E-learning (electronic learning or e-Learning) is a term which is commonly used, but does not have a universally accepted definition. Most frequently it seems to be used for web-based and distance education, which may also involve face-to-face interaction. However, much broader definitions are also common. For example, it may include all types of technology-enhanced learning (TEL), where technology is used to support the learning process. Although pedagogy is not always part of the definition, some authors do include it. For example in this definition, where e-learning is said to be: "pedagogy empowered by digital technology" . It is important to realize that the term e-learning is ambiguous. It is nearly impossible to define what it is, as it has different meanings to different people . Furthermore, it is often used interchangeably with various other related terms, such as distance learning, distributed learning, and electronic learning. The meaning of the term also seems to be dependent on the context in which it is used. In companies, it often refers to the strategies that use the company network to deliver training courses to employees. Lately in most Universities, e-learning is used to define a specific mode to attend a course or programmers of study where the students rarely or never meet face-to-face, nor access on-campus educational facilities, because they study online.

E-Learning also often refers to the first generation of systems supporting the learning process , that relied on the idea of replicating the concept of the classroom in an online setting. E-Learning, that was affected (with some delays) by the Dot-com bubble, and many failures can be reported related to this initial vision [

This E-Learning vision contrasts with more recent approaches (often termed Learning 2.0, in reference to the Web 2.0) relying more on collaboration, informal learning, and blended learning (using technology to enhance, rather than replace, the physical pedagogical processes).
 

Marketing & business

Market

The worldwide e-learning industry is estimated to be worth over thirty-eight (38) billion euros according to conservative estimates, although in the European Union only about 20% of e-learning products are produced within the common market . Developments in internet and multimedia technologies are the basic enabler of e-learning, with content, technologies and services being identified as the three key sectors of the e-learning industry. e-Learning is a catch-all term that covers a wide range of instructional material that can be delivered on a CD-ROM or DVD, over a local area network (LAN), or on the Internet.

Growth of e-learning

e-learning is capturing a large portion of learning activities both in academics and in industry.

Industry

The use of self-paced (asynchronous) e-learning in training continously grew till 2007 reaching 20% of consumed learning. In 2008 there was a first drop in synchronous e-learning to 16%. The use of virtual class (synchronous) e-learning in training is dropping year-by-year from 16% of learning consumption in 2005 to 8% in 2008.

Higher Education

By 2006, nearly 3.5 million students were participating in on-line learning at institutions of higher education in the United States.Many higher education, for-profit institutions, now offer on-line classes. By contrast, only about half of private, non-profit 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 on-line classes as they are with traditional ones. Private institutions may become more involved with on-line presentations as the cost of instituting such a system decreases. Properly trained staff must also be hired to work with students on-line. These staff members need to understand the content area, and also be highly trained in the use of the computer and Internet. Online education is rapidly increasing, and online doctoral programs have even developed at leading research universities..

Approaches:

E-learning services have evolved since computers were first used in education. There is a trend to move toward blended learning services, where computer-based activities are integrated with practical or classroom-based situations.

Computer-based learning

Computer-based learning, sometimes abbreviated to CBL, refers to the use of computers as a key component of the educational environment. While this can refer to the use of computers in a classroom, the term more broadly refers to a structured environment in which computers are used for teaching purposes. The concept is generally seen as being distinct from the use of computers in ways where learning is at least a peripheral element of the experience (e.g. computer games and web browsing).

Computer-Based Training

Computer-Based Trainings (CBTs) are self-paced learning activities accessible via a computer or hand held device. CBT's typically present content in a linear fashion, much like reading an online book or manual. For this reason they are often used to teach static processes, such as using software or completing mathematical equations. The term Computer-Based Training is often used interchangeably with Web-based training (WBT) with the primary difference being the delivery method. Where CBT's are typically delivered via CD-ROM, WBT's are delivered via the Internet using a web browser . Assessing learning in a CBT usually comes in the form of multiple choice questions, or other assessments that can be easily scored by a computer.

CBTs can be a good alternative to printed learning materials since rich media, including videos or animations, can easily be embedded to enhance the learning. Another advantage to CBTs are that they can be easily distributed to a wide audience at a relatively low cost once the initial development is completed.

However, CBTs pose some learning challenges as well. Typically the creation of effective CBTs requires enormous resources. The software for developing CBTs (such as Flash or Director ) is often more complex than a subject matter expert or teacher is able to use. In addition, the lack of human interaction can limit both the type of content that can be presented as well as the type of assessment that can be performed. Many learning organizations are beginning to use smaller CBT/WBT activities as part of a broader online learning program which may include online discussion or other interactive elements.

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL)

"Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is one of the most promising innovations to improve teaching and learning with the help of modern information and communication technology. Collaborative or group learning refers to instructional methods whereby students are encouraged or required to work together on learning tasks. It is widely agreed to distinguish collaborative learning from the traditional 'direct transfer' model in which the instructor is assumed to be the distributor of knowledge and skills. “ Lehtinen et al.

Learning management system (LMS) and Learning content management system (LCMS)

Main article: Learning management system
A learning management system (LMS) is software for delivering, tracking and managing training/education. LMSs range from systems for managing training/educational records to software for distributing courses over the Internet and offering features for online collaboration.

Technology-enhanced Learning (TEL)

Main article: Technology-Enhanced Learning
Technology enhanced learning (TEL) has the goal to provide socio-technical innovations (also improving efficiency and cost effectiveness) for e-learning practices, regarding individuals and organizations, independent of time, place and pace. The field of TEL therefore applies to the support of any learning activity through technology.

Computer-aided assessment

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.

The best examples follow a Formative Assessmentstructure and are called "Online Formative Assessment". This involves making an initial formative assessment by sifting out the incorrect answers. The author/teacher will then explain what the pupil should have done with each question.

Communication technologies used in e-learning

Communication technologies are generally categorized as asynchronous or synchronous. Asynchronous activities use technologies such as blogs, wikis, and discussion boards. The idea here is that participants may engage in the exchange of ideas or information without the dependency of other participants involvement at the same time. Electronic mail (Email) is also asynchronous in that mail can be sent or received without having both the participants’ involvement at the same time.

Synchronous activities involve the exchange of ideas and information with one or more participants during the same period of time. A face to face discussion is an example of synchronous communications. Synchronous activities occur with all participants joining in at once, as with an online chat session or a virtual classroom or meeting.

Virtual classrooms and meetings can often use a mix of communication technologies.

Collaborative Learning

All collaborative learning theory contends that human interaction is a vital ingredient to learning. Consideration of this is particularly crucial when designing e-learning, realizing the potential for the medium to isolate learners. With well-delivered synchronous distance education, and technology like message boards, chats, e-mail, and tele-conferencing, this potential drawback is reduced. However, e-learning detractors still argue that the magical classroom bond between teacher and student, and among the students themselves, can not be replicated through communications technology.

Advantages of e-Learning to the Trainer or Organization

Some of the most outstanding advantages to the trainer or organization are:

  • Reduced overall cost is the single most influential factor in adopting e-learning. The elimination of costs associated with instructor's salaries, meeting room rentals, and student travel, lodging, and meals are directly quantifiable. The reduction of time spent away from the job by employees may be the most positive offshoot.
  • Learning times reduced, an average of 40 to 60 percent, as found by Brandon Hall (Web-based Training Cookbook, 1997, p. 108).
  • Increased retention and application to the job averages an increase of 25 percent over traditional methods, according to an independent study by J.D. Fletcher (Multimedia Review, Spring 1991, pp.33-42).
  • Consistent delivery of content is possible with asynchronous, self-paced e-learning.
  • Expert knowledge is communicated, but more importantly captured, with good e-learning and knowledge management systems.
  • Proof of completion and certification, essential elements of training initiatives, can be automated.

Advantages to the Learner

Along with the increased retention, reduced learning time, and other aforementioned benefits to students, particular advantages of e-learning include:

  • On-demand availability enables students to complete training conveniently at off-hours or from home.
  • Self-pacing for slow or quick learners reduces stress and increases satisfaction.
  • Interactivity engages users, pushing them rather than pulling them through training.
  • Confidence that refresher or quick reference materials are available reduces burden of responsibility of mastery.

Disadvantages to the Trainer or Organization

e-learning is not, however, the be all and end all to every training need. It does have limitations, among them:

  • Up-front investment required of an e-learning solution is larger due to development costs. Budgets and cash flows will need to be negotiated.
  • Technology issues that play a factor include whether the existing technology infrastructure can accomplish the training goals, whether additional tech expenditures can be justified, and whether compatibility of all software and hardware can be achieved.
  • Inappropriate content for e-learning may exist according to some experts, though are limited in number. Even the acquisition of skills that involve complex physical/motor or emotional components (for example, juggling or mediation) can be augmented with e-learning.
  • Cultural acceptance is an issue in organizations where student demographics and psychographics may predispose them against using computers at all, let alone for e-learning.

Disadvantages to the Learner

The ways in which e-learning may not excel over other training include:

  • Technology issues of the learners are most commonly technophobia and unavailability of required technologies.
  • Portability of training has become a strength of e-learning with the proliferation of network linking points, notebook computers, PDAs, and mobile phones, but still does not rival that of printed workbooks or reference material.
 Do the Benefits Outweigh the Drawbacks?

The pro's and con's of e-learning vary depending on program goals, target audience and organizational infrastructure and culture. But it is unarguable that e-learning is rapidly growing as form of training delivery and most are finding that the clear benefits to e-learning will guarantee it a role in their overall learning strategy.