What is e-Learning?


E-learning (or eLearning) is the use of electronic media and information and communication technologies (ICT) in education. E-learning is broadly inclusive of all forms of educational technology in learning and teaching. E-learning is inclusive of, and is broadly synonymous with multimedia learning, technology-enhanced learning (TEL), computer-based instruction (CBI), computer-based training (CBT), computer-assisted instruction or computer-aided instruction (CAI), internet-based training (IBT), web-based training (WBT), online education, virtual education, virtual learning environments (VLE) (which are also called learning platforms), m-learning, and digital educational collaboration. These alternative names emphasize a particular aspect, component or delivery method.

E-learning includes numerous types of media that deliver text, audio, images, animation, and streaming video, and includes technology applications and processes such as audio or video tape, satellite TV, CD-ROM, and computer-based learning, as well as local intranet/extranet and web-based learning. Information and communication systems, whether free-standing or based on either local networks or the Internet in networked learning, underly many e-learning processes.

E-learning can occur in or out of the classroom. It can be self-paced, asynchronous learning or may be instructor-led, synchronous learning. E-learning is suited to distance learning and flexible learning, but it can also be used in conjunction with face-to-face teaching, in which case the term blended learning is commonly used.


Various technologies are used to facilitate e-learning. Most e-learning uses combinations of these techniques, including blogs, collaborative software, ePortfolios, and virtual classrooms.


The radio has been around for a long time and has been used in educational classrooms. Recent technologies have allowed classroom teachers to stream audio over the internet. There are also webcasts and podcasts available over the internet for students and teachers to download. For example, iTunes has various podcasts available on a variety of subjects that can be downloaded for free.


Videos allow teachers to reach students who are visual learners and tend to learn best by seeing the material rather than hearing or reading about it. Teachers can access video clips through the internet instead of relying on DVDs or VHS tapes. Websites like YouTube are used by many teachers. Teachers can use messaging programs such as Skype, Adobe Connect, or webcams, to interact with guest speakers and other experts. Interactive video games are being integrated in the curriculum at both K-12 and higher education institutions.

Research on the use of video in lessons is preliminary, but early results show an increased retention and better results when video is used in a lesson. Creating a systematic video development method holds promise for creating video models that positively impact student learning.

Computers, tablets and mobile devices

Computers and tablets allow students and teachers access to websites and other programs, such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, PDF files, and images. Many mobile devices support m-learning. Turkey’s Fatih project is putting tablet computers in the hands of every student from grade 5 to 12, and interactive whiteboards in every classroom.


Blogs allow students and teachers to post their thoughts, ideas, and comments on a website. Blogging allows students and instructors to share their thoughts and comments on the thoughts of others which could create an interactive learning environment.


The development of webcams and webcasting has facilitated the creation of virtual classrooms and virtual learning environments. Virtual classrooms supported by such technology are becoming more and more popular, especially since they are contributing as a main solution to solving problems with travel expenses. Virtual classrooms with such technology also provide the benefits of being easy to set up


Interactive whiteboards, similar in use to ‘smartboards’, allow teachers and students to write on the touch screen, so learning becomes interactive and engaging.


Screencasting is a recent trend in e-learning. There are many screencasting tools available that allow users to share their screens directly from their browser and make the video available online so that the viewers can stream the video directly. The advantage of such tools is that it gives the presenter the ability to show his ideas and flow of thoughts rather than simply explain them, which may be more confusing when delivered via simple text instructions. With the combination of video and audio, the expert can mimic the one-on-one experience of the classroom and deliver clear, complete instructions. From the learner’s point of view this provides the ability to pause and rewind and gives the learners the advantage of moving at their own pace, something a classroom cannot always offer.

Combining technology

Along with the terms learning technology, instructional technology, the term educational technology refers to the use of technology in learning in a much broader sense than the computer-based training or Computer Aided Instruction of the 1980s. It is also broader than the terms Online Learning or Online Education which generally refer to purely web-based learning. In cases where mobile technologies are used, the term M-learning has become more common. E-learning, however, also has implications beyond just the technology and refers to the actual learning that takes place using these systems.

In higher education especially, the increasing tendency is to create a virtual learning environment (VLE) (which is sometimes combined with a Management Information System (MIS) to create a Managed Learning Environment) in which all aspects of a course are handled through a consistent user interface standard throughout the institution. A growing number of physical universities, as well as newer online-only colleges, have begun to offer a select set of academic degree and certificate programs via the Internet at a wide range of levels and in a wide range of disciplines. While some programs require students to attend some campus classes or orientations, many are delivered completely online. In addition, several universities offer online student support services, such as online advising and registration, e-counseling, online textbook purchases, student governments and student newspapers.

E-learning can also refer to educational websites such as those offering learning scenarios, worksheets and interactive exercises for children. The term is also used extensively in the business sector where it generally refers to cost-effective online training.

Virtual classroom

Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), also known as learning platforms, utilize virtual classrooms and meetings which often use a mix of communication technologies. One example of web conferencing software that enables students and instructors to communicate with each other via webcam, microphone, and real-time chatting in a group setting, are GoToTraining, WebEx Training or Adobe Connect, which are sometimes used for meetings and presentations. Participants in a virtual classroom can raise hands, answer polls or take tests. Students are able to ‘write on the board’ and even share their desktop, when given rights by the teacher. Other communication technologies available in a virtual classroom include text notes, microphone rights and mouse control.

The virtual classroom also provides the opportunity for students to receive direct instruction from a qualified teacher in an interactive environment. Students have direct and immediate access to their instructor for instant feedback and direction. The virtual classroom also provides a structured schedule of classes, which can be helpful for students who may find the freedom of asynchronous learning to be overwhelming. In addition, the virtual classroom provides a social learning environment that replicates the traditional ‘brick and mortar’ classroom. Most virtual classroom applications provide a recording feature. Each class is recorded and stored on a server, which allows for instant playback of any class over the course of the school year. This can be extremely useful for students to review material and concepts for an upcoming exam. This also provides students with the opportunity to watch any class that they may have missed, so that they do not fall behind. It also gives parents the ability to monitor any classroom to ensure that they are satisfied with the education their child is receiving.


Content is a core component of e-learning and includes issues such as pedagogy and learning object re-use. While there are a number of means of achieving a rich and interactive elearning platform, one option is using a design architecture composed of the “Five Types of Content in eLearning” (Clark, Mayer, 2007).

Content normally comes in one of five forms:

  • Fact – unique data (e. g., symbols for Excel formula, or the parts that make up a learning objective)
  • Concept – a category that includes multiple examples (e. g., Excel formulas, or the various types/theories of Instructional Design)
  • Process – a flow of events or activities (e. g., how a spreadsheet works, or the five phases in ADDIE)
  • Procedure – step-by-step task (e. g., entering a formula into a spreadsheet, or the steps that should be followed within a phase in ADDIE)
  • Strategic Principle – task performed by adapting guidelines (e. g., doing a financial projection in a spreadsheet, or using a framework for designing learning environments)

Advantages and disadvantages

There are several advantages and disadvantages with regards to motivation in e-learning.

For many students, e-learning is the most convenient way to pursue a degree in higher education. A lot of these students are attracted to a flexible, self-paced method of education to attain their degree. It is important to note that many of these students could be working their way through college, supporting themselves or battling with serious illness. To these students, it would be extremely difficult to find time to fit college in their schedule. Thus, these students are more likely and more motivated to enroll in an e-learning class. Moreover, in asynchronous e-learning classes, students are free to log on and complete work any time they wish. They can work on and complete their assignments at the times when they think most cogently, whether it be early in the morning or late at night.

However, many teachers have a harder time keeping their students engaged in an e-learning class. A disengaged student is usually an unmotivated student, and an engaged student is a motivated student. One reason why students are more likely to be disengaged is that the lack of face-to-face contact makes it difficult for teachers to read their students’ nonverbal cues, including confusion, boredom or frustration. These cues are helpful to a teacher in deciding whether to speed up, introduce new material, slow down or explain a concept in a different way. If a student is confused, bored or frustrated, he or she is unlikely to be motivated to succeed in that class.

Other advantages and disadvantages

Key advantages of e-learning include:

  • Improved open access to education, including access to full degree programs
  • Better integration for non-full-time students, particularly in continuing education
  • Improved interactions between students and instructors
  • Provision of tools to enable students to independently solve problems
  • Acquisition of technological skills through practice with tools and computers

No age-based restrictions on difficulty level, i.e. students can go at their own paceKey disadvantages of e-learning, that have been found to make learning less effective than traditional class room settings, include:

  • Ease of cheating
  • Bias towards tech-savvy students over non-technical students
  • Teachers’ lack of knowledge and experience to manage virtual teacher-student interaction
  • Lack of social interaction between teacher and students
  • Lack of direct and immediate feedback from teachers
  • Asynchronic communication hinders fast exchange of question
  • Danger of procrastination