What is E-learning?

E-learning is to classroom learning as cell phones are to a pay phone at the bus station.

At least it is in some ways. For instance, e-learning allows you to learn anywhere and usually at any time, as long as you have a properly configured computer. Cell phones allow you to communicate any time and usually anywhere, as long as you have a properly configured phone.

E-learning can be CD-ROM-based, Network-based, Intranet-based or Internet-based. It can include text, video, audio, animation and virtual environments. It can be a very rich learning experience that can even surpass the level of training you might experience in a crowded classroom. It's self-paced, hands-on learning.

The quality of the electronic-based training, as in every form of training, is in its content and its delivery. E-learning can suffer from many of the same pitfalls as classroom training, such as boring slides, monotonous speech, and little opportunity for interaction. The beauty of e-learning, however, is that new software allows the creation of very effective learning environments that can engulf you in the material. We'll use software from Trainersoft as an example to show you how the process works.

Levels of e-learning

E-learning falls into four categories, from the very basic to the very advanced. The categories are:

  • Knowledge databases -- While not necessarily seen as actual training, these databases are the most basic form of e-learning. You've probably seen knowledge databases on software sites offering indexed explanations and guidance for software questions, along with step-by-step instructions for performing specific tasks. These are usually moderately interactive, meaning that you can either type in a key word or phrase to search the database, or make a selection from an alphabetical list.
  • Online support -- Online support is also a form of e-learning and functions in a similar manner to knowledge databases. Online support comes in the form of forums, chat rooms, online bulletin boards, e-mail, or live instant-messaging support. Slightly more interactive than knowledge databases, online support offers the opportunity for more specific questions and answers, as well as more immediate answers.
  • Asynchronous training -- This is e-learning in the more traditional sense of the word. It involves self-paced learning, either CD-ROM-based, Network-based, Intranet-based or Internet-based. It may include access to instructors through online bulletin boards, online discussion groups and e-mail. Or, it may be totally self-contained with links to reference materials in place of a live instructor.
  • Synchronous training -- Synchronous training is done in real-time with a live instructor facilitating the training. Everyone logs in at a set time and can communicate directly with the instructor and with each other. You can raise your cyber hand and even view the cyber whiteboard. It lasts for a set amount of time -- from a single session to several weeks, months or even years. This type of training usually takes place via Internet Web sites, audio- or video-conferencing, Internet telephony, or even two-way live broadcasts to students in a classroom.

Let's move on to how learning works.