What Is E-Learning?
E-learning, short for Electronic learning, is a broad term that refers to computer-based training and learning in general, and more recently, to Internet-based learning—or online education—in particular. Increasingly, E-learning and Online Learning are terms that are used interchangeably.
Many online education programs are asynchronous; that is, the instructor's teaching and the students' assignment completion do not happen simultaneously. Asynchronous online programs are usually the most flexible, allowing students to work on assignments with as much time as they need and on their own schedule, whether before breakfast, after the kids are in bed, or some time in between.
Not all e-learning programs are asynchronous. Online programs can also be synchronous, with the instructor and students all "tuned in" to the class at the same time. Synchronous e-learning programs provide the benefit of interacting as a group the way a campus class would, but also the benefit of including students (or a teacher) who cannot physically be on site. Synchronous e-learning is great for classes that include international students—or for students who are just too far away to commute to the college.
Blended, or Hybrid, Programs
Online learning also includes blended or hybrid programs. Blended classes combine online coursework with some on-campus, in-person class time, giving students the advantages of both learning environments. A blended program can be effective for class that requires some, but not 100%, in-person interaction between students or with the instructor.
E-learning is a subset of Distance Education, a type of asynchronous teaching and learning that has been around for at least 150 years. Correspondence courses—receiving and returning class assignments by mail—are the earliest form of distance education. Twentieth-century distance education (early e-learning) included interactive CDs, DVDs, and technical systems that enabled students to download or connect to video presentations. Now, those methods have been replaced by or incorporated right into online classes, delivering the same presentations via the Internet.