Electronic learning or E-learning is an general term used to refer to computer-enhanced learning. It is used differently in so many contexts that it is critical to be clear what one means when one speaks of "e-Learning".
Many technologies can, and are, used in e-Learning:
* Palm pilots
* MP3 Players
* the use of web-based teaching materials
* hypermedia in general
* multimedia CD-ROMs
* web sites
* discussion boards
* collaborative software
* text chat
* computer aided assessment
* educational animation
* learning management software
* electronic voting systems
... and many more, and possibly a combination of different methods being used.
Along with the terms learning technology and Educational Technology, the term is generally used to refer to the use of technology in learning in a much broader sense than the computer-based training or Computer Aided Instruction of the 1980s. It is also broader than the terms Online Learning or Online Education which generally refer to purely web-based learning. In cases where mobile technologies are used, the term M-learning has become more common.
E-learning is naturally suited to distance learning and flexible learning, but can also be used in conjunction with face-to-face teaching, in which case the term Blended learning is commonly used.
In higher education especially, the increasing tendency is to create a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) (which is sometimes combined with a Managed Information System (MIS) to create a Managed Learning Environment) in which all aspects of a course are handled through a consistent user interface standard throughout the institution. A growing number of physical universities, as well as newer online-only colleges, have begun to offer a select set of academic degree and certificate programs via the Internet at a wide range of levels and in a wide range of disciplines. While some programs require students to attend some campus classes or orientations, many are delivered completely online. In addition, several universities offer online student support services, such as online advising and registration, e-counselling, online textbook purchase, student governments and student newspapers.
E-learning can also refer to educational web sites such as those offering learning scenarios, worksheets and interactive exercises for children. The term is also used extensively in the business sector where it generally refers to cost-effective online training.
An abundance of research has been done to determine the effectiveness of online learning. In reading through the research you’ll find the conclusions from one researcher to another to be ambiguous. Regardless of the research conclusions, there is agreement that the crafting of an online course is important to student success.
Key elements of an effective online course:
• As with any learning environment, know your audience.
• Develop the course around clearly defined learning objectives and goals, and clearly communicate these to the learners.
• Special attention must be given to how online courses are displayed. Artistry is not the goal. Instead, focus on organization to allow ease of navigation and learning enhancement. Graphics should present information to support learning. Attention must be given to student skill levels and equipment limitations when embedding audio, video, and web links.
• Create a collaborative community spirit by requiring sharing activities between students and teachers, ensuring constructive criticism, maintaining motivation, and providing assessment tools with timely feedback.
• Keep the learning environment flexible. Individual needs, interests, and objectives must be considered, but should not become the end in itself. Knowledge must be built on in real-time and customized to meet educational goals.
• Technical support services must be made available to train and provide ongoing support for both learners and instructor.
• Provide related links and resource listings to support and enhance the body of knowledge.
• Online learning web pages must be maintained to ensure up-to-date relevance.
Advantages of e-learning often include flexibility and convenience for the learner especially if they have other commitments, facilitation of communication between learners, greater adaptability to a learner's needs, more variety in learning experience with the use of multimedia and the non-verbal presentation of teaching material. E-Learning allows individuals to learn at their own pace and can minimize fear and intimidation in front of colleagues that could occur in a traditional class setting. Video instruction provides visual and audio learning that can be paused, and reversed for watching again. For organizations with distributed and constantly changing learners (e.g. restaurant staff), e-learning has huge benefits when compared with organizing classroom training. Some are critical of e-learning in the context of education, because the face-to-face human interaction with a teacher has been removed from the process, and thus, some argue, the process is no longer "educational" in the highest philosophical sense (for example, as defined by RS Peters, a philosopher of education). Supporters of E-learning claim that this criticism is largely unfounded, as human interactions can readily be encouraged through audio or video-based web-conferencing programs, threaded discussion boards, live chat, blogs, wikis, email, or other synchronous or asynchronous means. As a matter of fact, many in K12 would support e-learning if it was not associated with the more extreme versions that attempt to cut out the directed teacher-student relationship.
The feeling of isolation experienced by distance learning students is also often cited, although discussion forums and other computer-based communication can in fact help ameliorate this and in particular can often encourage students to meet face-to-face and form self-help groups. Discussion groups can also be formed online. Human interaction, faculty-to-student as well as student-to-student, should be encouraged in any form.
The cost-effectiveness of e-learning is a subject of much debate as there is usually much upfront investment that can only be recouped through economies of scale. Web and software development in particular can be expensive as can systems specifically geared for e-learning. The development of adaptive materials is also much more time-consuming than that of non-adaptive ones.
Consequently, some of the cost is often forwarded to the students as online college courses tend to cost more than traditional courses.
Among the early institutions of online learning in the mid-1980s were the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, the New York Institute of Technology, the Electronic Information Exchange System - EIES - of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Connected Education. More recently the organization Independent Student Media has developed a working curriculum that instructs students through an Interactive Online Textbook.
By 2003, more than 1.9 million students were participating in online learning at institutions of higher education in the United States, according to a report from the "Sloan Consortium", an authoritative source of information about online higher education. The explosive rate of growth -- now about 25 percent a year -- has made hard numbers a moving target. But according to Sloan, virtually all public higher education institutions, as well as a vast majority of private, for-profit institutions, now offer online classes. By contrast, only about half of private, nonprofit schools offer them. The Sloan report, based on a poll of academic leaders, says that students generally appear to be at least as satisfied with their online classes as they are with traditional ones. Private Institutions may become more involved with online presentations as the cost of instituting such a system decreases. Properly trained staff must also be hired to work with students online. These staff members must be able to not only understand the content area, but also be highly trained in the use of the computer and Internet.
The concept of a Digital native has also become popular, and there are certainly likely to be generational influences on the future of e-learning. As more and more adult learners enter into this field the gap will begin to close.
In addition, e-learning takes advantage of the versatility provided by asynchronous capabilities of internet delivered education.
It is clearly possible to apply any specific pedagogical approach to e-learning, however some approaches are more common than others. Two of the most common are those of instructional design and social-constructivist pedagogy. The latter in particular is particularly well afforded by the use of discussion forums, blogs, wikis and online collaborative activities. Adaptability to different learning styles is also still in vogue in certain circles.
Laurillard's Conversational Model is also particularly relevant to e-learning, and Gilly Salmon's Five-Stage Model is a pedagogical approach to the use of discussion boards.
There are four fundamental pedagogical perspectives which historically have influenced the approach to computer based pedagogy, distance education and continues to provide guiding principles for the pedagogy of e-learning:
The Cognitive perspective focuses on the cognitive processes involved in learning as well as how the brain works.
Much effort has been put into the technical reuse of electronically-based teaching materials and in particular creating or re-using Learning Objects. These are self contained units that are properly tagged with keywords, or other metadata, and often stored in an XML file format. Creating a course requires putting together a sequence of learning objects. There are both proprietary and open, non-commercial and commercial, peer-reviewed repositories of learning objects such as the Merlot repository.
A common standard format for e-learning content is SCORM whilst other specifications allow for the transporting of "learning objects" (Schools Interoperability Framework) or categorizing meta-data (LOM).
These standards themselves are early in the maturity process the oldest being 8 years old. They are also relatively vertical specific: SIF is primarily pK-12, LOM is primarily Corp, Military and Higher Ed, and SCORM is primarily Military and Corp with some Higher Ed. PESC- the Post-Secondary Education Standards Council- is also making headway in developing standards and learning objects for the Higher Ed space, while SIF is beginning to seriously turn towards Instructional and Curriculum learning objects.
In the US pK12 space there are a host of content standards that are critical as well- the NCES data standards are a prime example. Each state government's content standards and achievement benchmarks are critical metadata for linking e-learning objects in that space.
Communication technologies are generally categorised as asynchronous or synchronous. Asynchronous activities use technologies such as blogs, wikis, and discussion boards. Synchronous activities occur with all participants joining in at once, as with a chat session or a virtual classroom or meeting.
In many models, the writing community and the communication channels relate with the E-learning and the M-learning communities. Both the communities provide a general overview of the basic learning models and the activities required for the participants to join the learning sessions across the virtual classroom or even across standrd classrooms enabled by technology. Many activities essential for the learners in these environments require frequent chat sessions in the form of virtual classrooms and/or blog meetings.
The various blogs that are being used for providing writing approaches are gaining popularity.
Computer-aided Assessment (also but less commonly referred to as E-assessment), ranging from automated multiple-choice tests to more sophisticated systems is becoming increasingly common. With some systems, feedback can be geared towards a student's specific mistakes or the computer can navigate the student through a series of questions adapting to what the student appears to have learned or not learned. Most software for this is still very primitive however.
The term Learning Design has sometimes come to refer to the type of activity enabled by software such as the open-source system LAMS which supports sequences of activities that can be both adaptive and collaborative. The IMS Learning Design specification is intended as a standard format for learning designs, and IMS LD Level A is supported in LAMS V2.
The first general-purpose system for computer-assisted instruction from which e-learning evolved, was the PLATO System developed at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.The Plato system evolved with the involvement of Control Data who created the first authoring software used to create learning content. The authoring software was called Plato. The Science Research Council then wrote the first CAI system of Math for K-6. Wicat Systems then created WISE as their authoring tool using Pascal and developed English and Math curriculum for K-6. The very first complete CAI classroom for K-6 students was set up at the Waterford Elementary School in Utah using the Wicat system. The first public CAI classroom with its own layout and design was implemented with the Wicat System by Baal Systems (later known as Virtual Systems) in Singapore as a joint operation between Wicat and Baal. It is from this design that all the computer learning centers globally evolved and which were the forerunners of elearning.