E-learning is a continually growing trend and topic of discussion. In 2019, the global e-learning market was estimated to be around $200 billion U.S. dollars and it is expected to increase to $370 billion by 2026. Many businesses and educational facilities are including e-learning within their business operations — especially due to COVID-19 — so it becomes increasingly important to understand e-learning and its importance in order to implement it successfully.
What Is E-learning?
E-learning — or electronic learning — is the acquisition of knowledge that is achieved through varying electronic technologies or digital media. Although many automatically associate e-learning with formal classroom learning (K-12, or post-secondary education), “e-learning” is a catchall term for any method of learning that is delivered electronically.
E-learning can be used in a formal academic setting, but it is also used by organizations to conduct business/educate clients or uptrain employees. It is generally conducted online so that learners can access all required learning materials at any time or place that has an internet connection. Similar to most processes, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with such methodologies — these include:
- Accessibility: E-learning allows both educators and learners to access their learning materials at any time or any place. E-learning can help individuals in rural areas access different learning opportunities and it creates a sense of flexibility for individuals with complex schedules that they may not have had prior;
- Saves time: When you can learn/teach online in the convenience of your own home, you can reduce any time spent commuting to a physical classroom or learning center;
- Offers personalized learning/teaching: E-learning is generally flexible, and by controlling your own learning/teaching path and study habits, you can create a personalized learning/teaching experience that works best for you;
- Environmentally-friendly: The conventional paper and pencil classroom creates excessive waste. By switching to e-learning, you can take advantage of paperless learning. When you learn from home, you can also significantly reduce the number of transportation-related emissions you put off by eliminating a commute;
- Cost-effective: E-learning generally reduces the number of physical education supplies (e.g. paper, pens, pencils, etc.), the need for a physical classroom, and transportation costs.
- Lack of social exposure: Social interaction is critical for mental and physical health and e-learning significantly reduces the number of social exposure opportunities, though it does not eliminate them;
- Technology issues: Technology is prone to failure, and the more e-learners/educators that there are, the higher the chance of technical issues somewhere throughout the process;
- Accessibility: Not all learners have immediate (or any) access to technology or fast/stable internet connection;
- Work authenticity: When you are not being observed in a classroom, it can be difficult to proctor the authenticity of a learner’s work. When you have immediate access to the internet, cheating is almost inevitable;
- Assessments: It may be difficult to properly assess learners. Aside from the prevalence of cheating, technology-based assessments can be less flexible than traditional assessment methods.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous E-learning
There are two primary forms of e-learning methodologies:
- Synchronous e-learning: Synchronous e-learning is education that happens in real-time using a virtual platform. This e-learning methodology is most comparable with traditional classroom education. Some common examples of synchronous e-learning methods include video conferences, teleconferences, live chat halls, or live-streamed lectures;
- Asynchronous e-learning: Asynchronous e-learning is education that is facilitated on your own time. Course instructors will still provide the necessary task information, educational materials, and assignments/assessments but the timeline for you when you complete the course requirements is generally more flexible. Some common examples of asynchronous e-learning methods include online discussion boards, virtual libraries, self-guided lessons, and pre-recorded video content or lectures.
Is E-learning Effective?
Since e-learning is relatively new, there are still some concerns regarding its educational effectiveness for both educators and learners. One of the primary concerns is having to rely on imperfect technology. Even though technology can improve a number of areas, there is still always a chance of technological downtime, and that downtime results in reduced educational efficiency. Imperfect technology concerns can be managed using IT solutions designed to serve distributed teams and networks, including remote monitoring and management solutions. This can benefit both learners and educators by offering improved control and fewer worries.
Another concern is regarding work-life balance. When your e-learning is home-based, there is an overlap between your work/education and your life and it can prove difficult to balance both respective sides. Research and implement different ways to achieve work-life balance like lifestyle changes, unplugging from technology, or taking a vacation from time to time.
Staying Productive While E-learning
Remaining productive while e-learning can be challenging for both educators and learners. Below are some tips for staying productive while e-learning:
- Create a routine and stick to it;
- Create a designated learning area;
- Get rid of any distractions in your learning area (e.g. cellphone, television, video games, instruments, etc.);
- Set deadlines for specific homework or tasks;
- Take breaks from time to time, or between learning activities;
- Interact with other learners or educators whenever possible (e.g. study groups, educator chat forums/pages);
- Know your tech support options and the process for getting help during and after operating hours.
Cybersecurity and E-learning
Even though there are numerous benefits to e-learning, when you are online, there are cybersecurity threats that can arise. Every year there is more and more damage caused by cyber crime in the United States, and if you are not careful when e-learning, you could be at risk of cyberattacks. There are some ways to combat cybersecurity threats — examples include:
- Work with the schools IT department or managed service provider (MSP) to educate teachers and learners on different threats and best cybersecurity practices — if possible, make cybersecurity education an ongoing thing;
- Encrypt any private or sensitive data (e.g. personal information, financial information);
- Restrict access to certain files, personal information, client data, or even specific sites;
- Keep your technology and software up-to-date;
- Deploy a resilient anti-virus software to keep all connected devices and data secure;
- Monitor online activity to receive early detection notifications on abnormal activity and address any concerns;
- Use two-factor authentication whenever possible;
- Provide devices if possible instead of learners/educators using personal devices.
Privacy and E-learning
In order to focus solely on education, many organizations that utilize e-learning take advantage of monitoring practices. Privacy is a large concern for many, and while some school districts are approving monitoring in certain areas, others believe that monitoring students perpetuates inequality and violates their privacy. For others, the shift to online learning creates privacy concerns centered around teachers who are focused on monitoring products or platforms for ease of use instead of student privacy preservation.