So what is elearning in 2021 – what does it mean, how does it work, and what are its benefits for those looking to improve delivery of education and training?
Updated in June 2021, here’s our guide for teachers / trainers, learners, and HR or L&D professionals.
eLearning is any learning that is conducted through electronic means, which could be online via an Internet-connected device, or offline using a desktop or laptop computer, mobile phone, tablet or other technology.
So that’s the definition of elearning, but what does it mean to today’s learners or organisations looking to teach or train their students or staff in 2021 and beyond?
eLearning is often written as ‘e-learning’, ‘e learning’ or to a lesser degree but increasingly – ‘digital learning’. As so much education and training is now delivered online, some people suggest that the very idea of the ‘e’ in elearning is now obsolete in debates such as this recent Twitter thread:
I was recently asked, is the term "e-learning" out of date to describe learning online? Here's a quick poll. If you say "No" please leave the term you use in a comment below.
— Jane Hart (@C4LPT) June 2, 2021
However, while on the job training, text books, and face to face instruction exist, the idea of ‘elearning’ and how to make best use of it remains relevant.
The following Google Trends graph shows how use of elearning and related terminology has changed in recent years:
As you can see from the trend lines, search demand for ‘e-learning’ has been in general decline while demand for ‘elearning’ and ‘e learning’ have both seen a considerable rise.
This is largely attributable to the rise in mobile searches over the same period and the fact that locating that hyphen on your phone is an unnecessary faff.
eLearning in 2021
Already becoming close to unbiquitous up to 2019, eLearning in 2021 is seen as a given for any education and training to take place in the midst of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted every area of life.
Online learning is now a huge sector, and it’s not hard to see why…
Why bring your laptop to school, when you can bring your school to your laptop?
By 2016, almost 93 percent of universities required some kind of eLearning for their students. In 2020 that figure became 100% of all courses that stayed operational – ie all those that were not based in a laboratory or any other setting that required physical attendance for practical work.
Non-profit organisations like edX and Udacity offer eLearning to the masses for next to nothing.
In the private sector, 2018 research by TrainingMag found that 69 of training was delivered via blended learning – a combination of elearning and traditional, instructor-led training, while 82% of mandatory compliance training was conducted online.
For businesses that stayed open in 2020 through the pandemic, that figure rose to almost 100%.
What makes eLearning so useful? Let’s crack open our virtual textbooks and find out.
Customisation & Collaboration
Above all, eLearning is customisable to the student’s needs. Unlike a traditional classroom, where all students must follow the teacher’s method (regardless of whether it works for them or not), in an eLearning environment, a student can choose a learning style that’s right for them. That may include features such as gamification and social learning, or sprinting through exercises on the go, at their convenience.
It’s always a struggle staying motivated as a student, even if the material is interesting. With the capability to mix video, text and lecture together in a single lesson, eLearning can keep the brain fresh as well as cementing core concepts through different styles of presentation. The student can also work at their own pace if they’re having difficulty with the material.
This fluidity applies to the interactions and the students. eLearning students can collaborate on projects, learning from each other in the process. A teacher can respond to a student’s query instantly and provide targeted feedback.
If a student is struggling, they can find out exactly why and make the necessary changes to their eLearning experience or to their study habits. They don’t have to rely on their teacher or their own spreadsheets and calendar to track their development.
An LMS (learning management system) is the backbone of eLearning experiences, and the better it is, the more data it collects on the student’s progress. For example, test scores and previous feedback can point out areas of concern that the student may have missed the first time around.
Scalability = Opportunity
There’s a limit on the number of students a classroom can hold. Not so with eLearning. Online classes can and do accommodate upwards of 100,000 students.
Stratospheric enrollment means rock bottom prices. And rock bottom prices mean people who previously couldn’t afford higher education now have an opportunity to better their lives. This extends to the entire world. For the price of a coffee, a citizen in a developing country can feasibly take a course from an elite university. For many, this a lifelong dream come to pass.
Georgia Tech in the United States offers an Online Master of Science in Computer Science, which has accepted 3,000 students thus far. The programme has been so successful that they’re creating another one just like it.
Beyond Higher Education
With the rise of programming, software development, and similar fields, there is a need for credentials more precise than the standard Bachelor’s, Master’s, or PhD. While institutions of Higher Education are slow to respond to changing times, eLearning is there to pick up the slack.
The eLearning platform, Udacity, for instance, offers nanodegrees which are accepted by employers like Google and Amazon. As technology advances by leaps and bounds, retraining becomes an essential part of staying competitive. Here, too, eLearning holds the advantage over Higher Education. Instead of enrolling for an entire academic year, a student can sign up for as long or as short as they want.
As discussed by this article on eLearning Brothers, 2021 and the near future will see increased emphasis on Master-Based Learning, Virtual Training, Tracking & Personalisation, and Skills-Based Training.
What is elearning evolving into? As an agile, fast-changing platform, eLearning shows a remarkable potential for innovation. While some wearables like Google Glass are already in use, there are plenty more right around the corner. Take the Teslasuit for example, which will deliver interactivity at a level never before seen (or felt).
Imagine being a med student and using such a device as a way of building empathy for patients who are in pain; or a firefighter determining the exact level of heat their suit can withstand.
The internet has disrupted every one of our institutions, and education is no exception. While eLearning is perfectly suited for the rising complexity of our world, it will not replace in-person education completely.
Not while we still have the chance to blend the dynamism, low-cost, and access of online learning with the power of face to face interaction.