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UNESCO-UNEVOC has compiled a short selection of academic or professional articles that might help to clarify the signification and the use of the term "E-learning"). It goes thus beyond the definitions stored in TVETipedia while not pretending to offer an exhaustive bibliography on the topic.
e-Learning, online learning, and distance learning environments: Are they the same ? By J.L Moore, C. Dickson-Dean, K. Galyen, University of Missouri (2010)
This academic article introduces most of the challenges faced in defining e-learning, and it does so through a rather original approach: The authors asked participants of an international conference on education how they would define e-learning in comparison to similar concepts like distance learning or web-learning.
In the selected quotes, the authors first review the literature, highlighting that the technologies behind the ‘e’ of ‘e-learning’, the role of pedagogy, and even the spelling of the term greatly vary from a study to another. However, practitionners are as divided as academics when it comes to define e-learning, as the answer to the first question of their survey(“Is there a difference between distance learning, e-Learning, and online learning?”) tends to demonstrate.
What is abundantly obvious is that there is some uncertainty as to what exactly are the characteristics of the term but what is clear is that all forms of e-Learning, whether they be as applications, programs, objects, websites, etc., can eventually provide a learning opportunity for individuals.
Not only were there inconsistencies with terms and their meanings, but also with the spelling of the term used to represent electronic learning, i.e. e-learning, e-Learning, E-Learning, and elearning. We did not notice a trend in regards to how it is spelled based on country or discipline, but assume that authors will adopt certain spellings based on what seems the most popular during the writing of an article.
The first question in the survey asked: “Is there a difference between distance learning, e-Learning, and online learning? If so, please explain”. This seemed to be an intriguing question to many of the participants, as they tried to explain the differences through words or diagrams. Table 1 provides an overview of the different description types, and how they were categorized into themes of “No Difference”, “Hierarchical Organization”, “Media Type”, “Access Type”, “Correspondence” and “Interaction Type.”
While the previous article focused on the “e” of e-learning, this reference brings “learning” in the thinking. It is a “guide” from the Common Wealth of Learning addressed to stakeholders. It was not recently published (2006) but its approach ("highlight the important issues, to ask the key questions and to tease the reader into independent thought”) and its definition of e-learning (including online/offline, synchronous/asynchronous learning) are not outdated.
In the selected quotes, the authors raise the old question: Do technologies influence learning? They answer by reviewing a hundred year of academic debate on the impact of media in learning, before integrating “e-learning” into it.
Several decades after Edison's inventions, and based on the growing influence of radio, television and other media on our lives, Marshall McLuhan claimed that the “medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964). With this aphorism, McLuhan was suggesting that each medium has characteristics and capabilities that have the potential to shape, direct and enhance our capabilities (Campbell, 2000). As such McLuhan saw media as “extensions of man” which is the subtitle of his classic book (McLuhan, 1964). The 1960s and 70s saw growing enthusiasm in the use of computers in education. This was naturally followed by similar interest in the impacts of computers on learning with many researchers concluding that while media may have some economic benefits, they did not show any benefits on learning
Several leading researchers of the time argued that learning and any learning gain is actually caused by the way the subject matter content is presented via a medium, rather than the medium itself (Clark & Solomon, 1986; Kulik, 1985; Schramm, 1977). A prominent contributor to this discussion on media research- Richard Clark - has in fact proclaimed that “media will never influence learning” (Clark, 1994). He has in fact suggested that “media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (Clark,1983, p.445).
However, not everyone agrees with these suggestions and claims of Richard Clark. One of these is Robert Kozma who is another prominent contributor to this discussion. Kozma reviewed relevant research on learning with media which suggests that the “capabilities of a particular medium, in conjunction with methods that take advantage of these capabilities, interact with and influence the ways learners represent and process information and may result in more or different learning when one medium is compared to another for certain learners and tasks”.
The body of literature that Kozma reviewed supports a theoretical framework for learning which sees the learner as “actively collaborating with the medium to construct knowledge”, where “learning is viewed as an active, constructive process whereby the learner strategically manages the available cognitive resources to create new knowledge by extracting information from the environment and integrating it with information already stored in memory” (Kozma, 1991, p. 179- 180). In such educational settings, the medium is not inert and it does not exist independently of the learning context and the subject matter content. In fact, when it is carefully integrated into the learning experience, the medium often interacts with the instructional method to produce the intended learning outcomes for the students in a given learning context. Therefore the media used, along with the instructional method would seem to have an influence on learning. In such educational settings, it would be difficult to disentangle the discrete and unique influences of the media and the method on learning.
What is the role of media in learning?
Therefore, it is arguable that in most contemporary technology enhanced learning environments where media is skilfully integrated with the instructional method, media can and do play a very influential and critical role in learning and teaching." pp. 11-13 (in Chapter 2: “Pedagogical designs for e-learning”)
The previous reference highlighted that “e-learning” is not just about the use of ICT in education (for the sake of saving cost, increasing flexibility etc.). It is also about the potential impact of those new media on the learning process. Those two academic reviews push the thinking a step further and wonder about the proportion of this impact: Does e-learning means a new “model of pedagogy”? Or is it only a synonym to “technology-enhanced learning”? Both references come from reliable sources (JISC is a British government-funded charity, acting at national scale;JERO is a non-profit peer-reviewed German journal). Both use a broad and similar definition of e-learning (including online and offline learning). And both defend rather opposed stands on the matter. Note that there is a clear difference of tone between those two resources, since the JISC is a review directly addressed to stakeholders while the article from R. Andrew gathers “thoughts” based on the author’s previous research and experience.
In the selected quotes, both references explain their lines, the JISC study standing for a “technology-enhanced” e-learning and R. Andrews for a new “e-learning pedagogy”.
"There are really no models of e-learning per se – only e-enhancements of models of learning. That is to say, using technology to achieve better learning outcomes, or a more effective assessment of these outcomes, or a more cost-efficient way of bringing the learning environment to the learners. It is all the more important, when implementing elearning approaches, to be clear about the underlying assumptions. A model of e-learning would need to demonstrate on what pedagogic principles the added value of the ‘e’ was operating. … However, the role of the technology here is primarily to get remote learners into a position to learn as favourably as though they were campus-based, rather than offering a new teaching method. In such a case the enhancement should be seen as pragmatic rather than pedagogic, achieving cost effective access to learning, rather than a new way to achieve deep understanding of a concept. Even something that looks like a new paradigm for achieving learning outcomes, a peer-to-peer learner-matching tool, for example, may represent only an incremental advance in pedagogic terms, though its educational value may be enormous if it could be exploited through an educational infrastructure which integrated its use with quality assurance methods. It is important, therefore, not to take too narrow a view of what constitutes e-learning, or of where its main value might lie." p.4 (“1: Pedagogical design framework for e-learning")
Does e-learning require a new theory of learning?
"‘E-learning’ itself is a term that is complex, and that attracts a degree of controversy and disagreement. In The Handbook of E-learning Research, Caroline Haythornthwaite and I (2007) charted what we took to be the boundaries and identity of e-learning, a term we prefer to ‘technology-enhanced learning’. The latter term seems unacceptable to us, because we do not see ‘learning’ as a process or state of being/mind which is necessarily ‘enhanced’ by or separate from technology. The phrase ‘technology-enhanced learning’ seems unduly technicist and unrealistically positive. There are many scenarios we can envisage in which learning is enhanced by technology, but equally there are others where technology can interfere with learning. The conception that learning is the status quo and technology is the intervention is one we associate with experimental design and application. We do not think it is an appropriate approach for thinking about the relationship between learning and technology.
Rather, the term ‘e-learning’ is helpful because it is a hybrid, compound term. It suggests that there is something distinctive about e-learning, and that it is different from ‘learning’. In The Handbook of E-learning Research, we proposed a conception of the relationship between new technologies and learning that saw them as reciprocally co-evolutionary. That is to say, they each develop independently and alongside each other; but they are also related, and contribute to each other’s development. As one changes, so does the other. This is not the same as a symbiotic relationship because symbiosis exists to maintain a status quo. E-learning, on the other hand, is dynamic, changing and adapting itself to new social situations, new politics, new technologies and new forms of learning. We can be criticized for drawing boundaries around an area of social practice that cannot always be distinguished from learning itself, and for attempting to build theory on a site that is already well provided for theoretically. But part of our motivation is that existing theories of learning do not account fully for what happens in e-learning. … Crucially, e-learning extends the horizons of learning in space, resource and time. The notion of transactional distance is important to understanding how e-learning is different from conventional face-to-face learning pp.107-108 (“Part 2. Definitional issues”)
“Does e-learning require a new theory of learning? Some initial thoughts”, Richard Andrews, Journal of educational research online (JERO), Volume 3 (2011) n1, 104-121, Waxman.
All of the previous references focused on E-learning in education but the term is also much in-used in the world of work. The present reference is a massive annotated bibliography on the matter . The researchers followed a broad definition of e-learning (learning with support of ICT) that includes online and offline processes but excludes all work-based learning for students (internships, apprenticeships etc.). The focus is entirely on e-learning for employer/employee.
In the selected quotes, the researchers highlight the rational and expectations that employers put behind “e-learning”
This content development approach also allows employees to be more closely involved and can produce more relevant materials. E-learning can also be particularly useful when there is a geographically dispersed workforce because it can deliver a consistent learning experience. E-learning can reduce some of the costs associated with traditional delivery especially travel and employee absence from the workplace. Cost savings can also be realised by using subject matter experts and existing tools and technologies to develop content internally, rather than sourcing it externally.
From an employee perspective, e-learning can provide flexible learning options and also allow them to more rapidly up-skill. Simulations and virtual reality environments are being used to provide more relevant, authentic workplace learning. E-learning can offer more customised training. E-learning also allows employees to revisit challenging aspects of the course more readily. Some firms are starting to introduce systems, technologies, and processes that embed training and learning within employees’ daily work flows.
Informal learning is important in the workplace. E-learning can support this in two critical ways. Firstly, it can codify tacit or informal information and knowledge and make this available to the organisation and its external stakeholders. This also improves organisational knowledge management. Secondly, e-learning makes it easier for employees to form networks with others in the organisation and/or externally to share information and knowledge to assist with their daily work or up-skilling."p.7 (Part 2 “executive summary")
This article is an element of the TVETipedia Glossary.