Monday, 30 July 2007

Three (or more) models of e-learning

Some of the confusion about e-learning – and the arguments that people have – stems from comparing apples and oranges. People often fail to recognise that there are different kinds of
e-learning, and I would describe these as different models.

There are at least three different models of e-learning:

First model
Online courses that provide learning solely via the World Wide Web. Or via corporate intranets or networks. This had its origins in computer-based training in the 1980s and has evolved from there, and from video-based learning resources that because interactive CD-ROMs then migrated to online versions.

Second model
Programmes that integrate online learning with offline activities. Sometimes called blended learning, although I’m not keen on the term (but that’ll need to be the subject of another post). This had its origins in open, distance and flexible learning, which mixed self-study, distance tuition, and face-to-face training events before the advent of digital technology integrated these elements better.

Third model
The provision of online learning resources for self-managed learning. Or knowledge management, as some would call it. This had its origins in learning resource centres, or going back further, in libraries. Some call this informal e-learning, but when it’s the basis for an organisation’s continuous professional development offer, it can actually be rather formal.

I can’t claim to have invented this classification – it originates in Professor Martyn Sloman’s excellent book, Training in the Age of the Learner (amazonlink), but every time I think about it, I get to thinking there must be other models. Or if not now, there will be soon.

One possible candidate is Electronic Performance Support, or EPS. This is where instruction is delivered in the workplace, perhaps incorporated into a computerised system that performs a task, or perhaps held by the operative as an electronic form of instruction manual (on a desktop, a laptop, or a handheld). I am wary of falling into the trap of including any old form of technology-assisted information provision as a learning model, but as EPS becomes more commonplace, and more sophisticated, I think it could become the fourth model.

Another possible candidate is the digital classroom. Chalk-and-talk is history – the modern training room equips the trainer and the learners with a battery of digital aids: not just PowerPoint or other presentation software, but touch-sensitive screens and networked terminals, allowing for sharing of audio and video clips and other files. I think I prefer to regard classroom-based learning, however technologically-enhanced, as a distinct approach to learning, but I can see a case for including it as an e-learning model.

Can you think of any other models?

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