteria are biased towards major literature reviews, journal articles reporting new and emerging areas, and papers addressing important gaps in the literature. What really counts as a good [open access] journal article remains fertile area for wider discussion, as putting aside our selection criteria, this depends in many respects on your perspective and particular interests.

Before we share our top reads for 2019 it is important to note a couple of methodological considerations and report a few wider observations about the sample.

Firstly, a number of our final selections (n=2) were made openly available before the article appears in a particular journal issue. This means that in some cases the article may not be formally published until 2020 but we made the decision to still include the work in our 2019 sample. Secondly, there appears to be a growing trend amongst more traditionally closed (restricted) journals to publish selected open access articles or in some cases special open access issues. Irrespective of the “open” status of the journal, if the article was freely available then it was open for nomination. Over 80 articles were originally nominated for consideration before our long-list was refined down to around 40 articles, with a short-list of 25.


In terms of the final selection, once again our No 1 article for 2019 appears in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.  This is the fourth year running that our overall “best read” has appeared in AJET, which speaks volumes for the quality of the journal and more specifically the work of the Editors and Reviewers. This year AJET is also the only journal to have more than one article (N=2) in the top 10 and notably our 2019 selections reflect a more diverse range of academic and professional journals. In total, 8 journals contribute to the final list of our top reads, with 6 appearing for the first-time; and two articles appear in what are usually considered more restricted publications. There are some notable journal omissions from the final list such as EDUCAUSE Review,  Journal of of Online Learning, Open Praxis, and Research in Learning Technology but all of these publications were represented by very good articles in our short-list. Lastly, 7 articles have more than one author, with 50% of the selections arising from the work of three or more co-authors.

Top 10 Reads from 2019…

Mindful of the above points, we debated this year whether we would single out our selected articles in rank order. While the specific rankings is one of the most contentious aspects of the exercise we decided to continue this practice to maintain consistency with previous years and to give credit to those articles which clearly stood out and were well above the cut-off line, especially given that many excellent reads do not appear in the final top 10 selection. We may share some of those in our longer short-list in a follow up blog post. In the meantime, our selections for 2019 appear below, with a few brief notes to describe each article and help explain our choices.


No 1  – Harris, J., Foulger, T. S., Huijser, H., & Phillips, M. (2019). Goldilocks and journal publication: Finding a fit that’s “just right.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(4), 1-10. Available from

This article stood out due to its focus on ‘getting your work published’ and target audience of early career researchers and doctoral and postgraduate students. It provides practical advice about what to consider when developing a research and publication profile and establishing yourself within a research community. The article has a creative title and is valuable reading for anyone seeking to share their research and learning innovations more widely in the journal that’s “just right”.

No 2 – Lambert, S. (2019). Do MOOCs contribute to student equity and social inclusion? A systematic review 2014–18. Computers & Education, 145. Available from

This article was selected as it provides a systematic review of the literature with a timely focus on equity and social inclusion. The size of the sample is impressive and notably in contrast to existing literature, the review found that ‘there was a flourishing of multi-lingual and Languages other than English (LOTE) programs and those addressing regional socio-economic disadvantage’. The blending of MOOCs is another notable feature along with the conclusion ‘MOOCs which aim to widen participation in education are an alternative global practice that exists alongside more commercial MOOC offerings’.

No 3 – Stone, C., & O’Shea, S. (2019). My children … think it’s cool that Mum is a uni student: Women with caring responsibilities studying online. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(6), 97–110. Available from

This article continues the focus on student equity and widening participation through online learning. It provides a contemporary review of the literature related to the emergence of the female mature-age learner and reports on the gendered nature of university participation. Notably, the article highlights the ‘largely invisible yet emotional and time-consuming additional load that many women are carrying and discusses the importance of this being recognised and accommodated at an institutional level’.  Once again the paper underscores the value of listening to the student voice and developing in partnership with learners more inclusive institutional cultures.

No 4 – Knox, J. (2019). What does the ‘Postdigital’ mean for education? Three critical perspectives on the digital, with implications for educational research and practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1, 357-370. Available from

This article examines what the term ‘postdigital’ might mean for education through the discussion of human-technology relationships. It appears in the first issue of a new open access journal that provides another space for a growing number of publications exploring the implications of education and research both in and for the postdigital age. The work offers a very readable analysis of postdigital thinking and related definitions and goes on to provide three different perspectives on shifting relationships with digital technology, with specific relevance for educational concerns. If you are relatively new to postdigital thinking, then this paper offers both a critical as well as accessible starting point.

No 5 – Spilker, M., Prinsen, F., & Kalz, M. (2019): Valuing technology-enhanced academic conferences for continuing professional development. A systematic literature. Professional Development in Education. Available from

This article explores a very interesting topic by offering a systematic search for and analysis of the state of the art concerning research (1993–2018) on technology-enhanced conferences for academics’ professional development. It provides good reading, particularly given the high number of conferences in the field and that attending such events is an accepted form of “academic citizenship” and often taken for granted as valuable professional development. The paper builds on Jacobs and McFarlane’s (2005) view that ‘little attention has been paid either to developing a theoretically informed understanding of conference practice as knowledge building, or to assessing the extent to which conferences are successful’. We partly selected this paper as last year it provided uesful food for thought and evidence-based research for our decisions in designing the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning.

No 6 – Zawacki-Richter, O., Marin, V., Bond, M., & Gouverneur, F. (2019). Systematic review of research on artificial intelligence applications in higher education – where are the educators? International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 16:39, 2-27. Available from

This article offers precisely what the title suggests and was hard to overlook given the current level of hope and hype surrounding the potential of AI in higher education. Notably, the results show that ‘most of the disciplines involved in AIEd papers come from Computer Science and STEM, and that quantitative methods were the most frequently used in empirical studies’. It follows that the paper concludes by reflecting on the lack of critical reflection of challenges and risks of AIEd, the weak connection to theoretical pedagogical perspectives, and the need for further exploration of ethical and educational approaches. A seminal read for educators, computer scienists and those making predictions about the futiure impact of AI on higher education.

No 7 – Selwyn, N. (2019). What’s the problem with learning analytics? Journal of Learning Analytics, 6(3), 11-19. Available from

This article adopts a sociotechnical perspective (i.e., shaped by a range of social, cultural, political, and economic factors) in summarising a number of emerging concerns about the learning analytics movement as it becomes increasingly implemented and entrenched in both mainstream and educational technology discourse. As one has come to expect from Neil Selwyn, the paper reminds us of the need to be critical and offers a valuable critique of the burgeoning “data economy” in educational research, policy and practice. It concludes that,above all, learning analytics researchers need to talk more openly about the values and politics of data-driven analytics technologies as they are implemented throughout educational contexts.

No 8 – Pozzi, F., Manganello, F., Passarelli, M., Persico, D., Brasher, A., Holmes, W., Whitelock, D., & Sangrà, A. (2019). Ranking meets distance education: Defining relevant criteria and indicators for online universities. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(5), 42-63. Available from

This article explores a notable gap in current university ranking systems and so-called league tables. In the absence of global rankings for online providers—for better and worse–it offers a participatory approach based on a Delphi study to define a set of criteria and indicators suitable to reflect the specific nature of online distance education. The intention is to help evaluate and rank online higher education institutions more appropriately than in current practice. The paper was selected as we anticipate there will be further developments in this area in the next year or so as the provision of online education increassingly transcends national borders.

No 9 – Bond, M., Zawacki-Richter, O., & Nichols, M. (2019). Revisiting five decades of educational technology research: A content and authorship analysis of the British Journal of Educational Technology. British Journal of Educational Technology. 50 (1), 12-63. Available from

This review article appearing in a traditionally closed journal celebrating its 50 years of publication is hard to overlook as it reflects on five decades of educational technology research. What makes the analysis more interesting and arguably useful is a comparison to a previous meta-analysis of articles appearing in Computers & Education. Common themes identified over the past 50 years include the evolution of teaching and learning in distance education, the emergence of instructional design, misunderstanding between practitioners and learning designers, issues of pre and in-service teacher education and technology uptake by educators and students, including the confidence to do so, the technology skills of educators and students, as well as a lack of institutional support to provide space and time for training and integration to occur.

No 10 – Clinton, V., & Khan, S. (2019). Efficacy of open textbook adoption on learning performance and course withdrawal rates: A meta-analysis. AERA Open, 5(3), 1-20. Available from

This article builds on a growing body of research investigating the use and development of open textbooks. It particularly stands out for and makes a useful contribution because of its focus on learning performance and course withdrawal rates. Notably, the meta-analysis of the literature found there were no differences in learning efficacy between open textbooks and commercial textbooks. Moreover, the withdrawal rate for postsecondary (higher education) courses with open textbooks was significantly lower than that for commercial textbooks. In many respects the findings raise more questions than answers, which is partly why we selected this article interest in open textbooks continue to grow.