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What is e-learning?

30 December 2020

a student completes an e-learning course on a laptop

Whether it’s part of school or college learning, a requirement of your mandatory business training or a remote learning course to gain an additional qualification, e-learning has become a common tool in education in recent years. Simply referring to any ‘electronic’ form of learning, the term e-learning covers any lesson, course, qualification or degree delivered through devices such as computers, tablets and smartphones, usually via the internet. But how useful is this form of learning?

In this blog, we take a detailed look at what e-learning is, how the different types of e-learning work, and the advantages and disadvantages of this form of education.

What is e-learning content?

As previously mentioned, e-learning can occur using a number of different electronic devices, from home computers to tablets and mobile phones. However, the actual tools used to educate and train the user can take a number of different forms. These tools are typically referred to as e-learning content.

E-learning content is specifically designed and modified to fit the specific requirements of both the subject or topic of learning as well as each learner’s individual needs, to create a successful learning tool. From online lectures and interactive seminar discussions to web-based training sessions and strategic educational online games, e-learning content can take many different forms.

What are the types of e-learning?

Although occasionally broken down into smaller sub-categories, for all intents and purposes there are three key types of e-learning. These are:

Text driven e-learning

As the name suggests, this form of learning material is simply information provided in the form of text, graphics, and simple test questions. Mandatory business training courses for employees are usually done exclusively in this format as it allows a lot of information to be passed on quickly, usually with a multichoice answer test at the end to ensure the information has been taken in by the learner.   

Interactive e-learning

This form of remote education takes text driven e-learning a step further by placing interactive elements into the course or training module to improve engagement and enhance the learning experience. In this format, there is a much greater emphasis on visual learning stimuli such as graphics, maps, charts and diagrams, all of which are likely to have inbuilt interactive elements. For example, you may be able to click, grab, drag and drop information and other learning features, helping you learn by forming active associations in your mind. 

Simulation e-learning 

Once again, this form of learning builds upon less advanced formats, combining elements of both text driven and interactive e-learning with more technically advanced graphics, video, audio and basic gamification. Built on the old adage of learning through seeing, simulation puts a heavy emphasis on visual demonstrations across various mediums. This form of learning, which is commonly utilised as part of higher education e-learning qualifications, will typically take the learner through a number of visual learning ‘stages’ as part of a module, before then allowing them to ‘try it’ themselves. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of e-learning?

As with any form of learning, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages of e-learning. 

Advantages include: 

  • Flexibility – this form of learning can typically be completed at the learner’s leisure, meaning it can be done alongside other work, childcare commitments and other aspects of life. 
  • Cost – unlike traditional forms of classroom-based learning, such as college, university or night classes, higher-education e-learning is relatively cheap. 
  • Consistency and uniformity – this form of learning is standardised meaning everyone on a particular course is receiving the same quality of education. This differs from traditional forms of classroom-based learning where experiences can depend on the quality of the teacher you are assigned to. 
  • Bespoke pace – unlike in a classroom setting, during an e-learning course the learner can set their own pace. This may mean going over a certain area multiple times if needed without getting left behind. 

Disadvantages include: 

  • Subject specific – although there are thousands of different e-learning courses available, this form of learning is not best-suited to every subject. This means, for example, while you won’t struggle to find an IT or financial adviser course online, finding an e-learning course that involves interpersonal skills might be more challenging.
  • Rigid structure – most e-learning courses are built around linear modules, meaning you have to start at the beginning and work your way through every module until you reach the end. If you have already completed certain aspects of a course or only have an interest in a very specific subject area, this can be frustrating and you could find yourself covering old ground. 

Why e-learning is so effective

E-learning has revolutionised the ways in which information is imparted to students. Whether used alongside traditional classroom learning or as a replacement, this form of education is effective because it provides the opportunity to learn to a much bigger audience than ever before and makes the process of learning a new skill easier, quicker, far more flexible and even more cost-effective.

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