E-learning (a major subcomponent of the broader term “distance learning”) is one of the tools with which education can be delivered at a distance, electronically. However, today e-learning is not just reserved for geographically-dispersed learners, but instead is now widely used on campuses all over the world with students who do meet regularly. There are many definitions and terms used which are often substituted for e-learning, such as “distance education,” “distributed learning,” “remote education,” but those terms today have little in common. For instance, in the 1990’s the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) defined distance learning as education in which “the teacher and the student are separated geographically so that face-to-face communication is absent; communication is accomplished instead by one or more technological media, most often electronic” (AAUP, 1999). Although we often thought of e-learning and distance education to be synonymous, they are no more. A more accurate and contemporary definition of e-learning would allow for the occasional face-to-face encounter between teacher and student, both physically and electronically, along with the requirements of the teacher and student(s) separated at a distance, where technology is needed to bridge that gap. An elegant definition of e-learning might therefore be that posed by Holmes and Gardner (2006): “online access to learning resources, anywhere and anytime”. E-learning implies that the learning is delivered via Internet technology to overcome the barriers of place and time. Today, however, e-learning offers many other important opportunities for the enrichment of teaching and learning through virtual environments for the delivery, exploration, and application of new knowledge. E-learning allows for such things as cost saving, specialization not typically available on a traditional campus, and a platform where students can get training according to their particular learning styles and in a format and time frame suited to their needs.
The Role For E-Learning
There are many categories of students, such as the traditional on-campus student, off-campus student, corporate trainee, and the lifelong learner, and each category is benefiting from the relatively new capabilities of e-learning. Disadvantaged learners and those with special disabilities are a growing part of the group labeled e-learners. A center in New Delhi, for instance, has brought e-learning to more than 2 million blind children (Erdelen, 2003). The European Union estimates that by 2050, 37% of the population in Europe will be over 60, and that a large portion of those people will have failing eyesight and will also benefit greatly from e-learning technologies (EU, 2006).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI): Teaching process in which the learning environment is enhanced with the use of a computer
Computer-Managed Instruction (CMI): Teaching and tracking process in which the learning environment is enhanced with the use of a computer
Synchronous: Communication in which interaction between participants is simultaneous
Distance Learning: The outcome of Web-based or distance education
Computer-Mediated Education (CME): The developed and still-evolving powerful and sophisticated hypermedia computer tools
E-Learning: Online access to learning resources, anywhere and anytime
Asynchronous: Communication between parties in which the interaction does not take place simultaneously
Distance Education: The process of providing instruction at a distance, including the occasional face-to-face encounter between teacher and student, where technology (i.e., voice, video, data, and print) is used to bridge that gap
Fully-Interactive Video (Two-Way Interactive Video): The interaction between two sites with audio and video