Ask the Experts: What Is E-Learning?
The term e-learning serves as a catch-all phrase to describe any kind of course or classroom work performed online. Education has evolved tremendously in just two generations from professors and students tied to desks, chairs, and chalkboards. It now includes a full range of options bounded mainly by the imagination of the instructor.
E-learning can happen inside the classroom or outside. It can involve software, apps, webinars, or even a traditional classroom instructor pulling, for example, Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech offline to play for the class. Anytime an instructor uses online tools to add value to a class or course, he or she has applied e-learning techniques.
People sometimes have difficulty grasping and understanding e-learning because it changes so quickly. Instructors and institutions continually seek ways to connect with students either in the classroom or halfway around the world. As learning continues to develop, those involved in educational technology must continually adapt to keep up.
The Difference Between Distance Learning and E-Learning
Many today believe that distance learning and e-learning have mostly synonymous definitions, but this is misleading. These terms can’t indeed be used interchangeably because in many ways they are mutually exclusive. Distance learning means that the instructor teaches students outside of the traditional classroom and they rarely, if ever, see each other.
Distance learning can take place in a variety of formats. One type of class calls for students to read assigned books and mail in reviews of the works for the class grade. Distance learning courses can also take place over a television channel, through DVDs, or in some other form of delivery. These methods of course delivery are not considered e-learning unless an online tool adds value in some way to a course. Simply emailing assignments in does not count as e-learning.
Distance learning and e-learning converge when students use Skype or live webinars to do coursework or interact with instructors and other students. The very presence of real-time interaction creates a situation where students elearn.
E-learning happens everywhere. It can occur in distance education, but also in the traditional classroom. Anywhere that online tools enhance schoolwork, e-learning has taken place.
The History of E-Learning
E-learning started as an alternative format in the delivery of information from instructors to students. Most e-learning in the early years did take place in distance learning courses, which is why the terms get confused today. As technology evolved and instructors and institutions innovated, the delivery of course materials and assignments became more natural. Both students and instructors grew increasingly savvy, and e-learning expanded in terms of options available and students participating.
Another misunderstanding comes about when many people limit their thinking on who utilises e-learning. Businesses, non-profits, and governments at all levels increasingly seek out tools to educate staff. E-learning can include short classes for job skills training, entire courses or series of courses taken for certification, or even simply distributing needed information. Often, vocational schools try to work with businesses and others to create e-learning options for employees.
E-learning Offers a Wide Range of Benefits
E-learning brings tremendous benefits to educational environments, whether in the traditional classroom or hundreds of miles away. It can link disadvantaged groups closer to needed education and information. E-learning also provides a wide variety of practical ways to build workforce skills either individually or collectively. The ever-evolving field of education technology means that people can access needed information at any time, from any place a person may access the internet.
A great deal of e-learning involves the use of some type of learning management system. This is a software application designed to perform all of the functions of e-learning information delivery and interaction. Only e-learning options that do most or all of the course online will utilise a learning management system. High-quality learning management systems can allow interaction from any device, from a home computer to a smartphone. Learners can also start working on one device, but complete it on another seamlessly. The more convenience for the student and the instructor, the better the learning management system.
Instructors benefit from good e-learning platforms through the ability to update and adapt courses, content, and tools quickly.
E-Learning Takes More Forms Than You Might Think
In 2012, after consulting with other academics in the education technology field, Frank Myadas and Gary Miller posted a set of definitions designed to simplify and facilitate the discussion surrounding e-learning. These set definitions make the conversations between institutions, instructors, and students easier to conduct. They also help those new to e-learning better understand the vast and expanding variety of systems and techniques.
These definitions carry two characteristics. First, they include definitions at the course level and at the program level. Second, they include three fundamental concepts. These include delivery mode, time, and flexibility.
Myadas and Miller broke e-learning down into seven categories that help to group and explain the various techniques in use today.
This covers the traditional higher education course. An instructor leads the classroom and teaches face to face. Classes meet at predetermined times. E-learning can take place here in a multitude of ways. As mentioned before, an instructor can incorporate online tools into lectures. Online software or apps can supplement other assignments of course materials, but tools conform to the traditional classroom model of delivery.
Synchronous Delivery Courses
In this category, web-based technologies help to supplement classroom lectures and other activities to students in remote areas in real time. This course combines the traditional face to face class model with technology that connects the class with students in remote locations via Skype or some other technology. Like the traditional classroom course, time flexibility is no option. Students can, however, record and replay materials for later.
This version of online learning combines a traditional class with web-based learning, but for on-campus students. In this case, an instructor may create web-based activities in place of classroom attendance, but only for a small part of the time, 20 per cent or less. Most do not consider these setups to be web-based courses, but they do represent an example of e-learning adapted to the traditional classroom model.
Blended or Hybrid Classroom Course
The blended course goes beyond “web-enhanced,” because, in such courses, online learning and communication replace 50 per cent or more of face to face classroom meetings. Some campuses with space constraints have started offering such courses as a way to manage situations where student population and class numbers outstrip the ability of the college to build more classrooms
Blended or Hybrid Online Course
This represents the other side of the hybrid classroom course. In the hybrid online course, most of the time spent, instruction, and communication take place online. Mandatory face to face meetings on a regular schedule do happen, which makes such courses difficult for remote students to access and participate in.
Online courses have grown popular both among remote students earning degrees and universities looking for ways to increase student numbers and paid tuitions. In an online course, the student never has to go on campus or meet the professor. All interaction takes place online. Since their inception, many have questioned if entirely online courses provide the same quality of educational experience as those requiring face to face contact, but they are here to stay due to benefits provided to the institution and to students.
“Hyflex” Flexible Mode Course
This represents a new step in course design and delivery where students can choose which mode works best for them from face to face and various types of online distribution. Students can select the method of instruction, work at their own pace, and enjoy a number of other options not generally available. It remains to be seen, however, if this form will grow in popularity because it does seem to require a lot of work from the instructor to implement.
Of course, these descriptions do not cover the depth of innovation taking place in higher education, vocational training, and business based skills training. The next great course delivery model could emerge tomorrow and revolutionise the entire field. These categories did not even scratch the surface of the potential educational value of virtual reality for instance.
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For every e-learning challenge, there is a Darlo Digital solution.
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