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A Brief Orientation to E-learning
2009, Q2 (September 29, 2009)
By Julia Hall, Carolina Chapter Member

Julia Hall
Julia Hall

What is E-learning?

E-learning is a general term that refers to education delivered using various forms of digital media such as the internet, video conferencing, audio, animation, and virtual environments. A course delivered using these tools, combined with face-to-face learning from an instructor, is referred to as blended learning.

The Evolution of E-learning

The first courses within a college were offered online for credit in 1983 at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A 2006-2007 survey by the U.S. New E-Learning Guide showed that The University of Phoenix had the most online students enrolled with 196,140 students taking 770 online courses. The survey's second-ranking school was the University of Maryland-University College with 40,009 students enrolled in 691 courses. Today, e-learning allows U.S. servicemen to study from their posts overseas. Students at Tulane University continued their studies online after the school was closed due to Hurricane Katrina.

Not only are today's courses delivered online, but students can use an instructor's daily or weekly blog to get assignments, notes, changes in schedule or a syllabus. Students can email or text message their instructors to ask questions and set up meeting times. They can also:
  • Take notes on PDAs or laptop computers to be added to study material later.
  • Email completed work to their instructors.
  • Log on to secure sites to check grades.

E-learning Deliverables

The success of e-learning depends on the quality of its content and delivery. It is packaged to be self-paced and hands-on for the learner. As with traditional classroom instruction, the course can seem monotonous and boring without some interactivity. The variety of software available for e-learning draws in the learner for a very effective educational experience. Learning that is more fun is usually more interesting and effective. It engages various portions of the brain and helps the student to retain the information more thoroughly.

There are several levels of e-learning, from basic to advanced. Three types are:
  • Knowledge databases. A basic form of e-learning, knowledge databases provide online help when learning software products. They inform the learner about the product features and how to use them.
  • Online support. Online support includes forums, chat rooms, online bulletin boards, email or instant messaging. Online support is slightly more interactive than a knowledge database and gets more immediate results.
  • Asynchronous training. A common delivery method for online courses, asynchronous training allows the learner complete control over the pace and timing of the course. The learner initiates each study session using online bulletin boards, discussion groups, and email. These tools are used to interact with the instructor or simply access information for independent study.

The Motivated E-learner

A motivated learner retains information, and elements of fun added to a course motivate the learner to become immersed in the material. Effective e-learning involves using a variety of content. Content that contains images, sounds, and text helps the learner retain the material. Playing a game or taking a quiz gives needed feedback that also aids in retaining the material. The opportunity to interact with the instructor or community of learners adds to the success of the e-learning course.

One technique used in e-learning is called gaming.
One technique used in e-learning is called gaming. Gaming takes elements of video games and incorporates them into the learning experience. For example, after studying the concepts of a course, learners can play a game that has dramatic results when they make a mistake. They learn from their mistakes and will not likely repeat them in a real-world setting. The self-paced quality of e-learning motivates the learner, because he will not have to travel to the classroom site and can tackle the material at a time and setting convenient for the learner. This opens the course to a wider range of people than only those who can travel to a classroom. This cuts down on travel expenses and time for travel taken away from work or family.

More Advantages to E-learning

Other advantages to online course delivery include:
  • An online course allows the student to move quickly through material he already knows or, conversely, to review material again if needed. Neither of these is possible in a lecture hall.
  • E-learning delivers a consistent message that can be compromised when a course is taught by more than one instructor.
  • Updating the material is easier and less costly than reprinting books.

Considerations for Designers of E-learning

Planning for the right audience is critical to e-learning, so the course objectives are met. Any limitations of the audience in knowledge, technology, or hardware available influence the delivery method. Information should be chunked in a way that is meaningful to the audience, with navigation that is carefully planned and easy to use.

Considerations for Students Before Enrolling in E-learning

Those interested in taking an e-learning course should be aware of several cautions before registering for a class or program:
  • Research the course thoroughly to make sure it is offered by an accredited school.
  • Make sure you have the required technology.
  • Be able to complete the registration requirements for enrolling.

Source: Lee Ann Obringer, “How E-learning Works.”

Julia can be reached at julia at dancingpaper dot com. End of article.

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