What is e-Learning? Everything you need to know

E-Learning is online education where learners use digital resources like videos and interactive modules to study anytime, anywhere.

Apr 8, 2024 - 11:14
What is e-Learning? Everything you need to know
Understanding the mechanisms of e-Learning

E-learning, also known as electronic learning or web-based training, refers to the delivery of educational content over the internet or a corporate intranet, allowing students and learners to access instruction from any location with an internet connection. Unlike traditional methods, e-learning offers flexibility, enabling participants such as students, trainees, and casual learners to engage in structured learning regardless of their physical whereabouts.

Initially, e-learning tools facilitated one-way transmission of information from teacher to learner. However, the e-learning landscape has since evolved to foster more interactive and multidirectional communication through increasingly engaging tools. This evolution grants learners greater autonomy in how they engage with and respond to e-learning materials, with opportunities for peer collaboration and participation.

Understanding the mechanisms of e-Learning

Online education utilizes a blend of static and interactive techniques. Static methods encompass learning portals, hyperlinked pages, screen-capture tutorials, streamed audio and video content, and live web broadcasts. Interactive approaches include discussion forums, chat features, and desktop video conferencing.

For an effective e-learning program, enterprises should adhere to three key criteria:

Mobile accessibility

Given the prevalence of mobile devices in daily life, e-learning should leverage this by delivering training prompts, reminders, and acknowledgments of achievements directly to smartphones and other mobile devices via dedicated apps.

Social integration

Incorporating social media-like features or platforms into e-learning environments facilitates communication among learners, managers, and peers, enabling updates, responses to training requirements, and interaction.

Instructional variety

Effective e-learning experiences cater to diverse learning styles by offering a range of resources such as quizzes, infographics, podcasts, demonstrations, and narrative-based materials. Authoring tools within e-learning course development applications enable the creation of these diverse resources, even for individuals without coding expertise.

The significance of e-Learning

E-learning techniques and technology are essential for both student education and employee professional development.

The rapid advancement of technology underscores the importance of ensuring employees possess the necessary skills and training. For instance, the advent of quantum computing is anticipated to profoundly alter business operations, impacting roles such as coders, hardware developers, and cybersecurity professionals. Platforms like e-learning will be instrumental in retraining and upskilling individuals in response to these shifts.

Moreover, companies increasingly rely on online learning for continuous training and enhancing the skills of their workforce. Particularly in corporate environments, learning management systems (LMSes) are widely embraced. Similarly, higher education institutions integrate online learning methods using internet-enabled devices, both within and beyond traditional classroom settings. According to a 2022 survey conducted by McKinsey & Company involving 7,000 students across 17 countries, 65% of higher education students express a desire for educational institutions to maintain elements of online learning post-pandemic.

Drawbacks of e-Learning

Critics highlight the following drawbacks associated with e-learning:

Importance of human interaction

While web-based training suits independent and self-motivated learners, it may not adequately cater to those with different learning styles that necessitate human interaction. For instance, learners utilizing asynchronous e-learning might struggle without structured deadlines or immediate responses to inquiries.

Technical challenges

Connectivity issues and the requirement for personal devices can pose barriers for students participating in virtual learning. Not all students have access to the necessary devices and reliable internet connections.

Lack of clarity and quality assurance

The quality and credibility of content and instructors on various e-learning platforms may not always be transparent, particularly on free or easily accessible resources.

Benefits of e-Learning


E-learning offers on-demand availability, allowing learners to access materials anytime they have internet access, accommodating busy schedules.

Elimination of travel

E-learning facilitates cohort learning among geographically dispersed individuals, eliminating the need for travel.

Cost savings

Compared to traditional classroom setups, e-learning reduces costs associated with physical infrastructure, maintenance, and materials.


Web-based training allows learners to engage with content at their preferred pace, offering flexibility in learning.

Varieties of e-Learning

Two main types of web-based learning systems exist: synchronous, also referred to as instructor-led, and asynchronous, which is self-directed and self-paced. In essence, synchronous e-learning necessitates participants to be virtually present simultaneously, while asynchronous e-learning does not.

Illustrations of synchronous e-learning techniques encompass scheduled and timed online assessments, virtual classrooms, web conferencing tools, and interactive shared whiteboards enabling collaborative learning. On the other hand, asynchronous e-learning methods entail platforms like discussion boards, discussion groups, and self-paced learning modules.

E-Learning platforms

A range of e-learning platforms exists, catering to various educational, business, and independent learning needs, whether synchronous or asynchronous. These comprehensive software solutions facilitate digital learning and online training by offering features such as course delivery, presentation tools like PowerPoint, online assessments, and performance analytics. Examples of these platforms include Anthology for Business, Canvas, Moodle, Sakai, and Schoology.

In the corporate realm, learning management systems (LMSes) are commonly used for onboarding and employee training initiatives. Effective corporate LMSes are scalable, customizable, goal-driven, and user-friendly. Some prominent enterprise-level LMSes, each offering different pricing structures, include Adobe Learning Manager, Docebo, eFront, iSpring Learn, Looop by 360Learning, Northpass, and TalentLMS.

Social media

Social media platforms offer valuable tools for e-learning, fostering communities of learners and facilitating the sharing of e-learning content. Here are a few examples of their utility:

Facebook enables users to create groups for sharing information and ideas, fostering open communication among members.
LinkedIn hosts similar groups, often perceived as having increased credibility due to users displaying their professional credentials on their profiles. Additionally, LinkedIn offers a paid e-learning platform called LinkedIn Learning, featuring a wide array of business courses spanning topics from web development to digital marketing. Professionals can subscribe to access these courses and stay updated on industry trends.
Twitter allows learners to connect using hashtags related to specific topics or events, facilitating discussions and information sharing.
YouTube serves as a platform for users to upload and access educational content free of charge. Users can engage with this content by commenting on and rating videos, enhancing collaborative learning experiences.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Individual learners also have the opportunity to benefit from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) accessible on the internet. These courses are offered through popular platforms like Coursera and edX to large audiences, typically at no cost. Often, MOOCs are structured based on courses taught by prestigious universities, providing learners with high-quality educational content for free. Users can access MOOC websites, enroll in courses, and participate in learning activities. Some MOOC programs, such as edX's certificate programs, may require a fee for students seeking a specific certificate upon completion of coursework.

Additionally, platforms like Udemy and Skillshare operate similarly to MOOCs in terms of online availability and capacity to accommodate large groups of learners. However, they differ in that they charge users for access and emphasize practical engagement with materials rather than passive learning methods commonly associated with university-centered MOOCs. Regardless of the platform chosen, e-learning offers professionals and students alike a flexible and adaptable means to acquire new skills and enhance existing ones.

History of e-Learning

The concept of e-learning predates both the internet and the term itself. In 1983, Ron Gordon, former president of Atari and founder of TeleLearning Systems, initiated the development of an Electronic University Network (EUN). This early online educational network aimed to assist universities and colleges in delivering and utilizing online courses. EUN was later acquired by KnowledgeNet in 1987 and integrated into its offerings.

With the advent of the World Wide Web in 1989, initially conceived as a tool for facilitating faster and easier information exchange among academic institutions, the foundation for modern e-learning began to take shape.

The term "e-learning" was officially coined in 1999. Concurrently, various online course initiatives emerged, including MIT's OpenCourseWare project in 2002. By the late 2000s, advancements in technology and the implementation of online courses had progressed to the point where they could accommodate large numbers of learners, leading to the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

In recent years, e-learning has gained widespread acceptance across companies and higher education institutions, particularly highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic as organizations recognized its benefits and shifted towards remote learning solutions.

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