What is e-Learning, and is it interesting?

What is eLearning? blog post on the Dashboard

What is eLearning? blog post on the Dashboard

As an increasingly significant part of sociotechnical learning systems, e-Learning is value laden, whether ethical, social or cultural; e-Learning can be viewed as embodying different forms of power and authority, thus being inherently political. e-Learning is not neutral. When framed in this way, how can it be anything but interesting?

There is nothing new about technologies for learning. Papyrus and paper, chalk and print, overhead projectors, educational toys and television, even the basic technologies of writing were innovations once.

Beetham, H. & Sharpe, R. 2007.

So, what is e-Learning?

At first glance this seems simple to answer. However, as the landscape is dynamic and evolving, the language of e-Learning is expanding. JISC defines it as ‘learning facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology (ICT).’ Distance Educator Ken Allan suggests that some form of interactivity is a key feature of e-Learning, and that a ‘passive PDF version of a document posted on the internet’ is not usually considered an e-Learning resource. Here he describes interactive elements of e-Learning:

‘e-Learning uses a two-way or multi-way exchange of information that gives immediacy to the learning process and has the potential to provide the synergy that is absent when a student attempts to learn from passive resources alone.

Numerous types of feedback can assist learning but not all of them are considered interactive:
• self-assessment (passive – needs motivation)
• online feedback/assessment (interactive – can be immediate)
• teacher feedback/assessment (interactive – can be immediate)
• peer-to-peer assessment (interactive – can be immediate)
• peer-to-peer discussion (collaborative – can be immediate).

There are two broad spheres of interactive learning for student groups:
• learning the same things at the same time
• timetabled within set periods  (sometimes inconvenient for students in different time zone)
• fixed pace of learning
• potential for social interaction
• suitable for discussions – immediacy

• learning at own pace and according to personal time schedule
• choice when to study  (convenient for students in different time zones)
• flexible pace of learning
• delayed social interaction
• less useful for discussions – delayed feedback.’

On his blog, dontwasteyourtime.co.uk Learning Technologist David Hopkins offers a strident definition of what e-Learning is, and what he feels it most definitely is not: Why call it eLearning when it is clearly NOT eLearning?


The most productive approach involves an ongoing attempt to accommodate technology into a course, with continued discussion about its purposes and ethos, and the purposes that each form of teaching serves.

Sharpe, R. & Oliver, M. 2007

In its publication Effective Practice in a Digital Age, JISC states that ‘the skill of the practitioner remains key to the effectiveness of learning. However, practitioners now need to understand how to draw advantage from an increasingly diverse range of tools and media and select the most useful for their purpose; the appropriate integration or blending of technology-mediated activities with face-to-face learning and teaching is an important dimension of 21c practice’. At CSM we find subtle shifts each year in the ways in which our students are involving digital technologies in their daily and learning lives. Whilst incremental, they are not incidental shifts, and as such we are currently undertaking a small-scale research study to explore our students’ relationships with technologies.

Image of iPhone screen


Most implementations of e-learning will include blended elements that emphasize all three levels: learning as behaviour, learning as the construction of knowledge and meaning, and learning as social practice.

Mayes,T. & de Freitas, S. 2007

The rapidly developing array of powerful digital tools and social software that we can access anytime and anywhere, allow for a multiplicity of e-Learning opportunities. One example being the global peer-to-peer networks facilitated by these tools that are providing learners with new forms of socially situated experiences. In an article about the role of theory in learning and e-Learning, Sara de Freitas and Terry Mayes suggest that ‘we are beginning to witness a new model of education, rather than a new model of learning.’


Dontwasteyourtime.co.uk   http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/

JISC Effective Practice in a Digital Age   http://www.jisc.ac.uk/practice

JISC e-Learning Models, Mayes and de Freitas   Stage 2 Learning Models (Version 1)