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An Introduction to e-Learning

The objectives of this section are:

  • To have a common understanding of the term e-Learning.
  • To ensure that the benefits and possibilities of using ICT are clear to all.
  • To understand the types of learner centered activities that could be enhanced through the use of technology using simple tools & techniques.
  • To establish the technologies (both hardware & software) available locally for course teams to use.

Site: Jisc Moodle Archive
Course: eSkills Module 1
Book: An Introduction to e-Learning
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Tuesday, 9 August 2022, 2:27 AM

What is the Difference between IT, ICT and E-Learning?

Information Technology refers to the lowest level of involvement in the use of computer technology.

Information Communications Technology - equipment is networked together allowing communication with others on the network and in the outside world via e-mail amd the internet.

e-Learning is the application of IT/ICT to the core business of education. E-Learning is characterised by the use of ICT to deliver learning experiences and may extend to on-line guidance, assessment and recording of progress.

Information Technology

In this definition, IT can be taken to refer to the hardware, software and skills that surround a single stand-alone computer or laptop.

a stand alone pc

Hardware refers to the basic box and add-ons such as printers, scanners, CD-ROM, DVD drive and so forth. Software associated with this definition includes productivity software such as word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and graphics and presentation packages, familiar to most users as Microsoft products such as Word, Excel, Access, Publisher and PowerPoint.

In addition there are subject/topic/occupation-specific packages for computer-assisted design, accountancy and a range of other commercial applications. Developing skills in the personal use of IT typically consists of acquiring proficiency in basic Windows operations and increasing degrees of expertise in the use of one or more packages. Training programmes, such as PC Passport, ECDL and Computer Literacy and Information Technology (CLAIT) qualification, focus on taking users through a low-level set of fundamental operations in three packages (most typically a word processor, a spreadsheet application and one other) as a basis for subsequent development. As an initial engagement with computers and their applications, such programmes are often highly motivating and personally rewarding.

Information & Communications Technology

The notion of information and communications technology (ICT) incorporates the networking together of computers. This allows computers to do stand-alone type tasks more effectively, insofar as it potentially makes available a wider range of shared software held centrally on servers and can make management of the system easier and more efficient. The key to ICT, however, is in the possibilities for communication, both within and between institutions.

Network PC

Within a college, the most obvious immediate impact is likely to come from e-mail between staff and access to college databases, notably student and course information, together with full management information system data. Externally, there are possibilities for links with other colleges, validating and funding agencies, and with the vast information and communication resources of the World Wide Web.

The software added into the mix by the move from IT to ICT includes communications software, such as Microsoft Outlook, browser software such as Internet Explorer and Netscape, and web authoring packages such as Dreamweaver. The capability to produce and maintain a college web site, or its internal equivalent, an intranet, opens new opportunities for communications. The people skills involved can be classified as user/receiver (browsing, reading e-mail) or creator/sender (web authoring, sending e-mail)


E-Learning is about the application of IT/ICT to education. So it begins with an understanding of the needs and possibilities for learning. By first considering what students wish to accomplish, it is then possible to look at how the new technologies might make this more possible, by widening participation or increasing engagement, and how they might contribute to raising standards of attainment and the quality of learner experience. It is also possible to look at how the professional skills of tutors and all those supporting learning can be enhanced by adding these new tools to those that already exist, and how the business of the college can be more effectively conducted by all staff.

an image of a learner using IT

The current state of development of IT/ICT, and particularly the growth of internet-based information services, gives us a significant opportunity to change the way we work to the benefit of all. e-Learning is about choices that we make for our learners and our colleges that will change the culture. This is most readily illustrated by looking at staff training and skills. The e-Learning perspective tells us that IT training, such as CLAIT, or qualifications with an ICT flavour such as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) may enhance the basic skills of staff.

Staff will not change the culture or drive forward the college e-Learning strategy until further work is done that addresses the issue of application of these new skills to learning situations.

The e-learning perspective asks: 'What do we want to do with IT/ICT to improve the learning experience?

Why is it important to promote e-Learning ?

The digram here illustrates the ubiquitous nature of technology in the 21st century and is available in an animated form in the course materials . The lower semi-circle illustrates how activities undertaken autonomously by learners day to day can support and underpin their learning in a formal managed learning environment and could be utilised to good effect in the delivery of teaching, training and learning in a formal context.

illustration of the e-learning, e-living animation

The upper semi-circle of the diagram describes different models that can be used to enhance the learning experience. Any or all might be appropriate. The degree of learner autonomy increases from left to right as the use of technology enables individuals to engage in their own self-directed activities.

Traditional Teaching Tool: A way of supporting learners that is common practice in a large number of colleges is to provide learners with resources and activities outside scheduled learning time: giving them handouts, assignments, revision exercises, and offering them the opportunity to talk to other learners and members of staff. This type of opportunity is still very much immersed in, and tied to, traditional methods of teaching.

Blended Learning: At this stage, these traditional methods might be supplemented by electronic media such as a computer, data projector and interactive whiteboard, or may include handouts produced with a word processor rather than hand-written ones, or perhaps even use presentation technology to replace the overhead projector. Here, a number of technologies are used to supplement the teacher- centred approach. This is where many practitioners start: by enhancing practice they know, feel confident with and are familiar with. They might begin using e-mail to communicate with other members of staff and with their groups of learners, or they might start to place digital resources in a shared folder on the network where learners can access them.

Differentiated Pace: when learning at a differentiated pace, account can be taken of the differing learning speeds and abilities of learners within the framework of learning programmes. Additional electronic resources and computer-based support can be made available to those learners that are struggling, whereas more capable learners can be provided with more challenging activities and assignments. If practitioners are lucky, the college might even have electronic tracking processes in place that enable staff to monitor the progress of groups or individual learners. This certainly facilitates learning at a differentiated pace.

Differentiated Programme: The big leap is to jump from the three opportunities for learning represented so far to offering differentiated pathways. In this situation, learners are offered individualised routes through content and individualised learner support that meets their learning styles and needs. In this scenario, a number of mechanisms would need to be in place to support the learner whilst on a course: access to electronic resources ranging from simple materials to multimedia content; electronic methods of communication & support that might be e-mail-based or web-based; automatic assessment and tracking systems.

Anytime Learning: The ability to offer differentiated pace in learning, and differentiated pathways to learning, is critical to our the concept of anytime learning : an environment that provides all the mechanisms of delivery and support mentioned so far, but which doesn’t necessarily require the learner to set foot in a college at all.

Remote Learning: To provide a truly comprehensive learning environment that can offer learning at any time and in any place, facilities have to be made available to learners and staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week (24/7). This doesn’t mean that practitioners and learners will have to work 24/7 - although this is the fear of some staff - only that elements of learning must be accessible when the college is shut.

It should not be assumed that any segment or half of the model represents better methods or modes of learning, or that learning only takes place in the upper part of the circle. The many forms of e-learning should rather be seen as a set of opportunities to meet the differing needs of individual learners in different contexts. Each segment of the circular model of e-living and e-learning lends itself to high quality, effective learning when it is appropriate to the needs of the learner and the context in which the learning takes place.

Why is e-Learning Important ?

Prensky's digital native / digital immigrant theory suggests that:

"Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach"

download the article

Wim Veen has developed the concept and the term "Homo Zappien". He suggests that in our schools, colleges and universities we have a generation that were bought up in a digital age – Homo Zappien. Homo Zappiens are used to having many feeds, capable of holding a number of online conversations, watching TV, listening to back ground music and doing their work!

The way we learnig is changing - Increasingly learners are ICT literate with h igh expectations of ICT availability, any time any place any where access, ICT contact with teachers, teaching resources, learning materials, MIS & learner services. Many students always online and require wired, wireless and mobile devices.

changing paradigms

More about Prensky

Marc Prensky describes how students today think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors, as a result of being surrounded by new technology. He compares these “digital natives” with the older generation who are learning and adopting new technology naming them “digital immigrants”.

Read his article 

Marc Prensky is an internationally acclaimed speaker, writer, consultant, and designer in the critical areas of education and learning.

More about Vin Weem

Wim Veen has developed the concept and the term "Homo Zappien “. He suggests that in our schools, colleges and universities we have a generation that were bought up in a digital age – Homo Zappien. This illustration describes what he regards as a fundamental shift.

image illustrating the differences bewteen Homo Zappiens and Homo Sapiens

Homo Zappiens are used to having many feeds, capable of holding a number of online conversations, watching TV, listening to back ground music and doing their work! He cites the way in which Homo Zappiens work and learn collaboratively, drawing examples from games such as World of Warcraft . The impact of new and ubiquitous technologies enable new paradigms of learning & teaching to be developed such as :

  • Enquiry based approaches
  • Networked learning
  • Experiential learning
  • Collaborative learning
  • Active learning
  • Self organisation
  • Problem solving strategies

Wim Veen is a professor at Delft University of Technology, where his research focuses on new concepts and strategies for ICT enhanced learning.