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E-Learning: An Introduction
Do you remember how you started learning as a kid?
It must have involved packing your bags to go to a classroom where a teacher would teach you from a pre-set syllabus. There was very little if any deviation from this kind of a prescriptive teaching pedagogy. In fact, the general education model until the 2000s followed a similar approach to impart knowledge.
The arrival of the Internet marked a new era for education by simplifying the process of research and learning for both teachers and students alike. The concept of e-learning developed as a result of the rise of the Internet and has now been been around for quite a few years. However, now with the evolution of technology solutions such as Learning Management Systems, Immersive and interactive content as well as gamified learning, the space is seeing rapid changes and steady widespread adoption.
History of E-Learning:
Distance courses were the first form of non-physical learning. The best example of this is the shorthand course given by Isaac Pitman over letters in the 1840s. This later became a popular way of writing, adopted by secretaries and journalists. The process of sending work and submitting assignments through mail also set the path for later forms of non-physical learning.
The first-ever virtual classroom was created in the 1960s by scientists from the University of Illinois by interlinking multiple computer terminals. The computer-based training program (CBT program) was called Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO). With the emergence of the internet and associated technologies, e-learning took on a more structured form. Online-only courses began only after the 1980s and in the 1990s it was possible to earn a degree without the presence of physical professors. The term “e-learning” was first coined in 1998.
E-learning has been booming ever since. In fact, the e-learning approach adopted by companies saw a surge of about 900% between 2001 and 2017. Where there were only 4% of companies adopting e-learning in 1995, the percentage grew to a whopping 77% in 2011.
Today, schools, colleges, and other educational institutions around the world have started including the scope of e-learning in their agendas. E-learning has also become an effective medium of disseminating higher education.
Even businesses adopt e-learning to provide training to their employees. This has helped both freshers and veteran employees to update their industry knowledge and sharpen their skills. Several tools and technologies have reduced the costs of education and helped create a seamless system of knowledge delivery to a wider audience.
For example, a study by Dr Abdullah Falleh Algahtani in 2011 found a wide usage of e-learning in Saudi Arabian universities through three distinct models adjunct, blended e-learning, and online.
What is E-learning?
E learning can be defined as “a learning system that we can obtain through the internet using an electronic device”. Here the ‘e’ refers to ‘electronic’; hence, the full form of e-learning is electronic learning. Other terms used to describe e-learning are online learning or online training, where the term ‘online’ refers to an internet connection or “through the use of the Internet.”
In e-learning, the course materials are shared in various forms such as videos, presentations, word documents, or PDFs. E-learning also uses several tools such as e-learning systems or Learning Management Systems (LMS) for applying different methodologies. There are free and paid courses, along with several forms of evaluation such as tests, scores, and grades which help you earn a degree, award, or certificate.
The rise in use of mobile technologies has also made e-learning much more simplified and accessible.
Types of E-Learning
This is when the students and instructors interact with each other in real-time, although they are in different geographical locations. In synchronous learning or real-time learning, the learning resources are distributed via mobile, video conference, or online chatting. Real-time learning helps with providing the learners an opportunity to place their doubts and the respective answers of the instructors, instantly. With present internet bandwidth capacity and improved technology, this is becoming a preferred choice of learning.
Some of the different learning options in synchronous e-learning are:
- Virtual classroom
- Internet chat
- Audio/Video conferencing
- Instant messaging
In this case, the courses are self-paced and can be completed at the convenience of the student. The students and instructors don’t interact in real-time in this case. The students can pause and resume the courses whenever they feel like. The learning resources here can be in the form of blogs, CDs, DVDs, forums, and eBooks. This form of learning suits various learners since they have the option to finish the courses in their preferred time without hampering their daily schedules.
The different learning options in this case are:
- Self-paced online courses
- Online forums
- Message boards
Whichever type you choose, here are the advantages and disadvantages of e-learning that you will have to consider versus a classroom setting. Let’s take a look at them.
Advantages of E-learning
The fact that you can have access to courses anywhere and anytime is one of the biggest advantages of e-learning. The courses can be accessed from smartphones, desktop, or tablet from a train, plane, or a hotel. You can also refer to them whenever you have a doubt or question. This convenience of learning makes it one of the most preferred choices. Another aspect of this is that since these courses are self-paced, every individual can complete them at their own schedules without bothering about anybody else. This is great since you can time your courses to achieve maximum retention and not overwhelm yourself with a lot of knowledge at once.
They are truly easy on your pocket. This may not seem apparent at the first go, since there are a number of paid courses too. However, if you consider the amount you save by not having to pay for sundry expenses such as travel and stationery, then it can add up to a lot. Moreover, the courses can be explored more than once when bought, which saves the cost of having to pay for a refresher course again. Also, the reach of these is far more those of physical classrooms. By being online, these courses can help save on a huge amount of printing costs. In fact, compared to traditional learning, e-learning is found to be 50-70% cheaper.
Every individual has a different learning pace and retention level. While some people are comfortable learning through notes, some are comfortable through videos. Since e-learning courses are created using various content forms and have resources in various formats, it fits everyone’s individual learning curve and helps them learn in their own way. There are various forms of activities such as assessments, quizzes, and case studies which helps to keep learners engaged. It can also happen that some individuals grasp a certain portion in one go while others need to go through it multiple times. The self-paced characteristic of e-learning courses means that it can match the learning style of every individual.
Another important advantage of e-learning is that learners get immediate feedback on their work. Instructors are also able to find out which courses are performing well and the individual progress of the people who take the courses. It also saves the manual effort to evaluate each and every work aspect. Feeding the correct answers in the system will automatically lead to the grading and evaluation of students.
From an instructor point of view, it becomes superbly easy to analyse the desired results. Since many instructors invest in online e-learning courses, as part of their business goals, it’s easy for them to track the results of the courses. With the data available, it’s easy to measure the effectiveness of the courses, and the performance of the users. There are several other parameters to measure such as course completion percentage, forum interactions, and overall grades. This can help course organisers to keep on updating and upgrading the course materials and features.
E-learning courses are a great way to increase the productivity of employees, since they help you stay updated on the current industry processes. Since they’re easily accessible, they can be helpful for all employees freshers and veterans. Moreover, you don’t encroach on your work-time to finish these because they can be completed at any point in time. New employees can also access these whenever they want. The courses can also be updated anytime to keep up with the changing market scenarios.
One of the foremost advantages of e-learning courses are their quick delivery of information and knowledge. Compared to the cumbersome process of traditional classroom teaching, e-learning has faster delivery cycles since they are easy to develop. Moreover, the time required to grasp and retain the courses is also 25%-60% less than that of traditional learning. There are several reasons for the shorter duration of the course they can be wrapped in a single session, self-paced helps keep them bite-sized, does away with travel time, individuals can select specific focus areas instead of the entire course.
The distribution power of e-learning courses are one of its plus points. They reach a wider audience, while ensuring the courses are available at all times. As compared to traditional learning where classroom training can be unpredictable and inconsistent, e-learning courses have an added advantage. This is because physical attendance is not required for these courses, thus saving on the travel time. This makes creating the courses and gasping them extremely consistent.
E-learning has also been found to increase the profitability of employees. Adopting these courses in the training agendas of companies helps keep employees up to date on the latest industry knowledge and skills which increases the profitability of the business. For example, a survey conducted on 2,500 companies has revealed that “comprehensive training programs” have resulted in 218% higher revenue per employee and 24% higher profit margins.
When it comes to manual training and workshops, there is a lot of on-ground administrative work that is involved. E-learning reduces the need for the piles of cumbersome admin work and simplifies the entire process. It’s easy to create modules, allocate courses and assignments to employees, keep track of their progress, and evaluate them. Moreover, it also helps keep an organised record of all the projects, courses, assignments, results, and employee registrations. This makes e-learning a much more efficient system of training as compared to classroom-based training.
21st-century businesses are technologically advanced and comprise advanced processes and functions. Thus the training component in these businesses should also be fast and advanced. Most employees are active on smartphones, laptops, and cloud services. E-learning helps bring training to these platforms from desks and classrooms. Leveraging these technologies to offer training to employees helps save time, cost, and increases the convenience of learning.
Not all skills can be learnt through videos or slides. It requires teamwork and active participation from all employees. This is where e-learning comes in. It creates a platform for all employees to come together and co-learn certain aspects such as pilots, machine learning, or practical implementation. E-learning can comprise of various aspects such as gamification and simulations that can increase the interaction between employees and create an exciting learning environment.
Some courses require additional inputs from industry experts. E-learning helps live facilitation and support, that is possible with its flexible approach. In classroom training, experts would have to visit every time to offer their support involving extensive travelling time and costs. E-learning can do away with all of that by making expert inputs available within the course or separately through video conferencing. Moreover, several features such as FAQ sections, forums, and webinars help in keeping an effective database of past issues and solutions. The learners can access these at any point of time without the physical support of experts.
There can be several learners of a specific branch, topic, or field across the world. While traditional learning intends to bring all of them into one classroom, e-learning intends to bring them together into one platform irrespective of their physical locations. It also helps make learning a social exercise by bringing all learners together on an online platform. Learning solo from a book isn’t as rewarding as learning from peers through experience. Creating a community of like-minded learners can help create an environment of debates, discussions, questions, and resolutions. Rather than an individual journey, e-learning makes it a common process which improves retention and joy of learning.
There can be several organisations spread all over the globe with multiple employees, departments, and branches. Creating unified classroom training for all of them can be a challenging experience. E-learning offers an easy resolution to this problem by creating a unified platform to conduct training for all entities. It can help bring remote workers and dispersed teams together with the help of a standardised training program.
Considering the present times, e-learning is an effective way to prevent a burden on the environment. Traditional learning methods involve lots of paperwork. E-learning is a paperless form of learning that helps protect the environment. A study revealed that the e-learning approach took up 90% less power and generated 85% fewer carbon emissions as compared to the traditional learning approach.
Cons of E-Learning
E-learning has changed the education system in a major way and ushered in a new and exciting way to learn. However, there are some areas in which it falls short. Below are some of the disadvantages of e-learning:
Traditional learning methods involved an active form of learning where you had to physically travel to a classroom and take part in the learning process. Although it was a cumbersome process, however, it accounted for a greater amount of involvement. E-learning is a self-paced form of learning where you can start, pause, and stop your courses at anytime. You can even revisit the courses as many times as you want. While this offers a lot of freedom, it also hampers the self-discipline of learning. It’s easy to get lenient on completing the course and pass it off as another task to complete or things to do. This can diminish the priority to learn and you can keep on avoiding it for a long time. So, the impersonal and passive feature of e-learning courses can be a deterrent for some.
E-learning is a great asset for gathering specific skill sets. In fact, for theoretical knowledge, the medium is ideal. However, it can be difficult to create e-learning courses or programmes for complex skills that require learning by ‘doing’. This becomes possible only during live training sessions conducted with instructors and students who are physically present.
Lack of face-to-face interactions
Even though e-learning consists of several options for one-on-one interactions through video conferencing or chats, however, it doesn’t make up for the lack of face-to-face interactions which help building social skills and team building skills essential to every leadership role.
From an instructor point-of-view, it takes a lot of money, time, and expertise to create a good e-learning course. Coming up with a comprehensive e-learning course material that contains diverse content formats, web development, and technical support requires a lot of time and resources.
While the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for traditional learning are well defined, the same for e-learning is still evolving. It takes a lot of effort to make changes to fully developed materials. Moreover, with a change in business goals and market shifts, the courses can become obsolete. This makes all the efforts and resources put into creating an entire course go to waste.
E-Learning for Corporate Training
Among the many prospects of e-learning, one of the use cases that shows massive adoption involves using it for corporate training. The advent of e-learning has transformed how organisations impart training and development to their new recruits.
Previously, global companies that have several branches all over the world, used to find it difficult to assemble all their staff together for classroom-based training sessions. E-learning has resolved this logistical difficulty by making it possible for the companies to conduct training for their employees in different geographical locations.
The benefits of e-learning in the workplace is undoubted. So it’s not a surprise that several corporate giants are incorporating e-learning into their training agendas. As per a market study by Technavio, the corporate e-learning market is expected to reach an expected CAGR of 11.4% during the 2016-2020 period and expected revenue of USD 31 billion by the end of 2020.
Corporate training has been an integral part of the organisational process for a long time. With e-learning, it has become easier to enforce it with more flexibility and less time and resources. It has also helped C-level personnel identify skill-gaps and meet them effectively with digital solutions. With fast-paced technological advancements changing the market scenario each day, e-learning has become a prerequisite for staying abreast with the changing needs of corporate training.
Most of the e-learning approach adopted in the corporate world is regulated by the 70/20/10 rule developed by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Robert Eichinger at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. As per the rule, the learning and development approach should include 70% internal and experience-based learning, 20% interaction and collaboration-based learning, and 10% formal learning.
Here are the ways in which the 70/20/10 rule can be implemented in corporate training through e-learning:
Nothing beats hands-on experience in the work field. It’s one of the best methods to learn and retain what you learn. Putting yourself in real-life work situations and trying to improve your analysis skills can help you sharpen your decision-making power, something which formal education can rarely do.
The present learning programmes utilise both internal and external tools for training employees. For example, the Playground learning experience created by Apple and Google’s open learning courses are useful tools to train employees.
Internal training with online tools
Online training courses can be used to impart internal training too. For example, the European Voluntary Service uses an online platform to teach volunteers languages with the help of interactive content such as videos and chats.
Open source platforms
Having certificates from online courses can give your resumes an added advantage. Not only does it exhibit your willingness to learn, but also your enthusiasm to take the initiative. Many companies even suggest courses to complete before applying. Open source platforms are a great resource to self-learn new topics in your industry. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW) is a great resource for advancing your knowledge in various fields.
Several companies also set up online libraries available to employees which offer them access to a host of applications, tools, and tips.
The newest addition to e-learning tools are chatbots. They are great solutions for creating interactive content. They can be used not only for tracking the progress of assignments but also testing employee comprehension and what additional material needs to be created to aid it. It’s also possible to time the chatbots specifically to meet individual student needs.
There are several forms of e-learning that can be employed for corporate training, these include:
This type of training is dispersed through web browsers or the company Intranet. The self-paced training modules can be accessed by learners whenever they want. The content formats are user-friendly too since they are in the form of videos, animations, and audios.
In this type of training, the courses are available online. The learners can complete the courses at their own pace and are given grades instantly by the computer tracking system. It also allows instructors to track the progress of individual and group learners.
Webinars use video conferencing software to deliver workshops and training. The advantage of this type of training is that it can be delivered to any size of groups along with the option to brainstorm together and share documents with each other.
In this type of learning, instructors and learners log in from various geographical areas from remotely into a form of a virtual classroom to attend the training. It’s a form of synchronous e-learning which uses various tools such as web conferencing and video conferencing. It doesn’t need learners to travel to the training location, thus saving a lot of money and time.
In this form of learning, learners access courses via mobile devices from anywhere and at any time. For example, this is ideal for sales representatives to quickly jog their memory about a product before going on a client meeting. The adoption of mobile learning is on the rise. As per stats, around 67% of US organisations offered mobile learning opportunities to their employees in 2017.
Here instructors and learners interact together either through offline or online methods. This involves both asynchronous and synchronous e-learning approaches. While some employees learn with live interactions, others do so by accessing forums, discussions, FAQs, sand chats.
Also known as off-the-shelf e-learning, this involves already developed and ready-to-use courses, translated in multiple languages, to meet all employee training requirements. They are ideal for small training departments since they are cost-effective and are ready to meet urgent training requirements.
Lastly, you can create your own types of courses and use your own training methods to meet your specific company or business goals. This doesn’t require licenses and can be delivered with minimum system requirements. Moreover, they can also be suited to meet the specific requirements of learners and the goals of the organisation. Since it chooses the content types based on the learner’s needs, they can help learners learn and retain more.
E-Learning in the Educational Sector
E-learning has made higher education accessible via web and online technologies. It has helped bridge the gap between teachers and students in different geographical locations. In fact, the effectiveness of e-learning in education lies in infusing technology in teaching pedagogy and making educational content and administration accessible online.
The onset of computer-based or digital training tools such as online course materials, forums, discussion boards, chats, online assignments, and assessments have replaced the soft board, blackboard, chalk and physical classrooms.
The role of e-learning in modern education is unparalleled. Not only has it transcended the logistics of travel, but also made it possible to cater to the needs and preferences of students. It also helps in providing everyone with equal access to all resources, course materials, and expert inputs of teachers.
E-learning in higher education has its humble roots in the 1960s. This was when a couple of Stanford professors experimented with computers to train some elementary school students in maths and reading in California. While earlier e-learning approaches was mainly a rehash of traditional classroom learning methods and focused merely on making study materials available online, later ones were based on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) which looked towards a more collaborative approach. Today, many public K-12 schools in the USA base their teaching approach on e-learning methodologies.
E-learning also finds a good deal of receptivity among students who don’t wish to visit brick-and-mortar schools due to medical problems, bullying, or other issues. These cyber-schools are good sources of quality education for students without having to worry about their individual problems.
E-learning and its effect on education is huge since it encompasses a wide variety of forms. For example, the Open University of UK has over 275 courses offering education to more than 100,000 students through online tuition. In fact, it’s getting a lot of support from teachers and instructors too. Statistics find out that around 65% of faculty members support the use of open-source educational resources.
Here are some of the major benefits of e-learning for teachers and learners:
Time and cost-effective
Adopting the e-learning approach in the educational sector helps waive off a lot of overhead costs. It makes even more sense for larger institutions. There are several logistical costs such as travel expenses for uniting employees in a centralised training location, on-ground costs for the training space, and the remunerations paid to bring in experts.
Due to financial and geographical limitations, traditional classroom education can’t reach a large number of people. It’s also difficult for trainers and instructors to sustain a consistent travel and teaching schedule to reach all potential learners. Through e-learning, on the other hand, the reach can be infinite. With a few investments in increasing student conversions and retention, the possibility to reach an endless number of people is extremely easy.
E-learning offers the opportunity to conduct frequent training and courses in a fast-paced environment. In traditional classroom training systems, it becomes difficult to keep up with the changing market scenarios and keep students and professionals up-to-date with the latest skills and learnings. The e-learning system makes it easy to create training and course content, often. Moreover, the time and cost wasted to allow students to learn off work-hours are absent in this approach. It’s easy to schedule and complete courses in-between work hours itself.
In traditional classroom education, it can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of training workshops or programs. Then comes the added task of professors evaluating and grading huge bundles of assignment papers to come up with results. E-learning systems are effective in this arena since they reduce the need for manual evaluation. Designing relevant curriculum, grading and evaluating students, tracking progress, and getting feedback can be done easily online.
The younger generation of learners are adept in digital technologies and are accustomed to the fast-paced world. For them, traditional classroom training may seem obsolete and out-of-place. They may be more comfortable with online learning and thus adopting e-learning methodologies to teach them will be more successful.
Leveraging E-Learning through Content Authoring Tools (CATs) and Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
By now, you know that e-learning has several benefits both for the corporate and the educational sector. The fact that not every individual learns in the same way, is something that e-learning finds a solution for.
With the various types of content forms and the different mediums of conducting training and education, e-learning ensures that it meets the needs and preferences of each individual. Moreover, it also helps create an effective database of online course material that can be accessed from anywhere and at any point in time.
Universities and corporates are adopting the e-learning approach to make updated and relevant content available to learners all over the world. Two of the renowned institutions who are combining technology and education together seamlessly are Harvard and MIT. Online education portals such as Coursera and Udemy are other biggies in the space, offering courses affiliated by a number of universities and institutions to a large number of learners across the world.
There are several tools that organizations can use to implement e-learning across diverse locales for their stakeholders. These tools help overcome the logistics of distance, time, and cost and make training and learning easy. These tools act as virtual classrooms with a wide range of features to help educate, evaluate, assign, grade and measure the learning.
There are several paid and free e-learning tools that can be used to implement the e-learning process. Two of the best e-learning tools are content-authoring tools (CATs) and learning management systems (LMSs). They are e-learning tools for education and corporates that help you to execute various e-learning methodologies to meet your business and educational goals.
LMSs acts as computer-based platform which helps to liaise between instructors and students by providing course materials, managing courses, evaluating assignments and providing a platform for interactive collaboration.
They are an important part of the e-learning design and development process and have several benefits for both businesses and educational institutions such as:
Making content accessible to online users
The unique advantage of a Learning Management System is that once you upload content on the platform, learners have unlimited access to them. Instead of stocking your content on cumbersome hard drives, you can have all of them saved in the LMS platform. Not only does this help to provide access to the content, but it also reduces the risk of data loss.
Allowing content to be used from anywhere at any time
The best part of Learning Management system is that any uploaded content is available permanently to all learners and can be accessed easily. They can merely log in to the platform and access it from any device smartphone, tablet, or desktop and any geographical location. The learners no longer need to wait for the next learning session to complete their learning but continue the self-paced course whenever it’s convenient for them.
Reporting and analytics to measure progress
The added advantage of LMS are that they give you the option to keep track of the progress of the learner and ensure that they are meeting their targets. If a learner is behind schedule, then it becomes easy to offer them with the right resources to continue. The platform also offers reporting and analytical tools to evaluate the effectiveness of the courses.
Finally, LMS are easily customisable to meet individual needs and preferences. They can be personalised to meet specific institutional and business objectives. The LMS application can be multilingual, mirror brand elements, and meet the organisational ethos. They can also contain features for testing the learners through assignments. Several learners can simultaneously log in to the LMSs.