What is eLearning?
So then what is eLearning? Elearning is described as the delivery of training or education through digital or electronic methods. Students can acquire qualifications or develop new skills using electronic devices such as a laptop, mobile device or tablet, accessing educational material often delivered through a learning management system (LMS) which is hosted online.
An online training course can be delivered in multiple formats, from the most basic PowerPoint presentation and PDF documents through to advanced interactive slides designed using specialist elearning software. The levels of interactivity in elearning will vary considerably with some courses simply being a set of slides for the student to scroll through while others can be more interactive including clickable elements, activities, games and drag and drop features as well as quizzes and assessments as the student progresses through the course.
With the ongoing development of the internet and the advancement in elearning technologies, the way in which students learn will continue to evolve into the future
The History of eLearning
Before the internet existed, distance learning courses were available, but the process of studying was both demanding in terms of resources and time.
Course materials and assignments would have to be printed out and sent to students who would study the material and then return assignments to their tutor through the post.
Distance learning can be traced as far back as the 1840s when Isaac Pitman delivered his correspondence course, teaching shorthand. Shorthand is a form of writing using symbols rather than words to improve the speed at which professionals such as secretaries or journalists could take down notes.
As a qualified teacher, Pitman taught students entirely through distance learning. Assignments would be sent through the post to students and in return he would send the next section of work until the course was complete
The First Machine
The first machine used for testing was developed in 1924. By 1954, a ‘teaching machine’ was invented by a Professor from Harvard, BF Skinner. This machine allowed educational establishments to deliver programmed education to their students, however the first computer based programme for teaching wasn’t introduced until 1960.
This new system was called PLATO and it was originally intended for students who were studying at the University of Illinois but it was used in many schools in the local area.
These initial systems were only designed to provide information to students. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the learning experiences began to incorporate more interactivity. The Open University, now a prominent institution in the elearning world, were extremely interested in taking advantage of this new method of learning.
In the early days with The Open University course materials would be printed and posted to students and the course took place by correspondence between students and tutors. With the introduction of the internet, this transformed the way that students could communicate with learning providers and vice versa.
In the late 20th century, the computer and the internet was created, allowing elearning methods and tools to advance considerably. In the 1980s the first MAC computer was released, allowing individuals to have a computer at home, making the entire process of learning much easier.
Moving from the Machine
In the decades that followed, virtual learning environments were created allowing learners to access dedicated web portals and communities where they could learn about almost any subject securing qualifications in the process.
By the early 1990s, courses could be delivered entirely online allowing everyone to access education, even those who could not attend a college or university due to other commitments.
By the 2000s, businesses adopted elearning as an innovative way to educate their employees and deliver corporate training. Many employers used it as a strategy to improve the skill set of employees and help them to expand their industry knowledge.
These courses could be accessed from anywhere at any time, using a simple login to their online learning portal where they could access all of the course material, submit assignments and communicate with other students studying the same course.
The Benefits of e-Learning
Elearning can benefit both businesses and individuals. For businesses it can significantly reduce costs and eliminate the common problems associated with putting each employee through the training at convenient time. Through elearning, they can study at their own pace from wherever they choose. Other benefits of elearning include:
- There are no restrictions when it comes to studying through elearning, so students can access course material at any time of the day or night. The majority of face to face courses are very restrictive, requiring students to attend a certain venue at a specific time for a day, a week, or in relation to a degree for years at a time.
- Courses can be accessed directly online and studied from work, home or on the daily commute. For businesses, allowing employees to study through distance learning will reduce disruptions to their schedule and you won’t have to meet the costs of booking training venues and other associated fees.
- An elearning programme for employees is much more cost effective for businesses than training at a specialist training venue or educational facility. Employees have to spend less time away from the office which means reduced travel costs
- Not only this, all of the materials that they require will be issued online so printing costs will be saved too. Online learning helps businesses save an enormous amount of resources while improving productivity.
Most Effective Learning Experience
- Elearning is much more effective when it comes to absorbing information than a classroom lecture. Using a selection of tools and techniques elearning methods can combine video, audio, activities and written material.
- Depending on the nature of the course, a range of learning content types could be incorporated. An elearning curriculum should be focused on the learning requirements of the student.
- Instructional techniques and methods are applied to develop a motivational and engaging elearning experience for the learner.
- In addition, frequent learner interaction is required to maintain attention and enhance the learning experience. This is achieved through scenario based learning and a personalised learning experience.
Self Paced eLearning
- One of the great benefits to elearning is that students can study at their own pace. Time is a premium and a key advantage of elearning is that it offers much quicker delivery than a traditional, classroom based course.
- Elearning reduces training time because it does not take as long to start or conclude the training, learners can tailor the course to their own pace, travel time is no longer required to attend venues which may be many miles away and learners can focus on specific elements of the course that they need to learn in detail.
- Elearning provides students with greater control that cannot be provided through traditional classroom learning.
No Need To Travel
- For some learners, time is one of the main issues that they face. When it comes to classroom learning, many people will be dissuaded from enrolling onto courses because they cannot attend the classes or dedicate the time required to travel to the venue.
- Elearning removes this barrier because students do not have to arrange when and where they can study.
- In addition, there is no requirement to attend classes, sitting in an uncomfortable room for hours, listening to a boring lecture. Training is more fun, the lessons interactive and you can communicate with students and tutors in an instant.
- When it comes to learning, studying in the right environment is important. Within a classroom setting, it can be very distracting and difficult to concentrate.
- With elearning you can choose your home office, the sofa or even the library to sit and progress through the course material without any distractions.
- The more focused you are on your learning, the better your learning experience will be and the more information you will absorb.
Resources no longer at a cost
- With elearning all of the tools, resources and learning material are based online which eliminates having to purchase costly resources.
- This is particularly relevant for businesses who would once invest a lot of their budget in purchasing learning materials for staff.
- With online learning, staff can access the course on their desktop computers or other work issued devices such as mobiles and tablets, reducing the cost to you and your business.
A wide variety at your fingertips
- The scope of elearning is vast, with students being able to access a huge range of different courses in a number of different subjects, skills and qualifications.
- Students can study continuing professional development courses, NVQ’s and even entire degrees in several subject areas from engineering through to law.
- With websites such as Alison an Udemy, students can take short courses on topics such as web design or marketing to develop a skill or acquire a basic understanding of almost any subject area.
Online one to one support
- Using a virtual learning environment, many of the elearning courses operate through a virtual learning environment.
- This is a small online community where students can participate in discussions with fellow students and communicate with their course tutor to ask questions and submit assignments for assessment.
- Tutors are usually available through the virtual learning environments, over the telephone or through an email address meaning that students can access support and guidance whenever they need it.
The Future of eLearning
There is no doubt about it, elearning is here for the foreseeable future. As computer ownership expands, elearning continues to grow in popularity. The reliability of the internet is also improving and as the various tools and technologies develop, the range and type of elearning courses also continue to improve. Technology is transforming the way in which education is delivered and the ways in which students study.
- Mobile learning is something that will transform the way in which learning and development is delivered in the future. With the increasing use of Smartphone’s technology continues to advance and there is no doubt that mlearning will play a key role in the future of training and education.
- In particular there is a growing trend in the use of Smartphone’s and apps combined with cloud based learning management systems.
- Some of the advanced functionality of mobile devices can be used in elearning such as GPS tracking for location based training, camera functionality for uploading work to e-portfolios and augmented reality for delivering a suite of teaching tools.
Virtual eLearning (Wearable Technology)
- Many elearning providers will create courses which are scenario based, particularly those which involve practical training.
- These scenarios are there to reflect the working conditions of an office, restaurant, workshop or healthcare facility.
- At its most basic level, virtual elearning can be used to watch how a story unfolds and interact with the environment.
- Using virtual reality techniques allows elearning developers to use spectacles or touch sensitive gloves for specific scenarios in training situations.
- The idea behind micro elearning is to use the development of micro-learning activities through small, succinct steps within a digital environment that is incorporated into the daily routines of an employee.
- Unlike the conventional approach to elearning, micro-learning often adopts push technology and push media which significantly reduces the cognitive load for learners.
- Micro learning is a small snippet of information, usually between three and five minutes in length which is designed to meet a specific learning outcome.
- It is learner focused and scenario based allowing the learner to grasp new concepts and information quickly and effectively.
- Relatively new to the elearning world, gamification is a technique that takes game elements and techniques and combines them with elearning to make the course more fun and engaging for the learner.
- A strong foundation for gamification relies on a story including a character, a challenge and a set of events.
- Creating scenarios is a great way to incorporate narrative elements into the course.
- Games in elearning can be used to encourage exploration and discovery with a key focus on engaging and stimulating the learner while enhancing the overall learning experience.
Elearning has advanced considerably over the years. Studying now involves much more than simply listening to classroom based lectures or reading through pages and pages of handouts. Elearning providers are constantly developing the elearning experience that they provide to students, incorporating more and more interactivity and adopting some of the latest technologies for students such as gamification and virtual reality to increase engagement and enhance the learning experience for students.