This factsheet was last updated in September 2014.
What is e-learning?
E-learning (or ‘electronic’ learning) may be defined as ‘learning that is delivered, enabled or mediated using electronic technology for the explicit purpose of training, learning or development in organisations’.
While there is no universally accepted definition, the characterisation adopted here can be described as an inclusive definition: it includes the use of distributed technology products (such as CD-ROMs) that do not require the user’s computer to be connected to a network. An exclusive definition would exclude these products and include only learning delivered through the Internet or an intranet (which approach could be termed ‘online’ learning). The term e-learning first emerged around the turn of the century although, if distributed technology products are included, it could be argued that e-learning stretches back several decades.
The development of e-learning has in subsequent years progressed rapidly to encompass a wide range of both formal course-based e-learning packages and products together with a huge variety of complementary or alternative e-learning techniques, such as sharing knowledge or links to resources via social/interactive media sites and viewing/participating in online lectures, web seminars (webinars), podcasts or microblogging. More recent trends encompass the development of gaming technology to support learning, artificial intelligence and the use of cloud computing, including the potential to deliver learning according to user requirements via the internet rather than by in-house computing systems.
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