An abbreviation of electronic learning, which uses IT systems to conduct education or training as well as to manage those related activities
Purpose ans benefit
If there is a large number of students/trainees, the relatively high cost of e-learning can be justified. The flexibility of e-learning is well suited to allowing the participants to complete the education/training at their own pace or remotely. Also, a ‘test-out’ feature can allow the participants who already understand the material to complete a pre-test, and if successful to avoid spending time on topics in which they are already competent.
E-learning - or electronic learning - includes numerous types of media that deliver text, audio, images, animation, and streaming video. Several technological realization can be used as well: audio or video tape, satellite TV, CD-ROM, local intranet or Internet. E-learning can occur in or out of the classroom, and can be performed at the learner's own pace - asynchronously - or instructor-led, synchronously.
E-learning methods can be used as well in education as in training processes. A common application of e-learning in the nuclear industry is the refresher training of the employees. The e-learning uses electronic media not only to store the textbooks and the learning materials, but also uses the electronic media for some (if not all) assessment of the trainees/students. Because the major part is in electronic form, it can be followed from distance - therefore it is an important form of the distance learning. The interaction between the teacher/trainer and the students/trainees also occurs via electronic communication forms: e-mail, chat, messengers etc. In this form of education/training physical presence of the students/trainees is needed only when hands-on, practical measurements/laboratory works have to be performed.
Several similar expressions are used in the literature, which are variations of e-learning, but have slightly different meaning:
- cyber learning - a variation of e-learning, which emphasizes the use of the Internet over other electronic media in the learning process.
- m-learning (mobile learning) - emphasizes the learning by mobile devices (tablets, mobile phones etc.).
- distance learning - this is a broader (and older) term than e-learning, but its most common form is the e-learning.
- computer aided learning - does not occur necessarily in distance, but electronic devices (computers) are used. For example the nuclear industry uses several computer simulation software in the education and training of the personnel, and some of them are licensed only in the education/training institute, therefore they can be used only there. Computer aided learning differs from e-learning because beside the computer it uses also conventional learning means like classroom lectures, laboratory practices etc.
The main components of an e-learning course depend strongly on the scope and complexity of the course as well as on the method how the course will occur: whether in the classroom, or from distance, whether asynchronously or instructor-led, whether for a relatively small group or for thousands of participants.
- Learning objectives should be defined, similarly to conventional learning.
- In all cases the course material should be prepared well in advance in electronic form. It should be searchable, cross-linked, usually contains different forms of multimedia elements like pictures, audio, video files, animations, interactive simulations.
The course material should contain self-tests and several means that allow the participants to check their own progress and understanding.
- If the e-learning course is intended to happen in distance and for large number of participants then a quite powerful hardware and broadband Internet access is necessary to serve the incoming requests of the participants.
- If the e-learning course includes also live webcasts with some possibility of students' interaction, then an appropriate room and hardware is necessary.
- Suitable software to assess the performance of the participants
- For asynchronous e-learning course instructors should be available for answering e-mails, chat at specific times of the day and also for assessing the progress of the participants at regular intervals
- E-learning courses may use the social networking of the participants, in form of blog and forums. In this case the participants can learn from each-other.
- There are some standard forms of e-learning material (e.g. Shareable Content Object Reference Model, SCORM ), that can be implemented in the most common e-learning content management systems (e.g. Moodle )
- The use of some existing e-learning content management system is advisable, since they are usually well tested and prepared for the most common tasks that occur during an e-learning course.
- The instructors involved in the e-learning course should be taught and prepared in advance (teach the teachers) to handle the particularities of this form of education/training. This is especially true if they are new to this form of education/training.
- The software and the hardware should be well tested before starting the course. Special care should be taken if the course expects large number of participants. In this case the hardware should be tested also for the maximal expected load.
- The communication between the participants and the instructors should run smoothly, the participants should get answers to their requests without too much delay. Special care should be taken if the participants of the e-learning course come from different time-zones (possibly with several hours of differences).
- Establishment of a helpdesk is advisable, where the participants get help in case of technical problems.
- One of the most common pitfall is that the hardware (server and network) is not powerful enough to handle the incoming requests in peaks. For example, around deadlines (e.g. registration, assessment, tests etc.) most of the participants want to get access to the course almost the same time. If the number of participants is large (e.g. several thousands), these periods represent quite a huge load for the sever and for the network. If the hardware is not strong enough, the whole system might break down.
- Quite a common pitfall is that the course material of an e-learning course is a simple copy of a textbook of a conventional classroom course. This is wrong, since this type of education/training needs completely different learning material than the conventional courses. The material must be searchable, should be cross-linked, should contain lots of multimedia, some of them should be interactive, should include interactive self-tests etc.
- Sometimes there are not enough instructors assigned to the course, and the existing ones cannot cope with the amount of the incoming questions and requests of the large number of participants. Then the communication between the instructors and the participants fail.
- If there is no helpdesk established, the participants bother the instructors also with technical questions. In the best case it is only wasting their time to answer them (if they know the answer), but in the worst case they are not the right person to give an adequate answer, and they also have to ask further a technician or system manager.
 Wikipedia SCORM: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharable_Content_Object_Reference_Model
 Wikipedia Moodle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moodle