Most people who know me know that I like to keep things simple. At least, I try to. So, when asked how e-learning differs from a regular website, my initial response was that e-learning takes an in-depth look into one specific subject while a website is just general information. It’s a simple answer, but not really complete. There are websites wholly devoted to one subject, but it doesn’t make it necessarily e-learning. If you think of all the components that make up a learning environment, a website doesn’t usually contain all of them. So, what does e-learning look like? What does it comprise?
E-learning is a way of educating people electronically. The essential elements of learning remain the same no matter what the method of education. Elearning, just like it’s traditional classroom counterpart, is a means of guiding a student from the basics through to more advanced concepts in a particular subject. It is a step-by-step guide through a course, if you will. In a traditional setting, it is up to the teacher to lead students through the material. Unfortunately, having a class being led through, the course can only go as fast as its slowest member. While e-learning is also a guided tour through a subject, it is primarily student-driven, rather than instructor led. The advantage of that is the course will go at each individual student’s pace, thereby facilitating more actual learning.
If we look at a specific topic, such as Microsoft Word, the difference between the website on Word and an e-learning course would be that the website would do little more than state what Word is and what it can do. They could even have an in-depth manual on all the buttons and functionality. It is possible to read through the website and glean some useful information from it, though cumbersome, whereas an e-learning course on Word would start at the very basics, giving us the building blocks we would need for more advanced functions before progressing to the more difficult maneuvers. Instead of having to search for information from the website, the e-learning course would just present it to us in a logical, easy-to-search manner to be consumed at our individual speed.
There is always instruction involved in learning and e-learning is no exception. While there is no instruction involved in a regular website, we all know there are teachers in a traditional classroom, but there are also teachers in an e-learning course. No, you won’t see mean old Mrs. Wallace’s beehive head pop up to remind you to pay attention when you aren’t clicking fast enough. The instruction in e-learning is more implied than physical. What I mean is that the “teacher” is more in the way the course is designed and presented.
Instructional Design (ID) is a key to a good elearning course. The purpose of ID is to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of a course. This is accomplished by analyzing the student base as well as the goal of the course and then throwing all that information into the development of the actual training material. As the course is being developed, all the objects that are put into it, whether they are animations, avatars, pictures or other interactive methods, have all been decided by the ID department so that every aspect of the course is geared toward the benefit of the learner.
If assessments are required, the ID guys are the ones who decide not only how they should be presented, but in what way they would best benefit the student. So, this non-physical “teacher” in the e-learning course is actually a room full of people all working toward bringing the student a course that is not only engaging, but will help each learner maximize their retention levels.
Websites are useful, don’t get me wrong. They can even help a person learn something. I use websites for research all the time, as I’m sure many people do. However, if I wanted to learn how to do something in particular, like learning to speak Russian, I would take an e-learning course over wading through heaps of Russian websites, which would be a nightmare if you didn’t understand their alphabet first. You see, those basic building blocks are coming into play already!
In the final analysis, a website in Russian or on the Russian language would help with some information on the topic, but that’s about it. An e-learning course would help you navigate through the subject, starting with basic words and the alphabet for instance, use various stimuli to keep your brain on topic, reinforce the knowledge being given through assessments and, by the time you’ve finished, you’ll actually be able to speak and read Russian!
What’s also nice about that e-learning course is that after it’s been completed, it doesn’t end there. It then becomes a handy reference tool that you can go back to, if you get stuck. Since a course has an outline or syllabus, it’s easy to navigate and find what you need quickly, rather than having to wade through web page after web page in the hope of finding the answer.
So, I wish you all a good day and happy learning!
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