E-learning presents a number of benefits to the instructor as well as the learner. However, due to the challenges that are encountered in implementing this form of learning, many institutions and learners are yet to fully incorporate it in their learning process. This paper defines e-learning and discusses aspects related to e-learning in K-12, institutions of higher learning, and other institutions. The paper also recommends the ways in which technology will be instrumental in supporting and sustaining the process of e-learning in future.
Definition of E-Learning
According to Velarde & Alexandrov (2012), e-learning involves using any electronic technology in aiding in any process aimed at acquiring and/or developing knowledge as well as understanding the aim of demonstrating and positively influencing behaviors. E-learning can also be defined as a form of learning that is enabled or supported using information and communication technologies and that which involves some form of interactivity such as that between the learners and their peers as well as that with their instructors. Conventionally, e-learning is usually facilitated through the Internet as well as related tools and software. However, this is changing to include a wide and diverse range of other technologies such as video, audio conferencing, mobile phones, data projectors, digital cameras, global positioning systems, and interactive whiteboards. In addition, e-learning has many implied meanings and could be used to describe a form of learning that takes place through the Internet and includes computerized electronic learning, distance education, among other forms. It could also be defined as courses which are delivered through the Internet other than the normal classroom and can use media like CD-ROM, video tapes of television channels and can be delivered also in live form where students can communicate with teachers and peers in a real-time mode.
Because of the steady growth of technology and the increase of its usage, e-learning has witnessed a number of developments in the way students and teachers interact in a learning environment.
This has enabled integration of learning services with mobile technologies including PDAs, digital pen, and mobile phones. Mobile technologies present e-learning to people who have no access to the Internet. It enables them to access e-learning materials through their mobile devices. This technology also serves well to those who have to remain in a continuous move. It enables them learn and receive information by visiting websites. Mobile technologies have also been useful to students who need individualized learning education (Stansfield & Connolly, 2009). PDAs are already in use in the USA with mobile learning developing fast in Europe. Mobile phone companies have also integrated such programs for learning in their training and development systems.
Simulations in E-Learning Process
Simulation of the e-learning process is also a recent development in training activities in sectors like defense, aviation, and medicine despite its slow adaption due to cost-related factors. Simulations assist in developing competence and skills for employees who work for institutions and require upgrading of their skills and competencies through virtual training. This initiative has since increased the scale of the adoption of simulation technology in e-learning. For instance, simulations are sometimes designed to compliment demonstrations, lectures, as well as real-world practice.
Adaptive Learning Environments
With increased awareness on the potential benefits of adaptability, e-learning has developed the adaptive learning environments (ALEs) for massive scale learning using traditional approaches. ALEs are motivated by the diversity in learners’ population and the increasing acceptance of lifelong learning practices among elderly people in the society. The other factor which informs the introduction of ALEs is the diverse media and modality access that learners can utilize. It has also been necessitated by the need to collaborate in developing educational content for different groups of learners. Adaptive learning environment is the one which enables monitoring of learning activities of the users and interpret them based on the domain-specific models of the user.
E-learning has also witnessed the development of standards in tools and software used for learning. This is focused on bringing together disparate groups in the learning community. It aims at coordinating the emerging technologies and capabilities of e-learning tools available to learners. Standard development also focuses on building a common reference model for developing a web-based learning and unifies all learning tools whether commercial or open source. In addition, it considers factors such as affordability, adaptability, accessibility, and durability of the tools and software used in e-learning.
Benefits of E-Learning
E-learning has been significant in facilitating access to various information sources as well as related learning activities. This has been realized at school, home, as well as at the level of various work places. It has been possible through improved communication and easier access to sources of information. The development in technology has also enabled e-learning providers to have a wide variety of tools and options through which they can provide effective and interesting learning experiences to people located in a place other than the classroom. E-learning presents learners with a number of benefits including the opportunity to become confident and versatile. This is made possible through the use of information and communication technology tools from wherever place they may be located. Students are also able to develop literacy skills and competencies which are crucial in their contribution and effective participation in the contemporary society in their homes and places of work. For instance, K-12 students are able to complete their assignment and submit it to their teacher via the Internet upon accepting and embracing e-learning. Students in higher institutions of learning can also carry out research through consultation with the teachers and peers via the Internet (Jochems, Koper & Van Merrienboer, 2013).
E-learning also helps in saving time without sacrificing quality. Studies are indicating that up to 35-40% of the students’ time is saved by those who embrace e-learning when compared to those going through the traditional classroom approach of learning. Moreover, this does not interfere with the quality of education that a student gains through e-learning. In this way, e-learning reduces the overall time and saves money required for training because it minimizes the need to travel regularly. A good example is in the case of the K-12 students who have to commute daily between school and their homes because of the traditional classroom approach. The other benefit is that e-learning minimizes the costs, especially the travelling and entertainment costs. Of course this are what make the bulk of costs associated with classroom training. Studies indicate a 50% reduction in the costs for travelling for students who opt for e-learning. The cost may further be reduced to 80% if the approach to e-learning is well implemented (Stansfield & Connolly, 2009).
For employees who work for international institutions, e-learning is better compared to the traditional one. Geographical space can be an impediment to implementation of continuous training for employees. However, e-learning can facilitate this, especially by having stakeholders in the education process using web delivered content which allows for easier translation of content to fit into different cultures and languages. For instance, a company as geographically diversified as Coca-Cola can offer a training session to its employees across the world through e-learning. This can be done using customized web content to suit the needs of each group of employees.
Equally, some learners may require individualized instructions from their teachers. This can be facilitated through e-learning. It allows teachers and learners to teach and learn at their own pace and, more often, at the convenience of their schedules. This form of learning also empowers learners to skip through the content and pick what is essential to them. It thus eliminates the need to sit through a long lecture session in a classroom to be able to pick a single concept that they might be lacking. Generally, e-learning presents learners in K-12, higher education institutions, and employees with improved access to education, improved interaction between learners and teachers, as well as a better integration of non-full-time students especially those in continuing education programs. The technologies behind e-learning also provide tools to enable learners solve problems independently besides the acquisition of skills through practice (Goodfellow & Lea, 2009).
Reasons why some Schools and Businesses are Hesitant in Implementing E-Learning
E-learning presents a number of challenges to implementers including schools in many ways. One of the main concerns is the possibility of students cheating in exams. Classroom learning requires teachers to invigilate their students and guide them in their work. However, in the e-learning environment free access to the Internet makes it very easy for students to cheat. On the other hand, it makes it even more difficult to control cheating from students. E-learning is also biased towards students who do not have great interest in technology. It is evident that not all students in K-12, higher education institutions, as well as many other institutions, prefer using technology in their learning. This means that some students are forced to use technology tools every day in their learning. It may therefore negatively impact on their progress in learning. Thus, some institutions implement e-learning partially to allow non-technical students to access classroom environment for learning (Kats & IGI Global, 2013).
Equally, some instructors also lack proper knowledge and experience to manage the virtual interaction in the e-learning environment. This is appreciated by the fact that e-learning is a recent addition to education and most teachers and instructors employed in various learning and business institutions trained at a time when e-learning was not even known. Moreover, the uncommitted teachers are also likely to take a longer period of time in responding to questions from their students. This negates the overall purpose of reducing the time required for learning. Even more dangerous is the fact that when students are not supervised by their teachers, they risk the dangers of procrastination. Postponement of assignment by students can lead to poor performance and eventual poor rating of the school. Thus, many institutions prefer a physical classroom where teachers are able to control and manage what their students are doing and also check whether they have completed assignment as instructed (Jochems, Koper & Van Merrienboer, 2013).
The Extent to Which E-Learning will Replace Face-to-Face Learning
The development in technology will continue to facilitate the adaption and use of tools that support e-learning. The number of students joining distance education has increased tremendously in the past few years. In the future, more than 50% of learning will be done through e-learning. Most instructors as well as students will most likely embrace the tools and technologies that facilitate this form of learning. As a result, there is going to be a change in the administration of education both at the school level and national level to avoid the challenges that are witnessed today in e-learning.
E-learning will also facilitate multiple learning where students will be able to attend different courses and employees will be able to learn while they work. Also it will likely be dominated by many small e-learning operators in all product areas in identified valuable niche areas and replaced conventional schooling environment where students sit in class to learn. New e-learning operators are also going to merge or compliment the services offered in e-learning including game based learning, open source integration, as well as simulations. Professional associations and telecommunication operators are also expected to enter the market in providing e-learning services to students in K-12 and higher institutions. This will in turn increase their dominance over normal schools. Companies like WebCT, Microsoft, and Blackboard will continue to attract students in K-12 and replace teachers (Sutton & Basiel, 2013).
In conclusion, e-learning is and will continuously be dependent on various technological applications. Technology will thus be required to grow hand in hand with e-learning. It will specifically help to facilitate real time video communication, enable detection of cheating from learners, and empower teachers to respond to questions from students in an automated mode to eliminate the challenge of delayed response