Have you ever done an online training or class? Chances are you have. Especially with the recent COVID-19 lockdowns, some, if not all, of your educational experiences have been put online. Whether for work or school, we have online instructors, watch online tutorials, and learn remotely. As we move away from the traditional classroom, online education is nearly inescapable.
This new online learning format is called e-learning. Though it has been around for some decades, E-Learning has experienced a spectacular rise recently. It has disrupted the traditional classroom experience in schools, universities, and corporations. Many institutions see no need to go back. Whatever people’s preferred method of learning, e-learning is here to stay.
What is E-Learning?
E-Learning is a form of learning in which electronic and especially online technologies deliver the educational materials, curriculum, and experience. E-Learning stands for “electronic learning.” It is often also referred to as online learning, online education, or distance learning.
Typically, e-learning is based on formal learning. In other words, e-learning mirrors many of the same features as a traditional classroom setting. You may still have live or recorded instruction through video, homework assignments, tests, and semester schedules.
E-Learning has many uses. From colleges to corporations, e-learning is an effective way to offer education and training in a way that is cost effective and efficient. Without the need for a physical classroom, live instructors, or scheduled class times, educators can offer an e-learning solution that saves time and money.
Learners benefit from e-learning by having more flexibility. Adults with full-time jobs or family responsibilities can make progress at their own pace. Learners have more autonomy over their learning experience and design it to what best suits them.
The History of E-Learning
Despite its recent growth, e-learning is not an entirely new concept. Depending on your definition of e-learning, you could trace it back to as early as the 19th century when distance learning was developed. Isaac Pitman is considered The Father of Distance Learning for teaching students via mail how to write in shorthand. Starting in 1844, he sent his students assignments by mail and received the completed assignments back the same way.
The more recent rise in e-learning can be attributed to the invention and development of the personal computer (PC) and the internet. By the 1990s, educational institutions began offering online courses. And by the 2000s, companies began training their employees on e-learning platforms.
Recognizing the development of online learning, Elliott Maisie first coined the term “e-learning” in 1999. Since then, e-learning has only grown. Again, this growth is largely due to technological advancements: faster internet, development of multimedia (e.g. video, audio, images), affordable digital devices (e.g. laptops, smartphones, tablets), and the increasing sophistication of Learning Management Systems (LMS). These technologies make e-learning increasingly viable.
Different Types of E-Learning
Today, there are several types of e-learning. As the broad definition of e-learning shows, many types of education fall under its umbrella. The following will break down some of the main distinctions to be aware of.
Computer-based vs. Internet-based E-Learning
Perhaps the most fundamental distinction in e-learning is whether it is computer-based or internet-based. Although most e-learning uses the internet nowadays, the internet is not essential. Some e-learning programs come in the form of programs installed directly onto a computer. The learning takes place entirely within the program. Think of early programs that taught you how to touch type. They ran entirely on the computer, even without the internet.
As the name suggests, internet-based e-learning does require the internet. As fast internet and cloud storage become increasingly widespread, so does internet-based e-learning. To return to the typing example, today you can learn how to touch type for free on websites like TypingClub.com and Typing.com. These e-learning programs run entirely within the web browser. No need to install anything on your PC. Even if a program installation were necessary, it would still be considered internet-based e-learning if the program relied on internet access.
Today, you can count on e-learning involving the internet, but it is important to know that e-learning can be solely computer-based, too.
Computer Managed Learning (CML) vs. Computer Assisted Learning (CML)
Another e-learning type distinction is whether the e-learning is only managed or also assisted by computer.
On the one hand, Computer Managed Learning (CML) refers to programs that operate through information databases. Information regarding learning materials, grades, curriculum, and enrollment are organized digitally. This allows them to be easily stored and retrieved, accessible to both teacher and student.
On the other hand, Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) not only organizes educational information but assists in the teaching. CML training methods use multimedia like video, audio, and images to enhance the learning experience. Such multimedia learning allows for increased variety and interactivity in the learning process. Even within the traditional classroom, many teachers incorporate CAL methods to supplement their lectures.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous E-Learning
An e-learning type distinction that is perhaps most familiar is synchronous vs. asynchronous learning.
Synchronous online learning involves students interacting with each other and the teacher in real-time. To achieve this, synchronous e-learning usually uses technology like video and audio conferencing or instant messaging. That way, it is more interactive and social, allowing students to feel like they are part of a group. Students also receive more immediate feedback and avoid the frustration of delayed feedback and long, drawn-out conversation. However, synchronous e-learning requires students to adhere to a strict class schedule much like a traditional class. Synchronous e-learning is best, then, if you prefer a traditional classroom experience from the comfort of your home.
In asynchronous learning environments, students are not required to interact in real-time. They learn independently and receive help over channels like email, forums, and discussion boards. This way, they are not committed to a specific class time and can work at their own pace and schedule. The primary benefit of asynchronous e-learning, then, is flexibility. Not only can students choose to access assignments and learning material at any time but they can do so from anywhere: at home, at the library, or even on the bus, so long as an internet connection is available.
Fixed vs. Adaptive E-Learning
Fixed e-learning simply refers to learning by a set curriculum. Traditionally, most learning environments are fixed. The teacher provides a curriculum and syllabus, which all students must follow. E-learning programs can be fixed in this way, too, by not allowing the course to adapt or change or vary from one student to another.
This is where adaptive e-learning environments come in. Adaptive e-learning takes real-time data about individual learners into account and allows the class material to adjust accordingly. This gives each learner a customized learning experience that addresses their particular needs. Such adaptive instructional techniques can require much more planning and development from the outset, but they often produce better learning results. By considering students’ goals, strengths, and weaknesses, adaptive e-learning can be much more effective.
Linear vs. Interactive E-Learning
Linear e-learning occurs when the communication goes in one direction only, from teacher to student. Though not ideal nor common, linear e-learning occasionally takes place in the form of education programs via television or radio. Take a cooking tutorial on TV, for example. The instruction is one-way because you are unable to ask the cook questions. If the video is recorded, you can pause it. Otherwise, you must try to keep up on your own.
Interactive e-learning involves two-way communication. Students not only receive information but they can respond to it, ask questions, and give feedback. This allows for constructive dialogue that supports learning. Obviously, interactive learning is the more popular form of e-learning.
Individual vs. Collaborative E-Learning
Finally, e-learning can be individual or collaborative. In individual e-learning, students are given learning materials to study on their own. Students learn independently by completing readings and assignments. In the traditional classroom, individual learning happens via homework assignments. Students come to class to hear a lecture but study at home. The same applies to individual e-learning; Students receive learning materials to be engaged with on their own.
Collaborative e-learning involves multiple students working together toward a common learning goal. This way, students learn valuable skills like teamwork and communication. Collaborative learning is probably most familiar in the traditional classroom as group projects. When applied to e-learning, collaborative learning can take the form of online chat groups, shared Google documents, and conference calls. Collaborative e-learning is a valuable way to learn collaborative skills and academic subjects at the same time.
Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
No matter the type of e-learning used, any e-learning program needs a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS allows you to manage every aspect of an online course. It helps enroll students, distribute learning materials, allow students to collaborate, assign tasks, track student progress, and much more. Some popular examples of LMSs include Moodle, Canvas, Chamilo, Totara Learn, and Open edX.
These days, offering an e-learning course without the help of an LMS is nearly impossible. The LMS makes everything about e-learning easier for both teachers and students. Some of the features of a good LMS include the following:
- A Good Graphical User Interface (GUI). A good GUI makes any learning interface more pleasing to the eye. Often you can set your own themes, backgrounds, colors, and fonts to make your learning platform suit your tastes and needs.
- Settings Customization. Beyond customizing the look of your LMS, most LMSs allow you to change settings like language, notification options, and profile, among others. This allows your LMS to be more versatile and usable for different students.
- Enrollment Features. Many LMSs will allow students to enroll online. Having students enroll online accelerates the process without the need for much human involvement. The program takes care of student profiles, details, progress, test results, and even course payment via different online payment options like credit card, PayPal, or bank transfer.
- Virtual Classroom Functions. Your LMS may provide virtual classroom functions like scheduled video conferences or virtual whiteboards. Virtual classrooms imitate a traditional classroom as much as possible. And a good LMS will provide virtual classroom functions, so the teacher doesn’t need to worry about the logistics of teaching.
- Student Communication. A good LMS provides communication channels to communicate important information to students. This can come in the forum of messages, forums, chats, and even automated notifications about class times and tests.
- Learning Pathways. An LMS should give students different learning pathways to complete the course. This allows students some flexibility and a way to track their overall progress.
- Reporting System. A good reporting system allows you to better assess students’ progress and the effectiveness of the course. Often, you can export data to an Excel sheet for further analysis.
- Content Templates. An LMS should include class templates that give you an example of how to upload, manage, and distribute learning materials. This way, you know the LMS’s range of capabilities and what a working class should look like.
- Testing Capabilities. An LMS should allow you to create tests and host them on its platform. Testing can come with a lot of functionality like randomized questions, time limits, and different question types (e.g. multiple choice, short answer, matching, etc.). Ideally, your LMS will also have an option for self-grading, so that the teacher does not need to grade everything manually.
A good LMS can take on a huge workload in the long run, saving teachers and administrators valuable time. So make sure to look for the features listed above when shopping for an LMS.
In addition to functionality, you should also be aware of the different types of LMSs. An LMS can be cloud-based, open source, commercial, or installation-based. The type you choose will depend on your needs. Here is a brief breakdown of each type:
- Cloud-Based. A Cloud-based LMS is one hosted in the cloud, so it can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Often, cloud-based systems come in the form of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. SaaS solutions may have lower start up costs since they require no local installations, set up, or maintenance. However, they may be more expensive in the long run as SaaSs usually run on a subscription basis.
- Installation-Based. Unlike cloud-based systems, installation-based LMSs are installed locally on your own computers. This may allow for more customization and tailoring to your LMS needs, but it also requires higher development, set up, and maintenance costs.
- Open Source. Open source LMSs are written in open source code, meaning they are free to the public and collaborative in nature. This may be a great option for a small budget. Even though there may be no dedicated support team, you can usually find ample help through community forums online.
- Commercial. Finally, commercial LMSs are ones bought from another company. They typically have the advantage of a dedicated support and maintenance team, though they may cost more upfront. Not all commercial LMSs are created equal either, so make sure to do your research before purchasing a commercial LMS. Look for established products with positive reviews.
You should also be aware of the standard learning content format for LMSs. Learning content is often standardized by an application programming interface (API) to be compatible across different LMSs. The most common standardized LMS language is SCORM, which stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model. It controls how online learning content and LMSs communicate with each other. It’s a technical standard to ensure compatibility across different systems. SCORM has been adopted by the US Department of Defense and has become the industry standard. However, there are also other APIs, including xAPI, AICC, and CM15.
Ultimately, LMSs are essential to any e-learning program. So get familiar with the different LMSs available and their features. You won’t regret investing in a well-tailored LMS that optimizes the learning process for students.
Beyond the LMS used for an e-learning program, there are several formats of e-learning. Consider the following condensed list:
- Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)—MOOCSs are large online classes open to the public. Some universities offer free recorded lectures online, for example. You can even find entire programs online for free. When they are free, they typically provide course material without the certification.
- Video Streaming Services—Video streaming services like YouTube offer a host of possibilities when it comes to e-learning. Simply recording a video can lead to an e-learning program. Khan Academy, for example, started when Sal Khan tutored his cousin in math through YouTube videos. Once he recognized the popularity of his videos, he started an academy that now has over 10,000 instructional videos.
- Discussion Boards and Forums—A discussion board or forum allows students to discuss topics online. There might be a question or prompt to start a thread, to which students respond with their own opinions and insights. Discussion boards and forums can be a valuable way to encourage more interactive learning.
- Podcasts—Podcasts have become increasingly popular ever since their inception in 2000. Podcasts are made for entertainment, politics, and thoughtful discussion. They can also be used as a platform for e-learning. They have the advantage of allowing very mobile learning. You can listen to podcasts anywhere, while running, working, or travelling.
All of the above offer creative ways to get your e-learning program out to your target learners. Some students may prefer one format over another, so experiment with different formats and see what suits you and the students most.
Challenges to E-Learning
E-learning can present some challenges. Here are some disadvantages to be aware of:
The most obvious challenge is the lack of in-person interaction. Students long for that face-to-face connection that is never quite the same over the internet. In the worst cases, students may experience a sense of isolation. Even if other students are working on the same class assignments, without the physical proximity, students feel more or less alone.
Practical skills are also harder to learn online. For example, pottery and woodworking require hands-on experience. No matter how many video tutorials or instruction guides a student has, they cannot learn properly without the careful guidance of an in-person mentor.
Unfortunately, e-learning can contribute to poor physical health. Sitting at the computer for too long can lead to real health concerns like bad posture and eye strain. So it’s important to encourage good sitting posture and breaks.
Other challenges with e-learning are more technical. Poor internet connections and slow networks can threaten the functionality of your entire e-learning program. Without the internet, the learning comes to a halt. Furthermore, e-learning programs are more at risk of falling victim to cyber threats. Cyber security is incredibly important to protecting the private information of students as well as the learning material. You can also run into adaptability issues with e-learning. The software may not be compatible with every student’s hardware, or a digital presentation may not be formatted correctly for everyone.
Finally, e-learning can pose challenges in assessments. For one, cheating during a test is much easier when the teacher is not physically present. Students may be more tempted to look up answers from sources they shouldn’t or exchange confidential test information with fellow students. In addition, e-learning assessments tend to be knowledge-based and not skills-based. It’s hard to test certain skills when limited to an online testing format.
Benefits of E-Learning
All that said, the benefits of e-learning outweigh the challenges. Consider the following:
With e-learning, you have the potential for limitless participation and attendance. Students do not need to be confined to a geographical region. They can be from all across the globe. So your training can have the widest reach with e-learning.
E-learning is more cost effective. Without the cost of textbooks, distributing learning material, physical classrooms, on-site instructors, or scheduling visiting guest lecturers, you can save quite a bit of money. E-learning simply makes the traditional classroom costs unnecessary.
E-learning is more efficient. Many of the logistical aspects of teaching are made infinitely easier through the help of an LMS. Save time by automating away grading, notifications, scheduling, and so forth. Link different online resources in one central location. Students can replay course videos and lectures as many times as they need, so teachers don’t need to teach things more than once.
Because e-learning does require more responsibility and self-discipline on the student’s part, it also improves student productivity and performance. Students tend to take more initiative and meet deadlines when they are responsible for their own learning. E-learning promotes active and independent learning.
E-learning offers more flexibility. Students can access resources at any time and from any place. They are free to set their own schedules and adapt it to their needs.
Through the use of multimedia, e-learning offers a more fun learning experience. Instead of a boring lecture, students can enjoy a variety of learning activities, from videos to games. Gamification opens the door to endless opportunities to make learning more fun.
Finally, e-learning is more environmentally friendly. Without the need for paper worksheets and syllabi, textbooks, or gasoline for teachers and students to commute to class, e-learning leaves a small carbon footprint. It is the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly education option out there.
The above advantages to e-learning are only some of many. If you experiment with different e-learning options, you are bound to find endless benefits, whether in work training or academic settings.
The Market for E-Learning
As you have probably noticed in 2020 alone, the market for e-learning is rapidly expanding. More and more employers are turning to e-learning solutions to train their employees. Universities forced to shut down are having to offer their curriculums digitally. Schools are putting their learning materials online. In the midst of gathering restrictions caused by the pandemic, it comes as no surprise that the market for e-learning is growing exponentially.
In 2019, the market for e-learning surpassed 200 billion USD. Between 2020 and 2026, it is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8%, which will mean a market size exceeding 375 billion USD by 2026. Obviously, there is tremendous potential in the e-learning market, and now is the time to invest in it.
Not only is e-learning here to stay but there are exciting new developments underway. With the increased availability of mobile devices and fast internet, education is crossing new boundaries. Some trends in the e-learning market include micro-learning, which focuses on small tasks that the user completes each day. The curriculum is embedded in the program, taking unnecessary mental stress away from the learner so they can focus on the material itself. The language learning app Duolingo is a good example of micro-learning.
The e-learning market has developed increasingly personalized learning. E-learning programs tailor the curriculum to the individual student. Personalized learning is leading to better learning outcomes as students get a tailored learning experience.
The e-learning market is growing in nearly every one of its subcategories. Consider the following graph that shows e-learning growth by market section:
Working with Dev.co
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Dev.co offers an experienced team of developers that can create advanced software tailored to your education needs. Turn your e-learning vision into a reality. If you want an e-learning solution for your business, don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact us today to get started.
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