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For the process of teaching a machine, see Online machine learning.

E-learning (or eLearning) is the use of electronic media, educational technology and information and communication technologies (ICT) in education. E-learning includes numerous types of media that deliver text, audio, images, animation, and streaming video, and includes technology applications and processes such as audio or video tape, satellite TV, CD-ROM, and computer-based learning, as well as local intranet/extranet and web-based learning. Information and communication systems, whether free-standing or based on either local networks or the Internet in networked learning, underlie many e-learning processes.[1]

E-learning can occur in or out of the classroom. It can be self-paced, asynchronous learning or may be instructor-led, synchronous learning. E-learning is suited to distance learning and flexible learning, but it can also be used in conjunction with face-to-face teaching, in which case the term blended learning is commonly used.

E-learning includes, and is broadly synonymous with multimedia learning, technology-enhanced learning (TEL), computer-based instruction (CBI), computer managed instruction,[2] computer-based training (CBT), computer-assisted instruction or computer-aided instruction (CAI), internet-based training (IBT), flexible learning, web-based training (WBT), online education, virtual education, virtual learning environments (VLE) (which are also called learning platforms), m-learning, and digital education. These alternative names individually emphasize a particular digitization approach, component or delivery method, but conflate to the broad domain of e-learning. For example, m-learning emphasizes mobility, but is otherwise indistinguishable in principle from e-learning.


E-learning is an inclusive term that describes educational technology that electronically or technologically supports learning and teaching. Bernard Luskin, a pioneer of e-learning, advocates that the "e" should be interpreted to mean "exciting, energetic, enthusiastic, emotional, extended, excellent, and educational" in addition to "electronic." This broad interpretation focuses on new applications and developments, and also brings learning and media psychology into consideration.[3] Parks suggested that the "e" should refer to "everything, everyone, engaging, easy".[4]

Depending on whether a particular aspect, component or delivery method is given emphasis, a wide array of similar or overlapping terms has been used. As such, e-learning encompasses multimedia learning, technology-enhanced learning (TEL), computer-based training (CBT), computer-assisted instruction (CAI), internet-based training (IBT), web-based training (WBT), online education, virtual education, virtual learning environments (VLE) which are also called learning platforms, m-learning, digital educational collaboration, distributed learning, computer-mediated communication, cyber-learning, and multi-modal instruction. Every one of these numerous terms has had its advocates, who point up particular potential distinctions. In practice, as technology has advanced, the particular "narrowly defined" aspect that was initially emphasized has blended into "e-learning." As an example, "virtual learning" in a narrowly defined semantic sense implies entering the environmental simulation within a virtual world,[5][6] for example in treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[7][8] In practice, a "virtual education course" refers to any instructional course in which all, or at least a significant portion, is delivered by the Internet. "Virtual" is used in that broader way to describe a course that not taught in a classroom face-to-face but through a substitute mode that can conceptually be associated "virtually" with classroom teaching, which means that people do not have to go to the physical classroom to learn. Accordingly, virtual education refers to a form of distance learning in which course content is delivered by various methods such as course management applications, multimedia resources, and videoconferencing. Students and instructors communicate via these technologies.[9]

The worldwide e-learning industry is economically significant, and was estimated in 2000 to be over $48 billion according to conservative estimates.[10] Developments in internet and multimedia technologies are the basic enabler of e-learning, with consulting, content, technologies, services and support being identified as the five key sectors of the e-learning industry.[11] Information and communication technologies (ICT) are used extensively by young people.[12]

E-learning expenditures differ within and between countries. Finland, Norway, Belgium and Korea appear to have comparatively effective programs.[13]

Educational approach[edit]

The extent to which e-learning assists or replaces other learning and teaching approaches is variable, ranging on a continuum from none to fully online distance learning.[14][15] A variety of descriptive terms have been employed (somewhat inconsistently) to categorize the extent to which technology is used. For example, 'hybrid learning' or 'blended learning' may refer to classroom aids and laptops, or may refer to approaches in which traditional classroom time is reduced but not eliminated, and is replaced with some online learning.[16][17][18] 'Distributed learning' may describe either the e-learning component of a hybrid approach, or fully online distance learning environments.[14] Another scheme described the level of technological support as 'web enhanced', 'web supplemented' and 'web dependent'.(Sloan Commission)[citation needed]

Synchronous and asynchronous[edit]

E-learning may either be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous learning occurs in real-time, with all participants interacting at the same time, while asynchronous learning is self-paced and allows participants to engage in the exchange of ideas or information without the dependency of other participants′ involvement at the same time.

Synchronous learning refers to the exchange of ideas and information with one or more participants during the same period of time. Examples are face-to-face discussion, online real-time live teacher instruction and feedback, Skype conversations, and chat rooms or virtual classrooms where everyone is online and working collaboratively at the same time.

Asynchronous learning may use technologies such as email, blogs, wikis, and discussion boards, as well as web-supported textbooks,[19] hypertext documents, audio[20] video courses, and social networking using web 2.0. At the professional educational level, training may include virtual operating rooms.[21] Asynchronous learning is particularly beneficial for students who have health problems or have child care responsibilities and regularly leaving the home to attend lectures is difficult. They have the opportunity to complete their work in a low stress environment and within a more flexible timeframe.[22] In asynchronous online courses, students proceed at their own pace. If they need to listen to a lecture a second time, or think about a question for a while, they may do so without fearing that they will hold back the rest of the class. Through online courses, students can earn their diplomas more quickly, or repeat failed courses without the embarrassment of being in a class with younger students. Students also have access to an incredible variety of enrichment courses in online learning, and can participate in college courses, internships, sports, or work and still graduate with their class.

Both the asynchronous and synchronous methods rely heavily on self-motivation, self-discipline, and the ability to communicate in writing effectively.[citation needed]

Linear learning[edit]

Computer-based E-learning or training (CBT) refers to self-paced learning activities delivered on a computer or handheld device such as a tablet or smartphone. CBT often delivers content via CD-ROM, and typically presents content in a linear fashion, much like reading an online book or manual. For this reason, CBT is often used to teach static processes, such as using software or completing mathematical equations. Computer-based training is conceptually similar to web-based training (WBT), the primary difference being that WBTs are delivered via Internet using a web browser.

Assessing learning in a CBT is often by assessments that can be easily scored by a computer such as multiple choice questions, drag-and-drop, radio button, simulation or other interactive means. Assessments are easily scored and recorded via online software, providing immediate end-user feedback and completion status. Users are often able to print completion records in the form of certificates.

CBTs provide learning stimulus beyond traditional learning methodology from textbook, manual, or classroom-based instruction. For example, CBTs offer user-friendly solutions for satisfying continuing education requirements. Instead of limiting students to attending courses or reading printed manuals, students are able to acquire knowledge and skills through methods that are much more conducive to individual learning preferences.[citation needed] For example, CBTs offer visual learning benefits through animation or video, not typically offered by any other means.[citation needed]

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.

However, CBTs pose some learning challenges. Typically the creation of effective CBTs requires enormous resources. The software for developing CBTs (such as Flash or Adobe 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.

Collaborative learning[edit]

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) uses instructional methods designed to encourage or require students to work together on learning tasks. CSCL is similar in concept to the terminology, "e-learning 2.0" and "networked collaborative learning" (NCL).[23]

Collaborative learning is distinguishable from the traditional approach to instruction in which the instructor is the principal source of knowledge and skills. For example, the neologism "e-learning 1.0" refers to the direct transfer method in computer-based learning and training systems (CBL). In contrast to the linear delivery of content, often directly from the instructor's material, CSCL uses blogs, wikis, and cloud-based document portals (such as Google Docs and Dropbox). With technological Web 2.0 advances, sharing information between multiple people in a network has become much easier and use has increased.[24]:1 One of the main reasons for its usage states that it is "a breeding ground for creative and engaging educational endeavors."[24]:2

Using Web 2.0 social tools in the classroom allows for students and teachers to work collaboratively, discuss ideas, and promote information. According to Sendall (2008),[25] blogs, wikis, and social networking skills are found to be significantly useful in the classroom. After initial instruction on using the tools, students also reported an increase in knowledge and comfort level for using Web 2.0 tools. The collaborative tools also prepare students with technology skills necessary in today's workforce.

Locus of control remains an important consideration in successful engagement of e-learners. According to the work of Cassandra B. Whyte, the continuing attention to aspects of motivation and success in regard to e-learning should be kept in context and concert with other educational efforts. Information about motivational tendencies can help educators, psychologists, and technologists develop insights to help students perform better academically.[26]

Classroom 2.0[edit]

Classroom 2.0 refers to online multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) that connect schools across geographical frontiers. Also known as "eTwinning", computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) allows learners in one school to communicate with learners in another that they would not get to know otherwise,[27][28][29] enhancing educational outcomes and cultural integration. Examples of classroom 2.0 applications are Blogger and Skype.[30]

E-learning 2.0[edit]

E-learning 2.0 is a type of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) system that developed with the emergence of Web 2.0.[31][32] From an e-learning 2.0 perspective, conventional e-learning systems were based on instructional packets, which were delivered to students using assignments. Assignments were evaluated by the teacher. In contrast, the new e-learning places increased emphasis on social learning and use of social software such as blogs, wikis, podcasts and virtual worlds such as Second Life.[33] This phenomenon has also been referred to as Long Tail Learning[34]

E-learning 2.0, in contrast to e-learning systems not based on CSCL, assumes that knowledge (as meaning and understanding) is socially constructed. Learning takes place through conversations about content and grounded interaction about problems and actions. Advocates of social learning claim that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to others.[34]

In addition to virtual classroom environments, social networks have become an important part of E-learning 2.0. Social networks have been used to foster online learning communities around subjects as diverse as test preparation and language education.[35] Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) is the use of handheld computers or cell phones to assist in language learning. Traditional educators may not promote social networking unless they are communicating with their own colleagues.[36]

Virtual worlds for e-Learning have been amongst the first applications being deployed in clouds in order to exploit the characteristics of Cloud computing with respect to on-demand provision of resources during runtime.[citation needed]


Various types of educational technology tools and media are used to facilitate e-learning; this is discussed in that article.


Content is a core component of e-learning and includes issues such as pedagogy and learning object re-use. While there are a number of means of achieving a rich and interactive elearning platform, one option is using a design architecture composed of the “Five Types of Content in eLearning” (Clark, Mayer, 2007).[37]

Content normally comes in one of five forms:

  • Fact - unique data (e. g., symbols for Excel formula, or the parts that make up a learning objective)
  • Concept - a category that includes multiple examples (e. g., Excel formulas, or the various types/theories of Instructional Design)
  • Process - a flow of events or activities (e. g., how a spreadsheet works, or the five phases in ADDIE)
  • Procedure - step-by-step task (e. g., entering a formula into a spreadsheet, or the steps that should be followed within a phase in ADDIE)
  • Strategic Principle - task performed by adapting guidelines (e. g., doing a financial projection in a spreadsheet, or using a framework for designing learning environments)

Pedagogical elements[edit]

Pedagogical elements are defined as structures or units of educational material. They are the educational content that is to be delivered. These units are independent of format, meaning that although the unit may be delivered in various ways, the pedagogical structures themselves are not the textbook, web page, video conference, Podcast, lesson, assignment, multiple choice question, quiz, discussion group or a case study, all of which are possible methods of delivery.

Pedagogical approaches[edit]

Main article: E-learning (theory)

Various pedagogical perspectives or learning theories may be considered in designing and interacting with e-learning programs. E-learning theory examines these approaches, including social-constructivist, one application of which was One Laptop Per Child,[citation needed] Laurillard's conversational model[38] including Gilly Salmon's five-stage model,[39] and cognitive,[40] emotional,[41] behavioral,[42] and contextual perspectives.[43] In 'mode neutral' learning online and classroom learners can coexist within one learning environment, encouraging interconnectivity.[44] Self-regulated learning refers to several concepts that play major roles in e-learning. Learning courses should provide opportunities to practice these strategies and skills. Self-regulation and structured supervision[dead link] both enhance e-learning.[45]

Learning object standards[edit]

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.

Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a collection of standards and specifications that applies to certain web-based e-learning. Other specifications such as Schools Framework[dead link] allow for the transporting of learning objects, or for categorizing metadata (LOM). These standards themselves are early in the maturity process with 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.

An excellent example of e-learning that relates to knowledge management and reusability is Navy E-Learning, which is available to Active Duty, Retired, or Disable Military members. This on-line tool provides certificate courses to enrich the user in various subjects related to military training and civilian skill sets. The e-learning system not only provides learning objectives, but also evaluates the progress of the student and credit can be earned toward higher learning institutions. The Internet allows for learning to be directed at one’s current objectives.[citation needed] This reuse is an excellent example of knowledge retention and the cyclical process of knowledge transfer and use of data and records.



Various forms of electronic media are a feature of preschool life.[46] Although parents report a positive experience, the impact of such use has not been systematically assessed.[46]

The age when a given child might start using a particular technology such as a cellphone or computer might depend on matching a technological resource to the recipient's developmental capabilities, such as the age-anticipated stages labeled by Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget.[47] Parameters, such as age-appropriateness, coherence with sought-after values, and concurrent entertainment and educational aspects, have been suggested for choosing media.[48]


E-learning is utilized by public K–12 schools in the United States as well as private schools. Some e-learning environments take place in a traditional classroom, others allow students to attend classes from home or other locations. There are several states that are utilizing virtual school platforms for e-learning across the country that continue to increase. Virtual school enables students to log into synchronous learning or asynchronous learning courses anywhere there is an internet connection. Technology kits are usually provided that include computers, printers, and reimbursement for home internet use. Students are to use technology for school use only and must meet weekly work submission requirements. Teachers employed by K–12 online public schools must be certified teachers in the state they are teaching in. Online schools allow for students to maintain their own pacing and progress, course selection, and provide the flexibility for students to create their own schedule.[citation needed]

E-learning is increasingly being utilized by students who may not want to go to traditional brick and mortar schools due to severe allergies or other medical issues, fear of school violence and school bullying and students whose parents would like to homeschool but do not feel qualified.[49] Online schools create a safe haven for students to receive a quality education while almost completely avoiding these common problems. Online charter schools also often are not limited by location, income level or class size in the way brick and mortar charter schools are.[50]

E-learning also has been rising as a supplement to the traditional classroom. Students with special talents or interests outside of the available curricula use e-learning to advance their skills or exceed grade restrictions.[51] Some online institutions connects students with instructors via web conference technology to form a digital classroom. These institutions borrow many of the technologies that have popularized online courses at the university level.

National private schools are also available online. These provide the benefits of e-learning to students in states where charter online schools are not available. They also may allow students greater flexibility and exemption from state testing.

Virtual education in K-12 schooling often refers to virtual schools, and in higher education to virtual universities. Virtual schools are “cybercharter schools"[52] with innovative administrative models and course delivery technology.[52]

Higher education[edit]

Enrollments for fully online learning increased by an average of 12–14 percent annually between 2004 and 2009, compared with an average of approximately 2 per cent increase per year in enrollments overall.[53][54] Almost a quarter of all students in post-secondary education were taking fully online courses in 2008.[53] In 2009, 44 percent of post-secondary students in the USA were taking some or all of their courses online, this figure is projected to rise to 81 percent by 2014.[55] During the fall 2011 term, 6.7 million students enrolled in at least one online course.[citation needed] Over two-thirds of chief academic officers believe that online learning is critical for their institution.[citation needed] The Sloan report, based on a poll of academic leaders, indicated that students are as satisfied with on-line classes as with traditional ones.

Although a large proportion of for-profit higher education institutions now offer online classes, only about half of private, non-profit schools do so. Private institutions may become more involved with on-line presentations as the costs decrease. Properly trained staff must also be hired to work with students online.[56] 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.[57]

Although massive open online courses (MOOCs) may have limitations that preclude them from fully replacing college education,[58] such programs have significantly expanded. MIT, Stanford and Princeton University offer classes to a global audience, but not for college credit.[59] University-level programs, like edX founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, offer wide range of disciplines at no charge. MOOCs have not had a significant impact on higher education and declined after the initial expansion, but are expected to remain in some form.[60]

Private organizations also offer classes, such as Udacity, with free computer science classes, and Khan Academy, with over 3,900 free micro-lectures available via YouTube. There already is at least one counterstream to MOOC; Distributed open collaborative course or DOCC challenges the role of the Instructor, the hierarchy, the role of money and role of massiveness. DOCC recognizes that the pursuit of knowledge may be achieved better by not using a centralized singular syllabus, that expertise is distributed throughout all the participants in a learning activity, and does not just reside with one or two individuals.[61]

Coursera, an online-enrollment platform, is now offering education for millions of people around the world. A certification is consigned by Coursera for students who are able to complete an adequate performance in the course. Free online courses are administered by the website- fields like computer science, medicine, networks and social sciences are accessibly offered to pursuing students. The lectures are recorded into series of short videos discussing different topics and assignments in a weekly basis.

This virtual curriculum complement the curriculum taught in the traditional education setting by providing equality for all students, despite disability, and geographical location and socioeconomic status.

According to Fortune magazine, over a million people worldwide have enrolled in free online courses.[62]

Corporate and professional[edit]

E-learning has now been adopted and used by various companies to inform and educate both their employees and customers. Companies with large and spread out distribution chains use it to educate their sales staff about the latest product developments without the need of organizing physical onsite courses. Compliance has also been a big field of growth with banks using it to keep their staff's CPD levels up. Another area of growth is staff development, where employees can learn valuable workplace skills.

Public health[edit]

There is an important need for recent, reliable, and high-quality health information to be made available to the public as well as in summarized form for public health providers.[63] Providers have indicated the need for automatic notification of the latest research, a single searchable portal of information, and access to Grey literature.[64] The Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Library is funded by the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau to screen the latest research and develop automatic notifications to providers through the MCH Alert. Another application in public health is the development of MHealth (use of mobile telecommunication and multimedia into global public health). MHealth has been used to promote prenatal and newborn services, with positive outcomes. In addition, “Health systems have implemented mHealth programs to facilitate emergency medical responses, point-of-care support, health promotion and data collection.” [65] In low and middle income countries, MHealth is most frequently used as one-way text messages or phone reminders to promote treatment adherence and gather data.[66]


There has also been a growing interest in e-learning as a beneficial educational method for students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). With the growing popularity in e-learning among K-12 and higher education, the opportunity to take online classes is becoming increasingly important for students of all ages.[67] However, students with ADHD and special needs face different learning demands compared to the typical developing learner. This is especially significant considering the dramatic rise in ADHD diagnoses in the last decade among both children and adults. [68] Compared to the traditional face-to-face classroom, e-learning and virtual classrooms require a higher level of executive functions, which is the primary deficit associated with ADHD. [69]

Lorraine Wolf [70] lists 12 executive function skills necessary for students to succeed in postsecondary education: plan, set goals, organize, initiate, sustain attention/effort, flexibility, monitor, use feedback, structure, manage time, manage materials, and follow through. These skills, along with strong independent and self-regulated learning, are especially pronounced in the online environment and as many ADHD students suffer from a deficit in one or more of these executive functions, this presents a significant challenge and accessibility barrier to the current e-learning approach. [71] [72]

Some have noted that current e-learning models are moving towards applying a constructivism learning theory [73] that emphasizes a learner-centered environment [74] and postulates that everyone has the ability to construct their own knowledge and meaning through a process of problem solving and discovery.[75] However, some of the principles of constructivism as required for e-learning may not be appropriate for ADHD learners; these principles include active learning, self-monitoring, motivation, and strong focus.[73]

Despite the limitations, students with special needs, including ADHD, have expressed an overall enthusiasm for e-learning and have identified a number e-learning benefits, including: availability of online course notes, materials and additional resources; the ability to work at an independent pace and spend extra time spent formulating thoughtful responses in class discussions; help in understanding course lecture/content; ability to review lectures multiple times; and enhanced access to and communication with the course instructor. [76][71]

Advantages and disadvantages[edit]

Motivation There are several advantages and disadvantages with regard to motivation in e-learning.

For many students, e-learning is the most convenient way to pursue a degree in higher education. A lot of these students are attracted to a flexible, self-paced method of education to attain their degree.[citation needed] It is important to note that many of these students could be working their way through college, supporting themselves or battling with serious illness.[citation needed] To these students, it would be extremely difficult to find time to fit college in their schedule. Thus, these students are more likely and more motivated to enroll in an e-learning class.[citation needed] Moreover, in asynchronous e-learning classes, students are free to log on and complete work any time they wish. They can work on and complete their assignments at the times when they think most cogently, whether it be early in the morning or late at night.[71]

However, many teachers have a harder time keeping their students engaged in an e-learning class.[citation needed] A disengaged student is usually an unmotivated student, and an engaged student is a motivated student.[citation needed] One reason why students are more likely to be disengaged is that the lack of face-to-face contact makes it difficult for teachers to read their students' nonverbal cues,[71] including confusion, boredom or frustration. These cues are helpful to a teacher in deciding whether to speed up, introduce new material, slow down or explain a concept in a different way. If a student is confused, bored or frustrated, he or she is unlikely to be motivated to succeed in that class.[citation needed]

Other advantages and disadvantages[edit]

Key advantages of e-learning include:

  • Improved open access to education, including access to full degree programs[77]
  • Better integration for non-full-time students, particularly in continuing education,[77]
  • Improved interactions between students and instructors,[78]
  • Provision of tools to enable students to independently solve problems,[78]
  • Acquisition of technological skills through practice with tools and computers.[citation needed]
  • No age-based restrictions on difficulty level, i.e. students can go at their own pace.
  • Is cost effective.[citation needed]
  • Helps students to develop self-discipline.[citation needed]

Key disadvantages of e-learning, that have been found to make learning less effective than traditional class room settings, include:

  • Ease of cheating,[citation needed]
  • Bias towards tech-savvy students over non-technical students.
  • Asynchronic communication hinders fast exchange of question.[citation needed]
  • Danger of procrastination.
  • Unforeseen technical difficulties may impede learning.

See also[edit]


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