Most British dictionaries don’t offer a definition of e-learning; the only exception I’ve found is the Collins dictionary, which calls it a “computer-based teaching system”. Where to begin with this! I can just about live with e- being translated to “computer-based”, but in what sort of world is teaching the same thing as learning?
American dictionaries may be different – I haven’t seen any, but the discussion page on e-learning in Wikipedia refers to Webster’s etymology of e-learning (which, as an interesting aside, dates the first use of the term to 1997).
Wiktionary offers this: “learning conducted via electronic media, especially via the Internet”. This, I would argue, is a limiting vision. My problem with this way of discussing e-learning is that it equates it with online learning, and thus misses out on a lot of the potential.
The CIPD definition is “learning that is delivered, enabled or mediated using electronic technology for the explicit purpose of training in organisations”. This is better. The last bit is daft, as it suggests e-learning for purposes other than “training in organisations” is something else, which it clearly isn’t. But I like the first bit, because it takes a broad view of the use of technology, and doesn’t regard it as the be-all-and-end-all of learning.
Try a Google search for e-learning definition – you’ll be amazed at the variety of answers. It’s easy to spot the ones from techies who don’t understand learning, but there’s an incredible diversity beyond that.
So here’s my definition.
E-learning is an approach to learning and development: a collection of tools and techniques utilising digital technologies, which enable, distribute and enhance learning.
I’d love to shorten it. I’d love to have one snappy phrase that would work for dictionaries as well as learning and development professionals. But so far, I haven’t worked out how to do that.
In my next post, I’ll look at what I mean by an approach.
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