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Electronic learning or eLearning is a general term used to refer to computer-enhanced learning. It is used interchangeably in so many contexts that it is critical to be clear what one means when one speaks of 'eLearning'. In many respects, it is commonly associated with the field of advanced learning technology (ALT), which deals with both the technologies and associated methodologies in learning using networked and/or multimedia technologies.
The worldwide e-learning industry is estimated to be worth over 38 billion euros according to conservative estimates, although in the European Union only about 20% of e-learning products are produced within the common market . Developments in internet and multimedia technologies are the basic enabler of e-learning, with content, technologies and services being identified as the three key sectors of the e-learning industry. 
Growth of e-learning
By 2006, nearly 3.5 million students were participating in on-line learning at institutions of higher education in the United States. Many higher education, for-profit institutions, now offer on-line classes. By contrast, only about half of private, non-profit schools offer them. The Sloan report, based on a poll of academic leaders, says that students generally appear to be at least as satisfied with their on-line classes as they are with traditional ones. Private Institutions may become more involved with on-line presentations as the cost of instituting such a system decreases. Properly trained staff must also be hired to work with students on-line. These staff members must be able to not only understand the content area, but also be highly trained in the use of the computer and Internet. Online education is rapidly increasing, and online doctoral programs have even developed at leading research universities.  .
Many technologies can be, and are, used in eLearning, including:
- classroom response system
- collaborative software
- computer aided assessment
- discussion boards
- educational animation
- electronic performance support system
- hypermedia in general
- learning management systems
- MP3 Players with multimedia capabilities
- multimedia CD-ROMs
- text chat
- virtual classrooms
- web-based teaching materials
- web sites and web 2.0 communities
Most eLearning situations use combinations of the above techniques.
An example of this is moodle which uses: discussion board threading, wiki and real time textual chat. However, moodle is referred to as a Course Management System (CMS). This is because course material is often video, mp3, text documents, scanned images or links to other web sites.
Along with the terms learning technology and Educational Technology, the term is generally used to refer 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.
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-counselling, online textbook purchase, student governments and student newspapers.
e-Learning can also refer to educational web sites 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.
E-learning services have evolved since computers were first used in education. There is a trend to move toward blended learning services, where computer-based activities are integrated with practical or classroom-based situations.
Goals of e-learning
E-Learning lessons are generally designed to guide students through information or to help students perform in specific tasks. Information based e-Learning content communicates information to the student. Examples include content that distributes the history or facts related to a service, company, or product. In information-based content, there is no specific skill to be learned. In performance-based content, the lessons build off of a procedural skill in which the student is expected to increase proficiency.
Computer Based Learning, sometimes abbreviated to CBL, refers to the use of computers as a key component of the educational environment. While this can refer to the use of computers in a classroom, the term more broadly refers to a structured environment in which computers are used for teaching purposes. The concept is generally seen as being distinct from the use of computers in ways where learning is at least a peripheral element of the experience (e.g. computer games and web browsing).
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Computer-based training (CBT) services are where a student learns by executing special training programs on a computer relating to their occupation. CBT is especially effective for training people to use computer applications because the CBT program can be integrated with the applications so that students can practice using the application as they learn. Historically, CBTs growth has been hampered by the enormous resources required: human resources to create a CBT program, and hardware resources needed to run it. However, the increase in PC computing power, and especially the growing prevalence of computers equipped with CD-ROMs, is making CBT a more viable option for corporations and individuals alike. Many PC applications now come with some modest form of CBT, often called a tutorial. Web-based training (WBT) is a type of training that is similar to CBT; however, it is delivered over the Internet using a web browser. Web-based training frequently includes interactive methods, such as bulletin boards, chat rooms, instant messaging, videoconferencing, and discussion threads. Web based training is usually a self-paced learning medium though some systems allow for online testing and evaluation at specific times.
Pedagogical elements are an attempt to define structures or units of educational material. For example, this could be a lesson, an assignment, a multiple choice question, a quiz, a discussion group or a case study. These units should be format independent, so although it may be implemented in any of the following methods, pedagogical structures would not include a textbook, a web page, a video conference or an iPod video.
When beginning to create eLearning content, the pedagogical approaches need to be evaluated. Simple pedagogical approaches make it easy to create content, but lack flexibility, richness and downstream functionality. On the other hand, complex pedagogical approaches can be difficult to set up and slow to develop, though they have the potential to provide more engaging learning experiences for students. Somewhere between these extremes is an ideal pedagogy that allows a particular educator to effectively create educational materials while simultaneously providing the most engaging educational experiences for students.
Pedagogical approaches or perspectives
It is possible to use various pedagogical approaches for eLearning which include:
- instructional design - the traditional pedagogy of instruction which is curriculum focused, and is developed by a centralized educating group or a single teacher.
- social-constructivist - this pedagogy is particularly well afforded by the use of discussion forums, blogs, wiki and on-line collaborative activities. It is a collaborative approach that opens educational content creation to a wider group including the students themselves.
- Laurillard's Conversational Model is also particularly relevant to eLearning, and Gilly Salmon's Five-Stage Model is a pedagogical approach to the use of discussion boards .
- Cognitive perspective focuses on the cognitive processes involved in learning as well as how the brain works.
- Emotional perspective focuses on the emotional aspects of learning, like motivation, engagement, fun, etc.
- Behavioural perspective focuses on the skills and behavioural outcomes of the learning process. Role-playing and application to on-the-job settings.
- Contextual perspective focuses on the environmental and social aspects which can stimulate learning. Interaction with other people, collaborative discovery and the importance of peer support as well as pressure.
Reusability, standards and learning objects
Much effort has been put into the technical reuse of electronically-based teaching materials and in particular creating or re-using Learning Objects. These are self contained units that are properly tagged with keywords, or other metadata, and often stored in an XML file format. Creating a course requires putting together a sequence of learning objects. There are both proprietary and open, non-commercial and commercial, peer-reviewed repositories of learning objects such as the Merlot repository.
A common standard format for e-learning content is SCORM whilst other specifications allow for the transporting of "learning objects" (Schools Interoperability Framework) or categorizing meta-data (LOM).
These standards themselves are early in the maturity process with the oldest being 8 years old. They are also relatively vertical specific: SIF is primarily pK-12, LOM is primarily Corp, Military and Higher Ed, and SCORM is primarily Military and Corp with some Higher Ed. PESC- the Post-Secondary Education Standards Council- is also making headway in developing standards and learning objects for the Higher Ed space, while SIF is beginning to seriously turn towards Instructional and Curriculum learning objects.
In the US pK12 space there are a host of content standards that are critical as well- the NCES data standards are a prime example. Each state government's content standards and achievement benchmarks are critical metadata for linking e-learning objects in that space.
Communication technologies used in e-learning
Communication technologies are generally categorized as asynchronous or synchronous. Asynchronous activities use technologies such as blogs, wikis, and discussion boards. The idea here is that participants may engage in the exchange of ideas or information without the dependency of other participants involvement at the same time. Electronic mail (Email) is also asynchronous in that mail can be sent or received without having both the participants’ involvement at the same time.
Synchronous activities involve the exchange of ideas and information with one or more participants during the same period of time. A face to face discussion is an example of synchronous communications. Synchronous activities occur with all participants joining in at once, as with an online chat session or a virtual classroom or meeting.
Virtual classrooms and meetings can often use a mix of communication technologies.
In many models, the writing community and the communication channels relate with the E-learning and the M-learning communities. Both the communities provide a general overview of the basic learning models and the activities required for the participants to join the learning sessions across the virtual classroom or even across standard classrooms enabled by technology. Many activities, essential for the learners in these environments, require frequent chat sessions in the form of virtual classrooms and/or blog meetings.
Second Life has recently become one of the cutting-edge virtual classrooms for major colleges and universities, including Princeton, Rice University, University of Derby (UK), Vassar, the University of Plymouth (UK) and the Open University (UK),. In 2007 Second Life started to be used for foreign language tuition . Both Second Life and real life language educators have begun to use the virtual world for language tuition. English (as a foreign language) has gained a presence through several schools, including the British Council, which has focused on the Teen Grid. Spain’s language and cultural institute “Instituto Cervantes” has an island on Second Life. A list of educational projects (including some language schools) in Second Life can be found on the SimTeach site.
The various blogs that are being used for providing writing approaches are gaining popularity.
Computer-aided assessment and learning design
Computer-aided Assessment (also but less commonly referred to as E-assessment), ranging from automated multiple-choice tests to more sophisticated systems is becoming increasingly common. With some systems, feedback can be geared towards a student's specific mistakes or the computer can navigate the student through a series of questions adapting to what the student appears to have learned or not learned. Most software for this is still very primitive however.
The term learning design has sometimes come to refer to the type of activity enabled by software such as the open-source system LAMS[How to reference and link to summary or text] which supports sequences of activities that can be both adaptive and collaborative. The IMS Learning Design specification is intended as a standard format for learning designs, and IMS LD Level A is supported in LAMS V2.
E-learning software platforms
Below is a list of some of the e-learning platforms that are available.
Open-source Virtual Learning Environments (VLE)
- Lectora by Trivantis
- Content Point collaborative e-learning platform
- D2L eLearning Enterprise
- ANGEL Learning
- Acrobat Connect (formerly Macromedia Breeze)
- Tooling University
- Knowledge Forum
- Blended learning
- e-CIT (EU-funded project)
- SIF(Schools Interoperability Framework)
- CALL (computer-assisted language learning) (for a more historical perspective)
- Computer mediated communication
- Collaborative learning
- Computer-based testing
- Confidence-Based Learning
- Distance education
- Educational game
- Educational technology
- Electronic performance support systems
- eLearning 2.0
- Flexible Learning
- History of automated adaptive instruction in computer applications
- History of virtual learning environments
- Learning management system
- Learning content management system
- Learning & Development
- National University Virtual High School
- Networked learning
- Online deliberation
- Online tutoring
- Online learning community
- Virtual Campus
- Virtual education
- Virtual learning environment
- Virtual university
- eLML - eLesson Markup Language
- Adaptive hypermedia
- ↑ EC (2000). Communication from the Commission: E-Learning - Designing tomorrow’s education. Brussels: European Commission
- ↑ Nagy, A. (2005). The Impact of E-Learning, in: Bruck, P.A.; Buchholz, A.; Karssen, Z.; Zerfass, A. (Eds). E-Content: Technologies and Perspectives for the European Market. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, pp.79-96
- ↑ "Sloan Consortium"
- ↑ Hebert, D. G. (2007). “Five Challenges and Solutions in Online Music Teacher Education,” Research and Issues in Music Education, Vol. 5
- ↑ Informal description of Laurillard's Model
- ↑ E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online - Gilly Salmon , Kogan Page, 2000, ISBN 0-7494-4085-6
- ↑ Bloom, B. S., and D. R. Krathwohl. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook 1
- ↑ Bååth, J. A. (1982) "Distance Students' Learning - Empirical Findings and Theoretical Deliberations"
- ↑ Areskog, N-H. (1995) The Tutorial Process - the Roles of Student Teacher and Tutor in a Long Term Perspective
- ↑ Black, J. & McClintock, R. (1995) "An Interpretation Construction Approach to Constructivist Design."
- ↑ includeonly>Parker, Quin. "A second look at school life", The Guardian, 2007-04-6. Retrieved on 2007-06-16.
- ↑ includeonly>Dorveaux, Xavier. "Apprendre une langue dans un monde virtuel", Le Monde, 2007-07-15. Retrieved on 2007-07-15.
- Distance Learning at the Open Directory Project
- Instructional Technology at the Open Directory Project
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