What is e-Learning?

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Perhaps you’ve already heard someone say e-learning is the next big thing. If you’re reading this article, then you’re curious as to what’s behind this phenomenon called “e-learning”. To some, it might sound like something straight from a sci-fi movie – but trust us, it’s not that complicated. 🙂

So, What is E-Learning?

The official definition of e-learning is the following:

“e-learning is the process of acquisition of knowledge through electronic devices and the internet, which is done from anywhere in the world and at any time.”

Basically, e-learning is the opposite of visiting physical classrooms as we know it. All of the learning materials are accessible electronically, either as downloadable files or on the Internet. And they can be accessed from almost any device imaginable, and at any time desirable.

It is also an ever-growing industry. Since the early 2010s when e-learning started being popular, it has grown into a multi-billion industry. In 2015, it was estimated to be worth $107 billion. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to a whopping $325 billion!

Part of that success is its ability to make learning accessible for anyone in the world, wherever they might be. With the rise of the Internet and connected technologies, e-learning is growing at an unprecedented rate. Coronavirus is speeding things up, although this rise would most probably have happened anyway, but at a slightly slower rate.

E-learning can be found in different forms:

  • As online courses – some of the most popular platforms for accessing online courses include Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare, and many others.
  • As online degrees – today, you can get a full degree online, without ever stepping foot into a college. Sure, the exams are equally as tough, but the beauty of this model is that you can do it anywhere you like.
  • As online programs – anything can be learned through programs, from coding to learning additional languages.

Who is E-Learning For?

E-learning is for everyone with an Internet connection, an electronic device such as a laptop or smartphone, a willingness to learn new things, and a relatively modest budget. It all sounds all-inclusive and to some, even unrealistic, but it’s true.

Today, there’s a lot of individuals looking to learn new things via online courses. This is one of the biggest markets of e-learning. Because e-learning is so accessible, anyone can learn things they want to learn, whether it’s programming, graphical design, playing the guitar, or brewing a beer. This is supported by platforms such as Udemy, Coursera, Skillshare, and others aimed at individuals.

Companies are also very keen on e-learning. They use it to train their employees. This model is viable for them because it is more convenient, it takes less time, and the results are much better. Many companies believe e-learning gives them an edge over their competitors. 77% of all companies have used e-learning to educate their employees in 2017.

What is more, this model ensures companies get something back from their investment. For every $1500 they spend on education, they get profit margins of up to 24%. Not bad, right?

E-learning is also great if you’re looking to get a degree. Today, there are many great online colleges, which can take years to complete. But many physical colleges are moving their materials online, especially amid the COVID-19 restrictions. This is a great way to get accredited online. These degrees are completed 100% online, you only need to collect your degree once you’re done. Also, they’re not as easy as you might think.

Additionally, some online companies might use e-learning to educate their customers about their products or service. This is beneficial for them because it allows customers to understand their product better and thus, increase customer loyalty. This often comes in the form of guided training or simple courses online businesses have on their sites.

The Advantages of E-Learning

Online learning is splitting opinions, but you can’t deny it has some major advantages over traditional learning. If you’re still on the fence about e-learning, perhaps these advantages will help you get a clearer sense of why it’s so popular.

1. It Can be Done Anywhere, Anytime

Arguably the biggest advantage of online learning is it can be done from anywhere in the world.

Most online programs allow students to complete the learning process in their own environment, making it indefinitely more comfortable. It eliminates the travel that would have otherwise been compulsory for attending physical learning institutions.

Additionally, many online programs are self-paced, meaning students have the ability to complete them at their own pace. While there are still exams and assignments that need tending to, you have much more freedom when it comes to adjusting and adapting your schedule to study.

This doesn’t mean this sort of learning is easier than physical colleges or programs. The exams are the same, and sometimes even harder with e-learning.

2. It’s Less Expensive

As you probably already know, colleges can present a huge cost to students. In the US, that’s especially a big problem for young people because they have to pay it themselves, unlike in some other countries where the costs are covered by the state.

This forces them to pick their college more carefully. The average cost of college can be anywhere from $12.000 to $50.000, depending on which college you choose.

However, online colleges are much more affordable. For example, the University of Florida online college will charge around $129 per credit hour (for Florida residents), which will cost you around $4000 for the complete degree.

Additionally, online courses are cheaper than they have ever been. You might expect to pay anywhere between $20 (Udemy) to $90 (MasterClass) for individual courses, while programs can cost even more than that. But that’s still much cheaper than what some physical courses cost in the past, and the results can be just as good.

It Allows for Global Collaboration

E-learning is not geographically restrictive. This means that most online programs can be taken from almost anyone from anywhere in the world.

The model also allows students to collaborate with each other, wherever they might be from. It means that Sam from Manchester, England, can finally study with George from Sydney, Australia, which leads to interesting encounters (where it is possible). Some programs have full-blown communities where students can connect and talk to each other.

Previously, this was not possible, at least not at this scale. Sure, there were various international colleges, but e-learning undoubtedly takes it to another level.

With all this in mind, it’s fairly easy to see why e-learning is growing so quickly in popularity and is about to reach a point where it’s worth more than $300 billion.

The Disadvantages of E-Learning

Despite all the advantages, e-learning still has some issues to iron out before it’s perfectly viable for everyone. Here are some of the main disadvantages of e-learning.

NOTE: We’ll touch on the disadvantages only briefly here. If you want to read a full article about the disadvantages of e-learning, click here.

1. No Physical Contact

The biggest and most obvious disadvantage is you won’t have physical contact with other students or teachers. This can lead to social isolation, although this is not a major problem if you still connect with other students in one way or another.

2. Risk of Cheating

Because it’s harder for teachers to vet students in e-learning, it may lead to cheating in exams. This is, of course, not fair to students who remain diligent and truthful with their exams.

3. Lack of Communication Skill

This ties nicely with the first point – because you won’t have too much contact with students and teachers, you probably won’t have to talk much (depending on your college/program/course). This is not great if you’re studying a language, for example.

The History of E-Learning

E-learning has a relatively short but already rich history. The term e-learning was first used in 1997 by Elliott Masie, who wrote that “Online learning is the use of network technology to design, deliver, select, administer, and extend learning.” Since then, there have been many interpretations and definitions of e-learning.

In 1999, Cisco was one of the first companies to define e-learning, too. They said that “eLearning is Internet-enabled learning.”

Back then, of course, the Internet was still in its infancy. Major online retail companies like Amazon were being developed, but nobody paid too much attention to it. With that, online learning was very much crude and poorly developed, and only available to a few lucky students. This now-famous photo of Jeff Bezos in 1999 truly reflects the state of the Internet (and e-learning) at that time:

See the source image

Small, undeveloped, elementary, and with a table full of cables but driven and with a lot of promise.

At that time, most of the learning was done with CDs and DVDs, as well as printed materials. Physical colleges and classrooms were still the norm. Fast-forward 20 years and this trend is shifting almost on a daily basis to e-learning.

But it was a long and thorny path for e-learning platforms, too. In the 2000s, many companies started to adopt the e-learning model, especially larger corporations. They used it to train their employees.

It was not until the 2010s when this type of learning became accessible to every individual out there. Some of the biggest e-learning platforms were established in this era, including platforms like Udemy (2010), Skillshare (2010), Coursera (2012), Talent LMS, and many others.

So far, the curve of e-learning has been an upward one. But this is only about to be strengthened even further. What are some factors that helped e-learning become what it is today?

  • The development of the Internet. This is no doubt the biggest factor behind this development. Without it, e-learning would not have been possible. And it’s still very much developing, with new technologies being implemented constantly. What’s next for the Internet and e-learning? Maybe VR and AR? Or something completely different?
  • Affordable digital services. The first computer by IBM cost $5000, but that cost is much more affordable to the average consumer today.
  • The development of cloud-based technologies. This one mustn’t be underestimated. The cloud-based technology is enhancing e-learning big time.
  • Multimedia development. Today, we have many options when it comes to multimedia, including videos, images, text, and other types.

Final Thoughts

The world of e-learning is a fascinating and exciting one. For many people, it’s still an enigma and they’re unwilling to experiment with it. For others, it’s become the norm.

And the future looks bright for online learning. It seems as though the main players have already been established in this game, but with new technologies developing constantly, who knows what the future might bring for it?

About the author: Hey there! I’m Vince. I’m a trained and practicing teacher with experience in e-learning and course design, along with having an extensive background in building and maintaining websites. I started EduTest Labs to help course creators and students find the best resources (without the BS).