16th September 2005 at 01:00
Pete Roythorne on what exactly 'e-learning' is

At a time when marketers seem to be putting an "e" in front of everything, some teachers are still confused by what exactly e-learning is.

So, before you start simply dropping the phrase into conversation in a desperate attempt not to appear technologically moribund, I'll attempt to shed some light on the matter.

In the 1980s, there was computer-based learning, which meant traditional classroom-based learning was supplemented by the use of computer. In those days, that would have involved a trip to the school's computer lab.

However, computer technology has developed, and computers themselves have become more widespread. They can now offer a level of interactivity in the classroom that is way beyond what could be provided by a single computer.

Just look at how the growth of the internet and broadband connections has given us access to materials and learning experiences which we wouldn't have dreamed possible even five years ago.

Many teachers believe that the use of these materials alongside their current teaching methods greatly increases the quality of learning they can provide. In essence, e-learning is something which enhances the learning experience through the use of ICT.

Through a combination of communication technology and devices such as personal computers, CD-Roms, digital television, personal digital assistants (and other handheld computers) and even mobile phones, pupils can access the internet, email, discussion forums and collaborative software, and can participate in activities ranging from video-conferences to online debates.

This technology also lets students learn at their own speed: online resources can be digested at different speeds by different pupils. Through the use of intranets (internal-only access websites) and extranets (limited access external websites) children can access resources that back-up or expand on lessons, so they can continue working outside school, following their own research. This is a part of e-learning that is often referred to as distance learning, and can serve many useful purposes, whether it be continuing the education of those excluded from school or allowing pupils to catch up on lessons they have missed. So an environment is created which allows the learner to have more say in their education - or, at least, that's the idea. Sadly, computers are not in as many homes as the Government would like, but this is something the e-Learning Foundation is aiming to tackle.

However, one thing is still a little vague - what does "e" stand for? Some say "electronic", while others say "enhanced". You might need to decide this for yourself.


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