by Geoff Allan


The term e-learning, or electronic learning, is used to describe learning material delivered electronically. It might be text, videos, audio clips, demonstrations or simulations. The better material will be interactive, so that the learner becomes actively involved rather than passively watching a screen. And when we talk of it being delivered electronically, this usually means via a VDU. This could either be a computer screen or nowadays, increasingly, it could be an interactive TV screen. Even PDAs and mobile phones have been used, although some of that material is now described as m-learning.

It is useful to divide e-learning into two categories: formal learning and informal learning.

Formal learning is the sort of learning usually delivered by a course or a learning module. It should have specific learning objectives. Most of us gain our qualifications through formal learning.

However, we should also be aware that most of what we learn is acquired informally, through experience, watching others, talking, reading articles and so on. Reading this topic or others in this resource is part of your informal learning. Informal learning is happening all the time, at work and at home.

Our focus in this article will be on e-learning in the formal situation.

Is e-learning here to stay?

Perhaps e-learning is just another flavour of the month, like Computer Based Training and interactive video. It’s possible, but the biggest difference this time is that more of us have access to computers at work or at home, and use of the internet through broadband is widespread. Digital technology, too, plays an important part, making it so much easier to produce or adapt material. Perhaps these will create the tipping point that stops e-learning being just the flavour of the month and makes it an inherent part of the move to life-long learning.

We have also learnt from past failures. Technology by itself is not enough. We must have a need and we must understand how people learn. If e-learning is poorly produced and we are not sure why we are using it, then it, too, may fail. The bottom line is that it’s up to you to make the most of it.