jump to navigation

So what *is* eLearning? March 11, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, TELIC.

“… the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration”

Bringing knowledge within reach, European Commission, 2005.

I’ve now been in my new post of Head of eLearning for a month. It was created as part of a restructuring process designed to marry the changing needs of our school with changes in the provision of technology to support learning. Whilst I welcomed the the emphasis of my role morphing to one putting ‘learning’ at the centre, the actual term ‘eLearning’ sat less comfortably with me. The reason is the historical baggage that eLearning drags along with it. A quick Internet trawl offers:

Put simply, the definition of e-learning is training delivered via digital technology in order to help us learn.


Quite simply, e-learning is electronic learning, and typically this means using a computer to deliver part, or all of a course whether it’s in a school, part of your mandatory business training or a full distance learning course.


eLearning is electronic learning, in which the learner uses a computer to learn a task, skill, or process. It is also referred to as computer-based training, web-based training, and online learning.


future learning

By Jean Marc Cote (if 1901) or Villemard (if 1910) http://publicdomainreview.org/2012/06/30/france-in-the-year-2000-1899-1910/ [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hardly inspiring! But then these definitions are perhaps based on how eLearning was originally conceived, rather than what it has become more recently? Put simply, the ‘e’ stood for electronic – electronic learning, which somehow seems separate from plain learning.

Increasingly however, the expression ‘technology enhanced learning’ is being substituted for eLearning and I feel semantics are crucial here. Rather than trying to envisage a new and perhaps distinct form of learning – eLearning, we retain the central focus on learning, but indicate that technology brings something new to the table. Technology provides additionality, opening new possibilities. In effect, the ‘e’ no longer stands for electronic, but enhanced … which set me thinking. Could the ‘e’ actually stand for anything else? Are there other terms beginning with ‘e’ which also describe how learning might be affected by technology? I’ve often heard people say how technology ‘enriches’ the learning process and how it can ‘extend’ learning, so suitably inspired, I started listing a few other ‘e’s, which eventually led to:


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Ian Guest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/13091533985/

Having proposed and defined each of the terms, I then started to provide an illustrative example of each … but pulled up short. Rather than specify examples taken from my experience, I thought it might be more meaningful for anyone interested to interrogate the terms for themselves. What do the terms mean for them, in their contexts? So at this point, I’ll throw myself on the mercy of the crowds. What terms have I included which might seem a little too contrived? What terms have I missed? What examples can you point to in which learning has been enhanced, enriched … or any of the others?



1. largerama - March 12, 2014

Love your insight Ian but doesn’t your diagram and the work you have put into this suggest you do in fact support the term eLearning? Sorry to be devil’s advocate but…..

ianinsheffield - March 12, 2014

Without devil’s advocates, there’s less learning 😉
You’re right Nick, I do *now* feel more comfortable with the term, but had to go through this process before I could be. I guess it was a matter of rationalising it on my terms.

2. ssclc - March 12, 2014

We had several discussions about our change from city learning centres to the elearning team and what that meant, as elearning does often seem to imply distance learning, online courses and the like. I like the idea of being part of the Epic Learning Team though… Will look at the terms more closely and see if I have any great insights.

ianinsheffield - March 12, 2014

Thanks Catherine. I think the term is enjoying a rebirth as it were; I’m encountering it far more often than I ever used to, ans with what I feel are more progressive connotations. Or given the circumstances, am I just more sensitive now to picking up on positive examples? I wonder.
Look forward to hearing any further thoughts you might develop.

3. stevebrophy - March 12, 2014

Ian, I too wrestled with the term eLearning when I began my role. “There’s already an e in learning, why do we need another?” I would say to colleagues. My role was defined as coordinating the effective integration of technology to enhance learning and this to me has always been about leading with learning. I know it is semantics but the ‘e’ sitting outside the word learning seemed like we were leading with the technology. In fact, even now staff still try to talk technology before talking learning when we meet. Talk to staff about learning and great conversations begin and foster, talk to staff about technology (most staff) and the conversation is not as rich. I have also replaced the ‘e’ with a host of words with enable, enhance and effective being my three favourites although I think I will add elastic to the list. Loved that one!

ianinsheffield - March 12, 2014

Interesting to hear those observations Steve, especially how different conversations can be when the focus shifts. I hadn’t thought that if the ‘e’ leads learning in the term itself, it might also lead the agenda in any discussions or dialogues which follow. Thanks for adding to my thinking.

4. So what *is* eLearning? | ICT | Scoop.it - October 23, 2014

[…] “… the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration" Bring…  […]

5. So what *is* eLearning? | Educational technolog... - October 23, 2014

[…] “… the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration" Bring…  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: