Online learning refers to the educational opportunities that make use of the Internet for part or whole of the learning experience. Most online learning formal education courses use communication and networking technologies, which are made possible due to the Internet. These technologies include email, online instant chat-rooms, online discussion or bulletin
boards, wikis, mobile devices, and podcasting. The Courses and programmes that use technology alongside class-based learning are commonly known by the term 'web-enhanced'. Other terms used to describe this form of learning are 'blended' or 'hybrid' learning.
There are also a growing number of courses that can be taken from a distance and make use of the internet communication technologies, thus making web-pages and online discussion boards the main portals of delivery and interactive learning. These are often known as 'web-based'
or online courses. There are variations in web-based courses, in that some may require learners to attend the campus for a small part of the course, others may be completely online.
Terms like 'e-learning', 'virtual learning', 'web-learning', 'internet-based learning', and 'technology-based learning' are also used in various contexts to describe online learning. In some contexts however, e-learning or 'electronic' learning may be seen as different from online learning. Therefore, e-learning may include a variety of technologies such as CD Roms, digital videos, audio, television, and computers for learning, which may not be 'online' or networked for social interaction.
Some Recent Issues in Online learning
Recent times are seeing an increasing in the use of games technologies,
collaborative tools such as
wikis, blogs, personal digital
assistants for mobile learning
including podcasting, and web creation tools to build e-learner portfolios. Some have classified these developments as 'third generation online learning'.
Most of these developments are a result of
increasing experience of academics in using online technologies for learning. Information technologists, and instructional
designers are working closely with the educators to develop new and more
exciting ways of learning. The impact on developments in pedagogy is still small at present, but the developments in online technologies, understanding of how learning takes place, understanding that learning is an individual and personal experience influenced by social discourse, growth in 'open' source/course ware developments, all suggest that online learning has a potential for greater impacts on the future pedagogy.
In the future formal educational
participation supported by online learning may either continue to marginalise some groups and individuals in society from the educational experiences, or formal education may try o embrace the diverse ways of learning and use technologies to widen participation in learning.
There is some evidence in literature and contemporary discourses, of the growing recognition amongst formal educators that large extent of learning takes place beyond the confines and norms of the formal education institutions. This is not only
evident in the growing use of online and distance technologies to support learning, but also evident in the use of various technologies to develop learning strategies that
at least begin to address the complexities of work-based learning, natural learning communities, and tacit knowledge among professionals and other learners.
If formal education allows itself to view learning in a broader light, there is possibility that online learning will potentially help to increase learning motivation and meet the needs of different groups of learners. However, the question remains if as formal educators are we ready to embrace, acknowledge and encourage the large amount of informal and tacit learning that already goes on. Can we really move away from the
traditional outcome-driven systems that only acknowledge measurable and visible learning processes and outcomes as valid? Can we also begin to acknowledge that formal education has not always made good use of the large amount of unseen and informal learning that goes on? Can we build courses that enable adult learners to feel in control of the learning processes? Are we really willing to move away from out traditional emphasis on 'teaching', and towards 'learning'?
My PhD Research
was being built on the need to understand some formal education
pedagogical issues that may continue to exclude some learners, and include others. It
aimed to do so, from the learners'
Fellowship Report explores current working and pedagogical practices among eight US institutions, to understand how they are addressing the issues of increasing participation in education through online learning.
The Resources sections provides links to some websites highlighting developments in 'Online Learning' and 'elearning'.