What is E-learning?
“E-learning” is a broader term used to represent the electronic or technological way through which education is delivered. It may encompass all aspects of machine-based learning and technology-enhanced education, such as online learning, web-based learning, computer-aided learning, and electronic books and course materials. In addition, those more conventional methods of at-distance education delivery can also be included in the category of E-learning, such as videoconferencing, videotape, TV, CD-ROM/DVD, and even satellite broadcast, etc. In contrast to traditional face-to-face classroom or laboratory lecturing, E-learning generally explores the advantages of computers, communications and information technology (CCIT) and harnesses them in knowledge dissemination and education delivery.
Many other terms have been used or are in use for “E-learning” e.g. E-education (Landoni and Diaz, 2003), Web-based training or WBT (Minotti and Diaz, 2003), computer aided learning or CAL (Davies and Crowther 1995). CTI (Computers in Teaching Initiative) is also commonly used (e.g. Miller, 1999) after the HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) initiative launched in 1989, this was superseded in 2000 by the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN).
As pointed out by Jackson (2002), E-learning can be subdivided into two categories: technology-enhanced learning and technology-delivered learning. The former supplements traditional face-to-face classes and the learner has frequent opportunities to meet face-to-face with the instructor. On the contrary, in the later learning style, the learner is never in physical proximity to the instructor. However, to maximise the benefits of E-learning, it is highly likely that combinations of various delivery methods and E-learning tools may be incorporated into conventional lecturing, in order to meet the different learning styles and tastes of a large group of students.
Universities such as the Open University with 200 000 students, define E-learning as “making intelligent use of media such as computer conferencing, email, CD-Roms, DVDs and the internet” (E-Learning and the OU factsheet, 2003). While using these tools they do not aim to become an “on-line” university. Similarly we plan to implement e-learning initially as a supplement to lectures rather than introduce courses that are fully on line.
Although E-learning is currently boosted by the technological revolution brought by the advancement of CCIT, the concepts of machine-based learning or technology-enhanced teaching are not new. For example, it is interesting to note that the teaching machines described by Skinner (1961) can be regarded as one of the earliest E-learning tools developed shortly after the computer was invented. This teaching machine used computers to deliver textbook material, and used testing to reinforce learning. As developments in computer technology have occurred they are applied to the field of E-learning, since education is such an important sector for the development of our society. Why is E-learning needed?
Higher education, like other sectors of society, is undergoing a technological revolution brought about by the rapid advancement of CCIT. Today’s students enter university with considerable experience of computer literacy, and they expect more access to the knowledge resources in the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW). When they graduate, they join a workforce which requires 90% of them to have skills in CCIT. Therefore, E-learning is becoming an important component of today’s teaching and learning in higher education (Beetham & Bishop, 1999).
Recent years have seen increasing numbers of students joining university, with a significant proportion of international (overseas) students. Teaching large groups (e.g. classes with 300-400 students are not unusual in the School of Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of...