What is e-learning? A Complete Guide

eLearning is changing. And, we will see new models, new technologies and designs emerge. So, let’s drop the “e” – or at least give it a new and wider definition.”

Elliot Masie

Here are the topics covered in this article:

What is the definition of e-learning?

e-learning is defined as the process that encompasses the user journey or the learner’s journey through the information as well as through the medium(digital) that the information is being delivered. It pairs them together to make sure that the best result is delivered.

History and evolution of e-learning

Believe it or not, e-learning has started with Youtube and Wikipedia. They are the pioneers and contributed towards the whole revolution of e-learning. At some point in time, not that long ago,  we had Encarta, which was a digital multimedia encyclopedia by Microsoft. It used to come in a CD-ROM or DVD but you could also access it on the World Wide Web. Encarta was used to watch informative videos, content, maps, atlases, illustrations, etc.

It was kind of an encyclopedia that was put on a digital medium and it wasn’t until later when people started to see the use of forums and then the use of shared websites and shared knowledge through Wikipedia. Then, moving onwards, YouTube came and people started to use it as a teaching tool. After that, a lot of e-learning platforms started to pop up and what we have seen is that’s only accelerated and started 20 years ago and it’s never stopped. 

Now more than ever we feel the need for e-learning because, we are in an ever-evolving digital world and the fact that users are having greater accessibility to these sorts of resources, is transformational for the e-learning industry as well as for the training industry.

Nowadays, because of e-learning, you wouldn’t even need to go to university to pursue higher education. What you have to learn is now available digitally. You have courses available online from Stanford, MIT, and other top universities that you can do at the comfort of your home.

3 Major types of e-learning and tools used for:

  1. Synchronous
  2. Asynchronous 
  3. Blended

Synchronous e-learning

Synchronous learning is primarily learning in real-time. Synchronous being that you have to be there at the same time and you have to be there at the same time the instructor is online or the teacher or the person delivering your program  A good example of this would be audio or video conferencing. There are a lot of tools that you can use for audio and video conferencing. But one of the easiest and most commonly used ones is Zoom.

Zoom

Zoom is an excellent place to have a live classroom and where you can have a real-time conversation with students all over the world. Students can talk back and ask questions, just like a regular classroom.

Zoom has some amazing features such as, Raise your Hand, whiteboard, poll feature, breakout sessions, collaborative tools that can be controlled by the teacher, and the ability for attendees to chat with each other through a built-in chat window.

Slack for online education

Another good example of Synchronous type of learning is the online chat platform. This is just somewhere that you and your students can chat back and forth with each other. One of the most popular software for this is Slack.

With Slack, you can not only exchange text messages, but you can also able to share PDFs, links, online learning materials, and interact all in one spot.

Webinar– WebinarJam

The Webinars are popular under Synchronous type of learning. This is a synchronous type of learning because again, it is live and you’re interacting directly with other students.

A lot of times in a webinar, you can set it up so that the students can be active only in the chat, or you can have them active on the webcam, by turning on the mic and video, and have a live conference.

You’ll notice the webinar style is very popular when you’re doing a workshop. Online workshops are one of the features of Synchronous e-learning.

Now, there are thousands of platforms that you can use for a webinar. But one of the more popular ones is WebinarJam

Virtual Whiteboard– Google Jamboard

Virtual Whiteboard helps collaborate learners and can be used in both Synchronous and Asynchronous learning environments.

The one very popular online whiteboard is Google Jamboard. If you haven’t played with Jamboard, it can be a lot of fun, and I suggest you check it out.

You can also check out Google Sheets and Google Docs. All of this is a Synchronous style of learning because you’re working in real-time with your students. You could get them either on a call or in a chat room and have them working at the exact same time you are.

Instant Messaging– Zoho Cliq

If you’re live in the world today, you know about instant messaging apps, and you must have one.

Instead of mentioning the common ones, I’m going to mention one that you may not know about, and it’s called Zoho Cliq.

If you want to have more of a private instant messenger just for your class, I suggest not having them on Whatsapp, Facebook, or one of the common ones where students going to get distracted.

With Zoho Cliq, you can set up a chat room just for your class and schedule any meeting at a certain time. It is a great way to interact with students.

Asynchronous e-learning

Asynchronous means you don’t have to be there at the same time, you can carry it around with you, you can download it, it’s pre-recorded. This is more self-paced by the learner. These are the ones you’re probably more familiar with when it comes to online courses.

Learning Management System

It is where students can go in at any time, open the material and learn on their time at their hours and at their own pace.

Discussion forums and message boards

A great reason to use message boards or forums is, this is easily searchable by topic. Students can go in when they have a chance, they can ask questions of other students and it creates a community.

Falling in the same area, are discussion groups. They kind of blend over into each other. The most common example of this is a Facebook group. But if all your students are on Facebook, or you want to host it on your own website, an example might be Discourse.

Discourse allows a lot of the same features that you would expect in a discussion group. You can provide moderators, you can invite people in and keep it private. And because it’s separate from a social media platform, it’s a way for your students to stay focused on the work instead of getting distracted by all the beings and bangs of what’s going on the other platforms.

Email course

Now, an email course you would think would be Synchronous, because of the fact that you usually drip out the content. But it’s also Asynchronous because you don’t control when that person opens the content. An automated email course actually does fall into Asynchronous because it allows students to open and read that email when they have time.

Blog

Most people think of a blog as something that everybody can access. But there are also websites that let you set up private pages that are password-protected. In this way, only those who have the required password can access the content on a particular blog/website. Students can sign in and read the blog post when it’s convenient for them.

Blended type of e-learning

Blended is just like it sounds. It is a combination of both Synchronous and Asynchronous learning. This is a type of course design, where the creator has to ask himself several questions like:

  • Are there going to be a lot of questions? In that case, you’re going to need some synchronous.
  • Are students in a lot of different time zones all over the world? In that case, you’re going to need some asynchronous.
  • Do you need to give a lot of feedback on topics? Are you going to be evaluating or reviewing things? In these cases, you need a synchronous.
  • How broad is the topic? This could go a lot of different directions, and people may not need every bit of it. In that case, you may want an asynchronous so that they could skip around.

A good Learning Management System will include a lot of these features of Synchronous and Asynchronous. This saves the time of the course creator by trying to get all these different factors to work together. So once you sat down and designed, the idea of how you want your course to be, go and look for your LMS system after that, so that you can find the most features that are going to match the way you want to teach.

Top 10 features of e-learning:

  1. You can learn at your own pace.
  2. No geographical barriers or restrictions.
  3. E-learning resources are available 24/7 anytime, anywhere.
  4. Through E-learning, the routine is very flexible.
  5. You can take instant feedback by taking online assessments such as quizzes and tests.
  6. E-learning increases the retention and learning ability of students with the use of videos, images, interactive live sessions, gamification, etc.
  7. E-learning is cost-effective.
  8. E-learning follows the environmentally friendly approach by eliminating the use of pens, papers, and transportation.
  9. E-learning gives rise to easy collaboration, discussion, and the sharing of ideas digitally.
  10. E-learning is easy as compared to traditional learning.

Advantages of e-learning

There are a lot of advantages or benefits of e-learning. The benefits that e-learning provides to students largely depend upon the type of technology available today. Technology plays a central role in the advancement of e-learning, so without good technology, e-learning doesn’t happen. Some of the major advantages of e-learning are:

Study anytime, anywhere, anyplace (3A’s)

You get the advantage of 3A’s from e-learning which is without going to school or the library, you can sit anywhere with a laptop or a tablet and study at a suitable time. The only thing you need is a good internet connection.

Affordability and Huge Selection

E-learning is now getting cheaper than ever. The number of e-learning providers offering online courses is rising rapidly. It results in a lower cost and a wide range of course selections. You can learn online for free as well by watching informative videos on YouTube and other video streaming platforms.

The number of online courses you see in a particular category is also increasing rapidly. Thus, for instance, you can see multiple online courses under the category of digital marketing such as social media marketing course, SEO course, Data Analytics course, etc.

Learn from the best

By e-learning, you can take courses from some of the best in the industry. There are university professors, researchers, entrepreneurs, top industrialists, etc sharing their valuable experience through online teaching. This is hard to see in the traditional type of learning which is delivered at physical places like schools, universities, etc.

Easy revision

Most online courses can be saved or downloaded in order to revise or relearn in the future. You can download course videos, exercises, pdf files, audio files, and other e-learning resources so that you can refer them whenever necessary.

Save time, money, and resources

Education through e-learning is not only effective but also efficient in saving time, money, and other resources such as energy. You don’t have to travel anywhere to get an education, you can take an online course remotely without any physical contact. It saves your time and money on things like traveling, stationery expenditure, etc.

Disadvantages of e-learning

E-learning has no significant disadvantages as long as technology is efficient. The disadvantages are primarily originated from the side of students’ motivation, dearth of creativeness, health problems, technology availability, and no use for the disabled.

Absence of motivation

In the case of the traditional type of learning, where the teacher or instructor has the control to guide and motivate students to learn. But in the e-learning scenario, the entire power comes to students. The student decides whether he/she should take the online class or not. Many times, students become careless by not giving enough attention to e-learning or online classes because of the lack of motivation for study.

Solution

Child psychologists recommend parents to:

  • Set routine for kids/students.
  • Include offline activities
  • Ask how they’re feeling
  • Teach them about privilege, diversity

Kills creativity to some extent

E-learning results in a lack of creativeness in students. Because most of the time there is only one-way interaction happens where the instructor speaks and students only watch the video. Creativity doesn’t take place inside the four walls, it comes off in the environment where the student collaborate, participate, and exchange ideas with others in a physical place.

Solution

Child psychologists recommend teachers to:

  • Conduct shorter online classes.
  • Make classes interactive and creative.
  • Take feedback from students individually as to how they’re feeling.
  • Educate students on how to build resilience.

Health-related issues

Prolonged e-learning can result in stress, depression, weak eye-sight, mood disorder, and other medical concerns. This is because the student cannot have enough fun with learning and they miss that enjoyment that takes place only in the regular traditional type of learning.

Solution

What online learning platforms can do:

  • Include more mental-health-friendly features on the e-learning platform.
  • Building internal wellbeing apps.
  • Add fewer performance-measuring features.

Lack of Social skills

Social skills such as effective communication both verbal and non-verbal, active listening, empathy, cooperation, conflict resolution, making connections or relationships, etc are not the basis of e-learning. E-learning out-turn poor academic and social skill development because of less peer interaction and intercommunication.

Solution

  • Teachers should involve students more in one-on-one communication and q&a sessions.
  • Teachers can organize one-on-one virtual playdates that will enrich the whole e-learning experience and turned it more enjoyable. 
  • Students themselves look for opportunities to work together on different online tasks, exercises, and projects

No use for disabled

E-learning has negative impacts on students who are blind, deaf, and dumb. There are very limited provisions for students with disabilities. The one reason is that technology is not developed as much to provide better learning to these special people. According to the Association on Higher Education and Disability, disabled students were having hard times with online learning in terms of communication with teachers, accessing the e-learning platform and course materials, and handling overall technology.

Solution

  • Special attention should be provided to disabled students.
  • Improve focus on technological development by adding more features and innovative tools that can help in transferring their actual thoughts onto the computer system.
  • Instructors can foster a sense of motivation and try to help to unleash their inner potential. 

Final Words: Future of e-learning

As the world continues to grow with certain ground-breaking technologies, the future of the e-learning industry is as bright as the sun. The adoption of e-learning by students and people in many organizations is growing at a rapid pace. Market research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc. estimated the growth of the e-learning industry to touch $107 Billion in 2015 and it happened. Now, Research and Markets, the world’s leading market research firm, estimated global e-learning to rise to $325 Billion by 2025.

The major e-learning players that can help fuel this growth can be Coursera, Udemy, edX, FutureLearn, LinkedIn (Microsoft), and more. You can see the full list here: E-learning Market – Global Outlook and Forecast 2020-2025

The other reason for e-learning growth and massive adoption of it is because of the COVID-19 crisis. Coronavirus pandemic has a significant impact on the global e-learning industry. Mostly, every educational institution has adopted e-learning practices into their teaching system. Covid has not changed anything rather it has accelerated the progress towards digital learning and in general our digital transformation process as humanity. It just has pushed us to a faster speed towards e-learning.

In the future, more and more technologies will be started integrated with e-learning like Augmented reality, Artificial intelligence, the Internet of things(IoT), Cloud computing, Virtual laboratories, and 3-D printing. These technologies will not only enhance the quality of online education but also the overall online learning environment for both students and instructors.