The Inevitable Future of E-Learning 

The Inevitable Future of E-Learning 

Definition of E-Learning 

The term “e-learning” was first coined by Elliott Masie in 1999. He defined the “e” in e-learning as the experience dimension of learning that includes engagement, curiosity, simulation, and practice.  

Ever since the emergence of the term, e-learning has had several definitions. Sangrà et al., in their publication, grouped e-learning into four categories: technology-driven, delivery-system-oriented, communication-oriented, and educational-paradigm-oriented.  

Marc Rosenberg defined e-learning as the use of internet technologies to deliver a broad array of solutions that enhance knowledge and performance. Rodrigues et al. define e-learning as an innovative web-based system based on digital technologies and other forms of educational materials whose primary goal is to provide students with a personalized, learner-centered, open, enjoyable, and interactive learning environment supporting and enhancing the learning processes. 

While these definitions explore e-learning from various points of view, e-learning can be summarized as the combined use of computer software, hardware, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning.  

History of E-Learning 

The concept of distant learning has existed long before the popularity of computers. In 1924, Ohio State University professor Sidney Pressey created the Automatic Teacher’s first electronic learning machine. Typewritten questions of the ordinary selective-answer type were displayed on a little window. The students could input the corresponding answer, which would lead to the next question being displayed. The device then counted the number of correct responses and presented the total score after finishing the test.  

Although the Automatic Teacher was unsuccessful, it paved a path towards the adoption of electronic learning. It was only later in 1960 that online learning technology was implemented. The system, PLATO, developed by Donald L. Bitzer, was initially conceived for use at the University of Illinois. It delivered coursework through a network of interconnected graphics terminals. PLATO was later adopted in local schools, prisons, and other universities. The system’s success resulted in it getting up to four generations.  

When the Advanced Research Project Agency Network, ARPANET, was introduced by DARPA in 1969, it paved the way for the modern Internet. The network was used to share educational content among scientists in universities across the US. As the network expanded beyond its initial educational use, it led to linking commercial networks and enterprises, hence its transition into the Internet. The Internet provided a new way of sharing content across the globe. When Apple released the first MAC in 1977, users could now have access to personal computers in their homes. 

The sharing of educational content became more prevalent with the wide adoption of personal computers. However, it was only until 1994 that the first accredited online school, CompuHigh, was established, serving grades 9 through 12. The first online university, Jones International University, later opened in 1999, offering online courses and diplomas in business and education. It was also during this year that educational technology expert Elliott Masie coined the term e-learning. 

The use of online learning platforms soon found benefits beyond exclusively educational purposes. Businesses also began using e-learning methods to train their employees, and a new e-learning market began to grow worldwide.  

Modern E-learning

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E-learning became widespread throughout the globe with the adoption of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in 2012, and many universities began offering fully online learning programs. Online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udacity, and edX emerged and were soon used across the globe.  

The rapid growth of online learning can be attributed to the advancement of technology, making information more accessible. Learners can access content from the Internet irrespective of their location and as many times as they want. The ease of access to content in e-learning platforms makes it somewhat preferable to classroom teaching. These platforms also facilitate access to updated content from renowned institutions, breaking cost and distance limitations learners could face if they chose to pursue in-person learning.  

Although most e-learning systems are generally asynchronous (allowing access to content whenever students wish), synchronous technologies are also used for e-learning, these systems include live video lessons, audio, and shared access to electronic content at scheduled times. The use of synchronous technologies establishes the needed interactivity of learning in an online environment. Students can collaborate on shared files, interact with their teachers during these live sessions, and work with their peers, thus simulating a physical learning experience.  

The Future Of E-learning 

The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 led to more widespread adoption of online technologies for learning. While most of the world was in lockdown, most industries sought solutions to continue providing their services to their clients. One such industry was entertainment, which heavily relies on physical and social interaction between people. For example, escape rooms, a recent trending form of entertainment, began embracing virtual alternatives to their physical activities. Although e-learning was already common worldwide, not every institution offered online education. The pandemic obliged most institutions to look towards distant learning solutions to continue educating their students.  

The large-scale integration of online learning by institutions has led to a rise in the industry. Since for-profit institutions offer many distance learning programs, the concept has become closely related to the commercialization of higher education. According to Statista, the market of e-learning all over the world will be over 243 billion dollars in 2022. Investment into this industry will lead to further research into better technology that could enhance the learning experience for students and teachers. The use of adaptive learning, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and learning management systems are examples of future trends which will prevail in e-learning.  

E-learning also blurs out the line between corporate training and higher education. The development of corporate-college partnerships around online learning offerings opens up new possibilities as students benefit from choosing from among the best programs worldwide, with no limitations on their geographical location.   

The pandemic also revealed the limitations of the current education systems, which were slow to adapt to digitalization. Institutions that had not adopted blended learning (integration of face-to-face learning and e-learning) in their systems had reached a standstill as they were forced to remain closed during the lockdowns. This failure can be attributed to the fact that blended learning was underestimated and excluded from the digitalization of education.  

Although it is uncertain when the current global situation will return to normal, it is evident that e-learning will be embraced by many institutions. Integrating e-learning into our current education system has become a better alternative to the traditional face-to-face methods across institutions worldwide.  

Read next: Useful Tools for Distance Learning

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