What is E-Learning?
Overcoming Time/Place Barriers
Blended Learning
E-Learning Architecture
The Benefits
Technology Overview



"The illiterate of the 21st century
will not be those who cannot read and write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

  Alvin Toffler

What is E-Learning?

E-Learning means "electronic learning" — it refers to a wide range of applications and processes designed to deliver instruction through electronic means. Usually this means over the Web, however it also can include CD-ROM or video-conferencing through satellite transmission. The definition of E-learning is broader than, but includes, "online learning," "Web-based training," and "computer-based training." Most importantly, it signals the paradigm shift in education and training that is in progress.

The following list is a quick summary of E-Learning modalities currently in use:

  1. Use of technology to enrich classroom/workplace learning (Internet, CD-ROM,, interactive multimedia, games/simulations, social networks)
  2. Online instruction for distance learning cost savings (no face-to-face meetings)
  3. Blended instruction (combining online and face-to-face learning events)
  4. Synchronous: real-time, multiple students online, instructor-led
  5. Asynchronous: students and instructor in intermittent interaction
  6. Instructor-led group work (combining both synchronous and asynchronous events)
  7. Self-study (online tutorials, research and discovery learning events)
  8. Self-study with subject matter expert (tutoring, mentoring, coaching)
  9. Web-based tutorials (individual or group using self-paced online resources)
  10. Computer-based tutorials (individual or group using CD-ROM resources)
  11. Video and audio resources (distributed by tape, CD, DVD, online streaming, download, or pod-cast, etc.)

The power of E-Learning is more than technology — it is the social dynamics of networking. The revolutionary impact of E-Learning lies not simply in having a multimedia platform on a single desktop. It is the combined power of a world-wide network of such computers — that connects authors, instructors and learners globally — with the immediacy of text, graphics, audio and video, as well as interactivity and collaborative sharing.

Technology-based instruction offers leverage to make both the planning/ development process and the delivery/ learning process more efficient. The tools augment the instructional capacity of teachers and learning activity of students.

  • Instructors and curriculum developers can now share resources more easily and together build learning-object repositories.
  • Multimedia and expanded resources from the network can enhance the traditional classroom experience dramatically.
  • Online synchronous tools create a new kind of cyber-classroom, connecting distance learners from many locals ("any where") in peer-to-peer engagement.
  • Online self-paced tutorials create enriched interactive and exploratory learning experiences that are accessible on-demand ("any time") when a learner is ready.
In the Cognitive Design Model, E-Learning is situated within the context of Knowledge Mgt. resources. It provides a "blended learning" solution — that unites traditional classroom training with numerous other delivery formats, such as self-paced Web-based Training, online virtual classroom, simulation, peer-to-peer mentoring, etc. The keynote is "instruction" — meaning not just information presentation, but interactivity, guidance, reinforcement, demonstration and practice that strengthen learning.

Four Primary E-Learning Goals

The following graphic illustrates four primary goals of E-Learning. It maps these four learning goals using the following criteria:

  • Process & Goal: "information vs. instruction" (broadcast, transfer, develop & certify)
  • Content: "scope & depth" (awareness, understanding, use & mastery)
  • Learning Tasks: "simple vs. complex" (degree of required practice & interaction)
  • Development Time: "rapid vs. robust" (amount of time / effort required for product development).

1. Broadcast Information

Goal: demonstrate awareness

Dissemination of facts, figures, data, and notes to an organization to enable individual and team learning & performance
Typical Tools

Portal Site: HTML
Online Presentation (live & recorded)
Webcast & Podcast
Flash animation

Learner Interaction
Think With Others (responsively)
Think Independently & Creatively
Typical Tracking
2. Transfer Critical

Goal: demonstrate understanding

Deliver key information and knowledge about a business, product, or service to enable individual and team learning & performance
Typical Tools
Simple WBT courseware
Virtual Classroom (live & recorded)
Blended Learning
Learner Interaction
Answer questions
Relate accurate information to appropriate
Dialogue, Collaboration
Think With Others (responsively)
Think Independently & Creatively
Typical Tracking
Who took the session?
Will they recall the information?

3. Develop Skills &

Goal: demonstrate use
(application of skills, knowledge and attitudes in a meaningful context)

Provide a process of individual and team learning of verbal or motor behavior — as well as strategies to control and efficiently perform the related behavior
Typical Tools
Robust WBT courseware with Assessment
Virtual Classroom (live & recorded)
Blended Learning
Flash interactive simulations
Learner Interaction
Answer questions
Practice new skills
Dialogue, Collaboration
Think With Others (responsively)
Think Independently & Creatively
Typical Tracking
What was learned?
Test & quiz scores?
Does learning  transfer to real environment?

4. Certify Skills &

Goal: demonstrate mastery

Require systematic practice of observable and measurable knowledge, behavior, skills, abilities and attributes that enable individual and team learning & performance identified for organizational success.
Typical Tools

Robust WBT courseware with Assessment
Virtual Classroom (live & recorded)
Blended Learning
Performance Support

Learner Interaction
Practice skills to mastery criteria
Dialogue, Collaboration
Think With Others (responsively)
Think Independently & Creatively
Typical Tracking
Who passed certification
When was certification achieved?
When does certification expire?
Is mastery demonstrated in the work setting or only in the classroom setting?


Definition and Vision

There are numerous definitions of E-Learning. In order to understand what E-Learning is — and the potential benefits that it offers education and training — we need to clear up certain confusions. The term has been used inconsistently in both lay and professional literature. It has multiple meanings because we are in the midst of a major paradigm shift in instruction and learning — driven by technological and social dynamics. The idea of "classroom" is being transformed, and the role of "learning community" is emerging.

The shift in paradigm is experienced at times as both evolutionary and revolutionary. It is "evolutionary" by promoting instructional best practices, shared standards, and greater access to resources. It is "revolutionary" by advances that are discontinuous and disruptive — as in the phrase, "The internet changes everything!" The 'network of networks' is not just a technology web (connection and communication). It is an information access web, a publishing web, a commerce web, and a social-collaborative web that leverage and synergize with each other. It is a communications highway to and through a newly consolidated global village.

The challenge of understanding E-Learning is that historically the term has been used with three levels of definition — from most narrow to most inclusive. Each of these definitions suggests a slightly different vision of what E-Learning is, how it is used, and the benefits it achieves.

The following graphic illustrates the increasing scope of E-Learning definitions. Each ring builds upon the previous foundation and adds a new element: technology, methodology, and social context.

1. Internet-enabled
These definitions focus on the revolutionary impact of networking technology (Internet & intranet).
2. Technology-based
Definitions include a broader view of technology (inclusive of mobile, wireless, iPod, video, game & other technologies) and methodology issues such as instructional design and best practices — including, blended learning, personalization and collaboration. Further, they orient to a more inclusive use of instructional technology.
3. Learning tools of
    the new economy
Cultural and social impact are key defining characteristics. These definitions are culturally driven, not just technology driven — based on the reality of a new, globally networked and interdependent economy that is being advanced by technology.

Limited Vision

The most common misunderstanding of E-Learning is to equate it only with "online learning" or "web-based training" (WBT). Actually, online learning and WBT are key subsets of E-Learning, but E-Learning is a broader umbrella category: it includes numerous tools of person-to-person contact, including ways of making traditional classroom teaching more effective. A too narrow definition sets up a false dichotomy that sees E-Learning is "online" as opposed to traditional learning, which is in the "classroom."

In this narrow view, E-Learning is about web pages, while classrooms are about person-to-person contact. Print and broadcast media news stories about emerging technology will often present E-Learning as though "online" and "classroom" exist in separate worlds and at cross-purposes to one another, when nothing could be further from the reality. They voice enthusiasm about the new instructional technology that is providing unexpected and rich learning opportunities to the millions of people using the Internet at home, at school and at work. They want to draw distinctions between the old and the new.

The essential positive idea is to point to the revolutionary impact of the Internet in education. What is missed, however, is the fact that every phase of education and training has already been impacted by this revolution. Virtually every school and corporation now uses multimedia computers and the Internet to some degree. While some lag behind in adopting technology for classroom delivery, the fundamental reality of the Internet and social networking are now found almost universally so pervasive and rapid has been the revolution. Education and training are being transformed from the foundations of communication, instructional method and use of media.

is not just "E-Training"
it is the synergy of
multimedia communication,
social collaboration, instruction, discovery and exploration
that interactively engages
the learner with greater
learning opportunity.
Richard Otto
Cognitive Design Solutions


Internet-enabled Instruction.

When E-Learning is understood as "Internet-enabled learning" (a more inclusive view) — it includes such important educational elements as web-based student enrollment, tracking and class administration, email communication between learner and instructor, internet research for exploratory learning, digital collaboration, virtual classrooms, and the use of computer labs to enhance the classroom. All of these E-Learning tools actually strengthen traditional classroom delivery, and are not meant to replace the direct human-to-human contact of the classroom. These features routinely provide cost-savings, time-savings, convenience, more personal contact, and more direct experience of the subject matter. The rapid adoption of E-Learning that has occurred in corporate, school and government settings is based on the fact that these new tools powerfully leverage traditional education and training.

Examples of the various E-Learning definitions at this level are:

  • E-Learning refers to Web-based training — anywhere, anytime, self-paced instruction — that is presented over the Internet to browser-equipped learners.
  • "E-Learning is the convergence of learning and the Internet."
    (Banc of America Securities)
  • "E-Learning is content and instructional methods delivered on a computer (whether on CD-ROM, the Internet or an intranet), and designed to build knowledge and skills related to individual or organizational goals."
    (Ruth Clark, e-Learning Developers Journal, Sept. 2002)
  • "E-Learning is the use of network technology to design, deliver, select, administer, and extend learning."
    (Elliott Masie, The Masie Center)
  • "E-Learning is Internet-enabled learning. Components can include content delivery in multiple formats, management of the learning experience, and a networked community of learners, content developers and experts. E-Learning provides faster learning at reduced costs, increased access to learning, and clear accountability for all participants in the learning process. In today's fast-paced culture, organizations that implement e-Learning provide their work force with the ability to turn change into an advantage."
    (Cisco Systems)

Each of these definitions acknowledge the revolutionary impact of networking for training and education in corporations, schools and government. Client-server technology standards, particularly the web browser and related technologies (i.e., HTML, CSS, DOM, JavaScript/ ECMA scripting, and XML) have rapidly evolved and have been universally and enthusiastically adopted.

These technologies remove barriers to instructional delivery — overcoming problems of incompatibility and access — and they continue to dramatically increase in power, quality and effectiveness. These important capabilities include:

  • Multimedia instruction ("anytime, anywhere" — asynchronous learning)
  • Live "virtual classrooms" (synchronous learning)
  • Streaming video and audio (new broadband capabilities will enhance the next phase of rich media delivery)
  • Internet phone (IP telephony will transform the level of interactivity in virtual classrooms and collaborative learning tasks)
  • Instructor resource sharing (instructors are now collaborating and building shared curriculum archive in ways never before possible)
  • Enhanced instructor-student and student-student communication
  • Global access to learners and instructors.

Networking, both internet and intranet, establishes a new context for education and training. It redefines the dynamics of the learning community and its resources. So whether one particular learning experience is "online or offline," in cyberspace or in the classroom, the network effect is still present.

Technology-based Instruction.

An even more inclusive view sees that E-Learning involves methodology as well as technology. It includes the methodology of instructional design and a variety of instructional best practices, such as blended learning design, personalization and collaboration techniques. Furthermore, it is more than just internet technology; it embraces a wide variety and constantly evolving array of instructional technologies such as wireless and mobile (phone, PDAs & iPod).

In addition , the various analog electronic tools that ushered in the first wave of instructional technology in the preceding generation are powerful foundations of E-Learning, and these technologies are being redefined and transformed by the digital revolution. The current instructional technology inherits all of the insight and best practices which were cultivated by the early phases of multimedia, computer based training (CBT), and Distance Learning (telecommunications) development.

The focus on "technology-based instruction" particularly includes:

  • New online collaboration tools — which support team learning, mentoring, and especially virtual classrooms;
  • "Blended Learning" — which combines Internet delivery with the traditional classroom and textbooks;
  • Advances in instructional design — such as "interactive multimedia," "learning object," "personalization," and "simulation"; and
  • Earlier electronic technologies — such as audiotape, videotape and videoconferencing are recognized as essential tools.

The point of this expanded view is that it acknowledges continuity of the current Internet tools with the previous generation of instructional technology. This current phase of educational revolution is about improving instructional design methods for a purpose — not just introducing the next wave of new instructional technology.

  • "Electronic learning or E-learning is a generic term for all electronically supported learning which includes an array of teaching and learning tools that use electronic media including phone bridging audio and videotape, video teleconferencing, and satellite broadcast. In recent years, the term has been delimited to Web-based or online courses that make use of electronic mail; video conferencing, discussion boards, chat rooms, and electronic whiteboards on the Internet."
    (1st National Conference on E-Learning, Manila, August 1-2, 2002).
  • "E-learning (electronic learning): A term covering a wide set of applications and processes, such as Web-based learning, computer-based learning, virtual classrooms, and digital collaboration. It includes the delivery of content via Internet, intranet/extranet (LAN/WAN), audio- and videotape, satellite broadcast, interactive TV, CD-ROM, and more." (Learningcircuits.org)
  • "E-Learning, defined as the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration."
    (Commission of the European Communities: The eLearning Action Plan: Designing tomorrow’s education, March 2001)
  • "E-Learning means the delivery of learning with the assistance of interactive, electronic technology, whether offline or online."
    (Institute of IT Training: e-Learning Standards, 2001)
  • "E-learning is an innovative approach for delivering electronically mediated, well-designed, learner-centered, and interactive learning environments to anyone, anyplace, anytime by utilizing the Internet and digital technologies in concert with instructional design principles."
    (Badrul H. Khan, interview, author of Web-based Training)

These definitions emphasize the use of current instructional technology integrated with the previous generation of electronic learning tools, and openness to the continuing digital revolution. For instance, interactive television is a convergence of Internet technology with broadcast television. This will provide tremendous benefit to both schools and corporations when used for Distance Learning.

Learning Tools of the New Economy.

This level of definition is about culture, not just about new technology. The emergence of the Internet was in the 1990s what the advent of radio was in the 1920s and television was in the 1950s. The Internet has proven to be a pivotal technology in the move toward a global economy. This technological adoption grew at an unprecedented rate of 14 million in 1995 to 606 million worldwide users in 2003.

"While the resources of the physically-based economy were coal, oil, and steel, the resources of the new, knowledge-based economy are brainpower and the ability to effectively acquire, deliver and process information. Those who are effectively educated and trained will be the ones who will be able to economically survive and thrive in our global, knowledge-based economy. Those who don't will be rendered economically obsolete." (LearnFrame, "Facts, Figures and Forces Behind E-Learning," August 2000)

The Emergence of a New Economy

Old Economy

New Economy

A Skill

Life Long Learning

Labor vs. Management


Business vs. Environment

Encourage Growth


Risk Taking



Job Preservation

Job Creation


Ownership, Options

Plant, Equipment

Intellectual Property



Status Quo (stability)

Speed, Change


Custom, Choice






Public/Private Partnerships

Zero Sum




Standing Still

Moving Ahead

Source: Merrill Lynch (As quoted by LearnFrame: "Facts, Figures, and Forces Behind E-Learning," August 2000, p. 17)

E-Learning is not simply about technology, it is about a new social network to support learning. Our economy has become knowledge-based. We have moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. Learning is an essential component of this transition for individuals, organizations and social institutions. Learning — both formal education and training, and informal individual skill development — play an integral role in this successful evolution. E-Learning is an essential enabling component in achieving each of the characteristics of the "new economy" as cited in the previous table.

The following definitions of E-Learning point out the transformation of education and training as we move from one cultural epoch to another. Again, the point here is that E-Learning is not simply about technology, but it is about societal dynamics, social relationships, and cultural change.

  • "Best practices for learning in the new economy, implying but not requiring benefits of networking and computers such as anywhere/anytime delivery, learning objects, and personalization. Learning on Internet time. Often includes ILT."
  • "E-Learning describes the way new information and communications technologies (ICT) are set to re-invent education and learning in a digital world. In short, it means Internet enabled learning: an exciting range of opportunities for educators and learners alike to use new skills and tools to prosper in an information society."
    (Microsoft/Arthur Andersen: The e-Learning Funding Guide: a guide to planning and funding e-Learning in Schools, 2000)

  • "E-learning is not simply 'e-training.' It is not merely about placing classes online to address training issues. E-learning encompasses training, education, information, communication, collaboration, knowledge management and performance management. It addresses business issues such as reducing costs, providing greater access to information and accountability for learning and increasing employee competence and competitive agility. E-learning is a critical element of any enterprise workforce optimization initiative."
    (Cisco: Blueprint For An Enterprise E-Learning Architecture, 2001)
  • "Social, technological and economic drivers are transforming education around the world. As globalization encompasses local economies like never before, the development of a skilled workforce becomes a genuinely international concern. And as human capital becomes the chief source of economic value, education and training become lifelong endeavors for the vast majority of workers."
    (Peter J. Stokes, Eduventures.com, 1999)
  • "Lifelong learning is as germane to the American culture as baseball and apple pie. Americans have realized that competitiveness in the job market and continual learning are strongly correlated. The Internet represents the underlying bedrock that makes lifelong learning a reachable goal for all."
    (LearnFrame: Facts, Figures, and Forces Behind E-Learning,
      2000, p. 40)

E-learning provides a new set of tools and instructional practices that adds value to existing traditional learning experiences, such as classroom lectures, textbooks, video and CD-ROM. E-Learning introduces technology-based methods, such as self-paced, online training (WBT), virtual classrooms, and digital collaboration (team learning and mentoring).

It includes the delivery of content via Internet, intranet/ extranet. It also includes the existing capability of PCs at work, school or home with CD-ROM to deliver computer-based training (CBT) and "rich-media" such as DVD video that cannot yet efficiently stream across the Internet.

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