When people think of e-learning, more often than not, the perception is that it is firmly entrenched in the corporate world, where new recruits get trained as they embark on their careers within their company of choice. You’d actually be surprised to know that e-learning is probably already very much a part of your life from a much earlier stage. Find out how.
E-learning, or electrical learning, can be found everywhere today. But to understand that, we need to define what it is exactly.
In the broadest sense of the word, e-learning is the process of providing people with information in a digital way. This can be something as basic as a digitalised manual or as vast as an entire study curriculum being taught using nothing but the digital space. Put simply, you could argue that watching a video on how to upgrade your phone to its latest operating system is a form of e-learning. In this article, we are going to focus on e-learning specifically with education in mind.
Firstly, the field in which you are being educated does not matter. A lot of educational institutions, from long established varsities all over South-Africa, to institutions like UNISA and smaller educational organisations like the Studenthub offer at least parts of their curriculum in a digital format.
How the information is distributed to end-users varies. It can be a CD-ROM, access to a portal website, self-assessment software, cloud-based suites or even mobile solutions in the form of apps.
Asynchronous learning is arguably what most people recognise as the prevalent form of e-learning. This means that you are assimilating the information at your own pace, you do not need to attend any classes or interact in any way. It’s just you and the subject matter. Asynchronous learning happens both offline and online and offers a lot of flexibility, but you are essentially learning on your own.
Synchronous learning, by that logic, has you working with other people and following a schedule. This can be in the form of digital classrooms and webinars, an actual physical room filled with computers or using other online means of communication like Skype. This is often instructor-led, meaning there is still an authority figure that governs the whole learning process.
Most commonly, e-learning will be a blend of all of the above. You could, for instance, sign in for a course in which you will have a tutor assigning you milestones. No rigid structure will be put in place as you are reaching these milestones in a way you deem appropriate. But you have the option to fall back on tutors, fellow students and other interactive options.
This puts you in charge of your own time, much like when the course is fully asynchronous, but with a human, interactive, support system. Even when you have to participate in scheduled online classes, all you need to do is turn on your computer when the course is starting. There’s generally no need to commute to a physical classroom through the dense morning traffic. Provided there is an internet connection and maybe a wall socket, you are literally taking your classroom with you everywhere you go. It saves time, energy and makes for an overall more enjoyable learning experience.
Because the course is digital, it is readily available afterwards, even if you’ve fallen behind, catching up is easy. Pause, rewind and pick the course up where you left off.
Another often overlooked advantage is actual storage. There are only so many walls for bookshelves, drawers for syllabi and lever arch files available. E-learning renders storage conundrums obsolete. If all your materials are digital, you greatly reduce the risk of losing or damaging anything. And with cloud-based storage options being widespread now, you do not even need a physical hard drive anymore.
But the most important thing about e-learning is that it constantly stays on the cutting edge of educational development. E-learning today is not what it was five years ago and will have morphed and adapted to reflect the realities of life 5 years from now. Platforms change, means of distribution change and the knowledge base changes. As an e-learner, you are evolving and changing with it and you are ensuring you will excel in your professional field of choosing.