E-Learning: Your Burning Questions Answered

We’re going to hear a lot of discussion about eLearning over the next ten years. It was a growing field before the global pandemic came along, and it has now become an essential part of our society’s education strategy. The online course has moved beyond the realm of job-related webinar training and content for weekend hobbyists; we can already see a shift from the traditional classroom with its blackboard and instructor-led training.

Questions are burning in the minds of educators, students, and even parents: Will online learning replace traditional learning? Is elearning better than traditional learning? And from there the questions move to: What makes a successful online student? How is online learning different from traditional learning? 

In this article, we seek to answer some of your most pressing questions, as gleaned from internet search statistics. Something that you might want to know up front is that people search for e-learning articles using a variety of spellings. The preferred usage is “e-learning,” but people use “eLearning” and “e learning” [sic] almost interchangeably. (That last one gets more use than you might think!) In this article, we’ll try to use the terms people are searching for to help them find the answers, and we hope you won’t hold it against us.

What E-Learning Means

Let’s start by looking at “what e learning means.” (See, there’s that awful spelling!) Really, e-learning is any kind of training that is done on a computer, tablet, or mobile device. 

In one e-learning scenario, the student never sets foot in the classroom; instead, the entire course is taken online in the privacy of the student’s home or favorite coffee shop. Popular examples of this type include:

  • the safety certification classes that food handlers and bartenders are required to take, 
  • learn-to-code courses like FreeCodeCamp and Codecademy, and 
  • self-improvement classes on websites like Udemy and Skillshare. 

These examples are known as “asynchronous eLearning,” because there is no real-time interaction with classmates or teachers.

In another scenario, e-learning can happen inside a monitored classroom environment. Typically, the students sit in a supervised computer lab and can ask the teacher questions if needed. Because there is real-time interaction between teacher and student, this would fall into the category of “synchronous e learning.” 

Other online learning terms include blended learning, mobile learning, distance learning, and even this one: a “flipped classroom.” With so many terms, people commonly ask the internet, “Do you mean all different things when talking about online learning?” And the answer is: yes–sort of. Each variation is nuanced, but they’re all basically a variation of one of the two above styles.  

When you talk about e-learning, people often want to know what makes a successful online student. The answer falls partly on the student’s ability to learn in this style and partly on the teaching strategies that are employed. If the learning environment gives the student too much control over the learning process, the student had better be strongly motivated or self-disciplined. 

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Will E-Learning Replace Traditional Learning?

There’s a quote attributed to that immortal philosopher Anonymous: “A great teacher can teach calculus with a paperclip and literature in an empty field. Technology is just another tool, not a destination.” The question that is really on everybody’s mind (and keyboard) is: “Will e learning replace traditional learning?” Followed by: “Is e learning better than traditional learning?”

The internet is rife with discussion about what will become of traditional learning methods as we move into the fourth quarter of 2020. Some people argue that we still need the traditional classroom. While they maintain that there is no flaw with either method, they argue that the environment and ambiance provided by traditional classroom learning (and traditional education) will always beat out the experience of taking an online class. The opposing viewpoint reminds us that this is the same thing people said about cassette tapes, vinyl records, typewriters, carburetors, hardback books, and every other remnant of the analog world. 

Another argument is that you can’t keep students honest when you move to distance education, whether the student is an unsupervised child or a college student. The opposition argues that we’re quickly figuring out how to combat cheating, given the necessity for e-learning while social distancing. Some of the initial fixes include requiring students to come into class for testing, requiring students to use a webcam while testing remotely, and installing keystroke recognition software. A fourth method is more revolutionary. Instead of traditional tests, we could require students to complete projects that demonstrate their understanding of a topic.

It’s important to remember that while there are extreme viewpoints in the e-learning conversation, the overall consensus seems to be more even-keeled. We are, after all, in a time of crisis, and working together will be better than fighting. Most people actually seem to believe that online lessons are great but, in an ideal world, would remain as supplements to traditional learning in a traditional classroom. 

This kind of discussion is healthy, and it includes a similar question we found people asking on the internet: “How is online learning different from traditional learning?” We can turn to students for answers here, and the demographic who might be the most vocal of all are college students. They want to know why they’re continuing to pay so much for their education if classroom learning is out and e-learning classes are in.  

High school students aren’t finding “distance learning” (another search term with a slight grammatical error) a bed of roses, either. Many teenage students didn’t realize how much they would miss the routine of going to school until they lost it. They admit that they miss social interactions, extracurricular activities, and in-person guidance from teachers, coaches, and counselors. They also confess to miss getting out of the house.  

Another fear some high school students face is the newfound financial uncertainty related to the pandemic.  Will they be able to afford college now? Some of these students’ parents have lost their livelihoods altogether. From this side of the discussion, e-learning can prove to be a helpful alternative (or supplement) to traditional secondary education. One type of online course is called a MOOC, which is short for Massive Open Online Courses. A student can find free MOOCs from Harvard, MIT, Microsoft, and other higher learning institutions. Courses include data science, business, computer science, programming, writing, language, science, and engineering. Yes, it’s asynchronous e-learning, but developing the skill to be a self-starter sooner rather than later can only benefit the student’s future.

What Are E-Learning Authoring Tools? 

Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of the pot but the lighting of a fire.” As a teacher, the eLearning content you create will hopefully inspire your students. Unfortunately, it has not always been easy to find an eLearning tool to help you create better lesson material. 

People often come to Curriki.org because they’ve typed the following question into a search engine: “What are eLearning authoring tools?” The Curriki suite (composed of CurrikiStudio, our rapid authoring tool, and CurrikiGo, our e-learning content publishing tool) is an example of what people mean when searching for an “eLearning authoring tool.” 

We created CurrikiStudio because the tools we found in the eLearning industry weren’t free, open source, or easy to use. Second, we felt that existing tools were often too reminiscent of a paper-and-pencil world; they created PDFs and Google Docs instead of interactive “eLearning content.” Third, we also knew that building an “e learning authoring tool” from scratch could be prohibitively complicated and expensive, which would stop organizations, schools, and independent teachers from developing their own content. Finally, we felt that existing resources were designed to create material for use in more of a traditional classroom setting; and we wanted to benefit all types of learners. CurrikiStudio lets users build engaging lessons, courses, and other online learning experiences. It’s free, and educators can use it without knowing the first thing about how to code. 

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It is for these reasons that we often feel like CurrikiStudio and CurrikiGo are the answer to the questions: “What is the best eLearning authoring tool?” and “Which of the eLearning authoring tools is the most customizable?” 

Many teachers are looking to create e-learning content from an existing PowerPoint presentation. It’s helpful to have a starting point as you create a learning experience, but you’ll find that the features of a good authoring tool will allow you to expand that presentation into so much more.

Why E-Learning is Important

Here at Curriki.org, we have believed that e-learning is important since day one. We don’t think learning should be restricted to people who can access instructor-led training. In fact, we don’t think learning should be restricted to anyone. E-learning gives the power of knowledge to anyone who has access to a device and an internet connection. (Today, this may be a greater percentage than those who have access to books or a public library system.)

During 2020, we’ve seen even more reasons “why eLearning is important.” It prevents our education system from grinding to a halt during a global pandemic. 

Our mission at Curriki is to provide the technology to drastically reduce technological and financial barriers to creating e-learning content, and to increase the number of people learning and the number of people creating online learning experiences. 

As our co-founder Scott McNealy wrote, “This is critical now more than ever, as there is no foreseeable return to the traditional classroom model as we know it. Curriki is a game-changer… and the best part is that it is open-source and completely free.”