Electronic learning (E-learning) also known as online learning is the use of electronic and information communication technology like computers, smartphones, the internet, TV, and other devices to facilitate teaching and learning. E-learning has evolved and has enabled to change of learning from 4-wall classroom learning to an open-time, everywhere kind of learning. It has eliminated the barriers of physical classrooms where both the teacher and student must be present for learning to happen.
E-learning’s main advantage is making learning to be flexible and affordable. it has also eliminated the physical classroom barriers. However, it comes with its challenges such as the copyright of digital materials used for learning. It again creates a gap between those who have technologies to enable online learning and those who cannot afford it.
Types of E-learning material and resources.
Online learning has diverse resources that both the learner and trainer can use to effectively implement online learning.
1. E-Books (text)
College libraries are converting hardcopy books to eBooks that can be read by digital devices. The hard copy books are scanned while the latest that have digital versions are used. The materials can then be provided on the local area network of the institute or they are offered on the college’s online portal. Online libraries also have collections of books from different authors which can be accessed from one online directory. Libraries such as Agora, and Emerald among others can be found online and users can download eBooks some for free others for a fee.
2. Audio content
They involve lectures that are recorded which are later availed to students. The student can repeat the recorded lecture many times until they can understand the explained concept. The audio can be accessed from the institute’s website or the trainer can post them on an audio platform like Spotify.
3. Video online materials
Video can range from live video conferences which a student can access at a particular time when the lecturer is delivering the lesson. Other types of videos are recorded videos. These can be used to explain practical lessons or even theoretical concepts. For example, if it is a course on public speaking a lecturer can give a demonstration of how to do public speaking as part of tutorials. The video can also be posted on video social platforms such as TikTok and YouTube for future reference.
Simulations are used to try and replicate the real situation in a virtual environment. As virtual reality technology continues to improve it will be used to complement online learning even better. Simulations can be used to demonstrate mostly practicals and how things are done. For example, a tutorial on how to design and develop a network can be delivered using a simulation that guides the user on what to do.
Simulations give a user a virtual situation of how the real situation can be tackled. Simulation is the best when used to learn concepts that will be expensive to train with real physical materials or equipment.
Advantages and disadvantages of e-learning
Electronic learning just like any other technology that disrupts how things used to be done comes with both challenges and benefits. Below we discuss some of the cons and pros of e-learning technology.
Advantages of using e-learning
1. De-localized learning
With emerging of the e-learning system, education is available from anywhere in the world with a click of a button. Students don’t need to be in a physical classroom for them to learn.
Mothers who stay at home to care for their young ones can study the courses of their choice from the comfort of their home and any other person as well.
2. Minimize teacher-student physical contact
The advantage of online learning is it minimizes physical contact which reduces the cost of teaching and learning. Lecturers can prepare material only once and distribute them. These can be used for a long period without change which means less cost and time.
Also, some lecturers are known to deny students their rightful marks in their courses if they differ in the course of learning. Reduced physical contact means less student-lecturer conflict hence marks are awarded fairly.
3. Maximize utilization of resources.
E-learning provides digital material that can be accessed from anywhere and at any time. This means materials are utilized to the optimum level. Lecturer time is also utilized well because they have more time for research.
4. Long-period storage of material
With digital material, they can be backed up and stored for a long time. This allows materials to be used for a very long time, and are not affected by tear and wear that the physical book/materials suffer from.
5. Flexible learning time.
Online learning creates a flexible mode of learning where learners can access material at their convenience. They can study even at night if they are working during the day.
Disadvantages of using e-learning
1. Material conversion to digital format
One of the main challenges of e-learning is how to convert the hard copy material available to a digital copy for use with digital electronic devices. Most materials currently are in hard-copy books. A lot of time and energy will be required to convert these materials.
2. Plagiarism and copyright of the material
Who owns and who has the right to use digital material is a problem of the information age which e-learning is part of it. When using digital content it must meet all copyright conditions of the author and publisher of the material.
Most online users don’t reference or even acknowledge the author of the material. Institutions must ensure that the content they upload on their online platform meets all copyright requirements.
3. Internet connectivity for users
Most learning institutions and mostly in Africa and Asia are not well connected to the internet and if they are, the connectivity is not reliable enough to support off-site learning. Although the problem is being tackled it remains a challenge.
4. Cost of digital learning devices
The initial cost of acquiring and installing these systems is high for institutions and also for students to acquire. Devices such as laptops, smartphones, desktops, and internet installation are expensive for poor students and counties.
5. Resistance to change to the online classroom
When it comes to changing from an old to a new system there is always resistance. Online learning is not exempted from this. Most institutions and trainers who are used to physical classrooms are having a hard time to changeover.
To reduce the resistance institutions can implement phased changeover where both physical and online learning are used at the same time. This model is called blended learning where some classes are online while others are done physically on campus.
Users of e-learning systems
The main users of online learning systems are the main stakeholders in the education industry although businesses are also using the same system to do on-job training. Below we discuss the main stakeholders in terms of e-learning system usage.
Lecturers use the system to provide learning by preparing and or converting material to be used by online learners. If the system is sophisticated enough then they can have a lecturer broadcast on a video conference with students who are not based within the campus.
Lecturers also use the system to offer assessments and results for the same. They can liaise with students who need clarification on a certain topic. They can use Email, video conferencing, or any other method available.
They use the system to download learning materials or access them from the institute’s online learning portal. Students can use the technology to submit assignments, do assessments, and communicate with lecturers when they need assistance.
Students can send the bank slip to show when they pay fees so that the institute can verify the payment. They can communicate with fellow students who are in the same class and even discuss using devices that can support that.
3. Administrator/institute managers
They are mandated to manage the system and ensures that the system is always operational at all time. System administrators can link with other system users and ensure that they communicate without any difficulties. They can give any communication through the online learning portal for all other users.
System administrators determine how users access the system by assigning different rights and privileges to the system.
4. Online library/E-resources
Most learning institutions have converted most of their material into digital form which can be transmitted and accessed everywhere by an authorized user. Some other institutions are collaborating with online libraries to give them access to these libraries so both the lecturers and students can use them. An online library such as IEEE Xplore which is an engineering-based online library among other libraries is available at a subscription fee.