The popularity of e-Learning has been on the rise over the last few years. However, there has been a recent surge in its increased acceptance, particularly as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In those times of uncertainty when more traditional learning methods were almost impossible to practice, e-learning emerged as one of the most practical alternatives that allow you to continue learning without needing to be present in a physical location.

And even when everything else has returned to normal following the pandemic, e-learning still continues to be a viable learning method for the many advantages it offers over conventional learning. It serves as an efficient medium of learning not only for students but also for organizations looking forward to training their employees and investing in their skill upgradation and development.

In what follows, we take a closer look to better understand what e-Learning is, what types of e-Learning exist, and how this mode of learning can be significant for students and organizations.

So let’s get started.

What is e-Learning?

To get started with developing an understanding of the concept, let’s start with the definition of eLearning.

So, what is eLearning?

The abbreviation of electronic learning, e-Learning is a mode of transfer of education and learning through digital resources. While it is a type of formal learning, it is delivered through digital devices such as tablets, computers, and smartphones, which are connected to the internet.

Hence, it is a type of learning that offers flexibility to the learners to access information and learning material anytime, anywhere, with few limitations.

Essentially, it is learning, training, or gaining education outside the physical space. In fact, it is a method used to deliver information online through the use of any digital device, including a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The Evolution of e-Learning?

The idea of learning taking place outside a specified physical space isn’t very old. It originated in 1999 when Elliott Maisie first coined the term “e-learning”; however, back in that time, the phrase was used professionally. It used to refer to organizational learning practices that revolved around the use of a computer to learn, enrol in a program or improve their skills or education through an online degree.

Over the years, the broader idea of e-Learning has evolved. While the primary idea has remained the same, e-learning has transformed in multiple ways over the last few years thanks to development in the following areas.

• Improved Communication 
Prior to the rise of the internet, the world was filled with printed material for learning, training, and education. However, with the development of internet connectivity that has led to improved communication, individuals and organizations can now leverage practices to get the most benefit offered by the flexibility of e-learning.      

• Integration of Multiple Mediums

As technology improved and e-learning progressed, the ability to integrate multiple mediums such as videos, images, audio, and graphics has served as one of the best ways to engage learners more than traditional learning.

• Affordability of Digital Devices 

Gone are the days when digital devices were first created, and were available for sale at premium prices. Over the last few years, as technology improved and became more accessible, the prices of digital devices have significantly decreased. Today, you can find digital devices that are durable and budget-friendly and serve multiple purposes, including being your medium of communication for e-Learning.

• Development of Learning Management Systems 
As e-Learning gained popularity around the world, there was a need for educational institutions and organizations to invest in the development of learning management systems. They are sophisticated, cloud-based systems that allow educational institutions and organizations to keep track of their learner's activities and use this data to improve the learning outcomes of the users. 

Types of e-Learning

As you look at e-learning and aim to develop a better understanding of the concept, it's important that you also understand different types of versions of e-Learning that will help you better understand what e-Learning is all about and how it works. 

Fixed e-Learning

Fixed e-Learning is one of the relatively older versions of e-Learning. The basic idea of fixed e-Learning revolves around the use of a more traditional structure to pass down information from the instructor to the learners. 

In this type of learning, all learners taking benefit of e-Learning will receive the same type of information as decided by the instructor. Since the learning material is designed and shared by the instructor, the material doesn't adapt according to the needs of the students and their preferences. 

Fixed e-Learning is best suited for environments where all the learners taking advantage of e-Learning have similar schedules. Moreover, it’s also best suited to learning environments where all learners are almost at the same level of skills. 

A classic example of fixed e-Learning is a virtual classroom setup adopted by schools during the pandemic, where all the learners were at the same skill level. Moreover, they also adjusted their schedule accordingly to get the benefits of the e-Learning program offered by the school. 

It works well when the learning material is time-sensitive, and the curriculum needs to be completed in a specified time. Moreover, it also makes a great learning approach in environments where instructors find it difficult to use a one-size-fits-all strategy. 

However, fixed e-Learning makes it slightly difficult to cater to the diverse needs of the virtual audience as it's often impossible to find all learners with a similar schedule and skill level. Moreover, when there is a rigid approach to communicating information and sharing learning materials, it is bound to lack real-world elements, which makes it quite a rigid form of learning. 

In all, fixed e-Learning doesn't cater to the student's individual needs and serves as a very generalized form of learning. 

Adaptive e-Learning

The other type of e-Learning is adaptive learning, which differs from the first type of e-Learning we discussed earlier. Adaptive learning refers to personalized learning experiences where the content and pace of learning are tailored to individual learner preferences and progress. The broader idea of adaptive learning is to overcome the flaws of fixed e-Learning. In this type of e-Learning, the learning material is designed to fit the learner's preferences. Therefore, there's much focus on areas of learning such as skill development, improvement in student abilities, and assessment of individual performance. Based on these inputs, the learning needs are tailored for individual learners so they can decide on their pace and learning objectives accordingly. This type of e-Learning works best for learners who prefer to study at their own pace. However, it requires a lot of discipline from the learner as the learning objectives are defined and redefined based on input from the learner.

Asynchronous e-Learning

As the idea of e-Learning gained popularity, there was a much higher need to adjust the types of learning programs according to the needs of the learners. As the number of learners studying independently in time parts of the world and in different time zones, there was a need to develop a type of e-Learning that allows learners to access learning material depending on their schedule. 

Asynchronous e-Learning, a type of online learning, is characterized by its flexibility. In asynchronous e-Learning systems, students are not required to participate in real-time activities. Instead, they have the flexibility to access learning materials and complete assignments at their own pace, which is especially beneficial for those in different time zones or with varying schedules.

Such e-Learning systems are more interactive and include user-generated content; for example, a student is not required to take a quiz in such an e-Learning system. Instead, they have to submit a more tangible proof of their learning which could be requesting a video submission of a presentation on the newly-learned skills.

This type of eLearning considers the needs of individual flexible schedules and allow personalized and individualized learning time frames. However, such e-Learning systems often cater to the needs of individual learners where the learners may be prone to experiencing isolation during the learning program. 

Interactive e-Learning

In this type of e-Learning, both teachers and learners get a chance to communicate with each other. The more interactive type of e-Learning allows the learners and their course instructors to make exchange learning materials as they see fit. 

With a more open line of communication that also allows for better interaction, this type of e-Learning results in the best type of learning for the students. Moreover, it also allows the creation of a close-knit group environment for the learners that helps them escape the general isolation that is common among e-Learners. 

While this type of e-Learning brings in a new dimension to distance learning, however, it's not appropriate for large numbers of online learners as it can often lead to confusion for the instructor. 

Individual e-Learning

As the name suggests, this type of e-learning is completely student-centric, where learners learn independently without communicating with peers or the course instructor. This type of learning suits students who are self-disciplined and continue to work on their own goals instead of depending on their course instructors or other group members for their learning and development. 

Like other types of e-Learning that do not support communication, this approach to e-learning also leads to isolation and works best only for individuals who are highly skilled and motivated. 

Collaborative e-Learning

The last type of e-learning is focused on teamwork instead of individuals allowing students and team members to work together on accomplishing their individual and group learning targets. The learning content and student outcomes heavily depend on the collective effort of all students who work together for the successful completion of their course. For learners who prefer this type of e-Learning, its important to know the strengths and weaknesses of all group members and then decide on the pace of the course to get the best learning outcomes. 

It is often a preferred type of e-Learning as it promotes collaboration and teamwork, an aspect often missing in virtual education. Moreover, it also aids in developing critical thinking skills among students as they learn to take into account different students’ views during the learning process. 

However, with this type of e-Learning, there is a lot of dependence by some students who prefer to take advantage of the combined group effort. 

Significance of e-Learning

e-Learning is now becoming an integral way of acquiring new skills and gaining knowledge, and it offers unique benefits to learners. However, the types of e-Learning mentioned above are not specific to students only. Today, an increasing number of organizations are now taking advantage of e-learning and using it to upgrade the skills and talents of their workforce. 

Let's look at the significance of e-Learners for the two important categories of learners, which include the students and the organization. 

For Students 
    • E-Learning benefits students by catering to their individual needs and enabling learning from anywhere, regardless of their physical location
    • Provides access to learning material multiple times so the content can be fully ingrained in the student’s mind, 
    • Provides a platform for updated content that can quickly synchronize with the needs of modern learners.
    • Allows students quicker access to learning material, and 
    • Enable learners to create and communicate new ideas, upgrade their skills and gain knowledge without actually leaving the comfort of their home or office. 

For Organizations 
For organizations looking forward to upgrading their employee’s skills, e-Learning 
    • Helps employees acquire and practice new skills that are required for their growth and development, 
    • Aids organizations in retaining employees as learning new skills often serve as a motivation for existing employees to stay with the organization, 
    • Reduces the overall training cost for the organization as e-Learning is a budget-friendly alternative compared to company-wide learning in a physical space, and 
    • Allows the organization to save resources both in terms of time and money. 

Final Words

e-Learning is gaining popularity among various types of learners for its obvious advantages. It offers flexibility to the learners, and different types of e-Learning are designed to cater to the needs of various types of learners. It serves as a convenient learning platform not only for students but also for organizations that are looking forward to upgrading the skills of their existing workforce. 

In summary, e-Learning is a versatile approach to education and training that offers flexibility and accessibility. It includes asynchronous (self-paced), synchronous (real-time), blended, and mobile learning formats, each with its advantages and challenges.

The benefits of e-Learning include cost-effectiveness, customization, scalability, and sustainability, making it a valuable option for learners, organizations, and educational institutions.

However, challenges such as technical issues, self-motivation, and limited social interaction should be addressed. The future of e-Learning will likely involve AI personalization, virtual and augmented reality, microlearning, gamification, and increased access to quality content, shaping the landscape of education and professional development.

For a more detailed exploration of e-Learning types, benefits, challenges, and future trends, you can take  a look at Creating Awesome E-learning Scenarios