What is eLearning?

When you think about how someone learns a new skill, it’s easy to immediately think of someone sitting in a classroom, with a teacher or facilitator lecturing at the front of the room. And frankly, I don’t blame anyone for thinking that way. If you’re reading this article, you likely spent that vast majority of your childhood and early adulthood sitting in a classroom. It only makes sense that you’d assume that’s how someone learns something new.

However, the more you think about it, the more you start to realize that the way we learn new things has dramatically evolved over the last few decades. Whether it’s a computer, a tablet, or smartphone, the use of technology has enabled us to access almost any bit of information when we want it, where we want it, and how we want it.

In this post, I’ll give you my definition of eLearning, as well as some of the benefits that eLearning has to offer.

How Do I Define eLearning?

What is eLearning? Tim Slade

Providing a single definition of eLearning is not easy. While you might think of eLearning as an online, slide-based course with a Next button, the truth is, this is only one example of eLearning. Because the technology we use to access information is always evolving, there are always new examples of how it is being used to deliver learning content.

I define eLearning as any learning experience that takes place on a digital device, such as a computer, a tablet, a smartphone, or some other device.

While this definition of eLearning might seem broad, it makes the most sense when you consider all of the various ways content can be delivered digitally. For example, if you learn something by watching a YouTube video, that’s an example of eLearning. If you complete an online course through a university, that’s an example of eLearning. If you attend a live webinar, that’s an example of eLearning. You can even consider this article an example of eLearning.

What Are The Common Characteristics of eLearning?

What is eLearning? Tim Slade

So, if there are so many different examples of eLearning, do they share any common characteristics that tie them together? Well, I’m glad you asked! The answer is, YES! While the “umbrella” of eLearning is always evolving and growing, there are a few common characteristics you can apply to the different types of eLearning.

First and foremost, eLearning can be synchronous or asynchronous. And it’s this characteristic that truly separates eLearning from other types of traditional, instructor-led training. Most instructor-led training is synchronous, which means all the learners are engaged in the learning event at the same time. With that being said, there are also several examples of eLearning that is synchronous. For example, a live webinar or a live, online discussion are both examples of synchronous eLearning.

As for asynchronous or self-paced eLearning, this is when learners complete the learning on their own, with no set time when the learning takes place. Examples of asynchronous eLearning include videos, interactive online courses, ongoing discussion boards, etc.

And second, eLearning can be interactive or passive. Because eLearning uses technology to deliver the learning content, the use of interactivity is often employed to enhance the learning experience. For example, the learner is given control over the navigation of a course with a menu or some other navigation buttons. While this is a simple example of how eLearning can be interactive, it’s not the only example of how a learner might interact with an eLearning course. Some eLearning might use quiz questions to test the learners’ knowledge. Other examples of interactivity include branching scenarios, where the learner makes a decision and sees (and hopefully learns from) the result of that decision. The list of how eLearning can use interactivity is endless.

The list of passive eLearning examples is just as extensive. Whether it’s a video, an article, an infographic, or something else, any digital learning content that doesn’t require the learner to interact with it can be considered passive.

What Are The Benefits of eLearning?

What is eLearning? Tim Slade

While traditional, instructor-led learning is still very popular and widely used, eLearning offers a lot of benefits that just can’t be matched. Here are just some of the benefits that eLearning has to offer…

  • eLearning can be distributed globally. Because eLearning is delivered on a computer or some other internet-connected device, eLearning can be easily delivered to a large population of learners, regardless of their location.
  • eLearning is available when the learner needs it. Because most eLearning doesn’t require an instructor, learners can access the learning content when they need it the most.
  • eLearning can offer a consistent learning experience and message. Because an eLearning course can be created once and delivered to multiple learners, eLearning can ensure that each learner receives the same learning experience and content.
  • eLearning can track learner progress. Because eLearning is usually delivered through a hosting platform, like a Learning Management System (LMS), most eLearning can track and report the progress of each individual learner.
  • eLearning can save time and money. Because eLearning can be created once and delivered multiple times, to multiple learners, in multiple locations, it can save time and money, when compared to traditional instructor-led training.

Pulling It All Together.

Well, I hope that answers the question of “What is eLearning?” Whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous, interactive or passive, as the technology used to create and deliver eLearning continues to evolve, so does the definition.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment below!

Tim Slade
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, and award-winning freelance eLearning designer. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, Tim has been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for his creative and innovative design aesthetics. Tim is a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, is a recognized Articulate Super Hero, author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook and creator of The eLearning Designer's Academy.

One Response to “What is eLearning?

  • Thank you. I appreciate how you have approached answering the question!

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