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Understand E-learning Terminology

What is E-learning?

There has been a growing interest in higher education in opportunities for students to learn in the online environment. The appropriate use of technology has great potential to allow a more inclusive approach to student learning and can, if carefully designed, improve the quality of the students’ learning experience.

Confused about the technical E-learning jargon?  If so, try the University of Nottingham's ‘Jargon-Buster

One definition of E-learning is: ‘E-learning is an approach to teaching and learning, representing all or part of the educational model applied, that is based on the use of electronic media and devices as tools for improving access to training, communication and interaction and that facilitates the adoption of new ways of understanding and developing learning’ (Sangra et al, 2012).

This you-tube video from Kings College London gives a taster of what is E-learning.

Table 1: Adapted from Traditional to Online Learning (Allen & Seaman, 2010).

% OnlineType of ModuleTypical Description
0% Traditional Module with no online technology used - content is delivered in writing/orally
1-29% Web-facilitated Module that uses web-based technology to facilitate Face-to-face ( F2F) module. May use VLE or web pages to post curriculum and assignments.
30-79% Blended/Hybrid Module that blends online & F2F delivery.  Substantial proportion of content is delivered online typically uses online discussiona and typically has a reduced number of F2F sessions.
80+% Online A module where most/all of the content is delivered online.  Typically no F2F meetings.


What is Web-Facilitated Learning?

For many staff the first step in engaging in e-learning is putting notes up on Blackboard. This has the benefit of allowing students easy access to key materials. In the case where there is no further student interaction with this material in the online environment, it could be categorized as ‘web-facilitated learning’.

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is a flexible term, used to describe any and all varieties of teaching where there is integration of both face-to-face and online delivery methods. Although in existence for over ten years, Chew (2010, p. 2), citing earlier work, found that “researchers and practitioners consider that blended learning is currently embryonic in its development”. 'Debate about the meaning of the term is still ongoing’ (Partridge, Ponting, & McCay, 2011, p2). For it to be described as ‘blended learning’ there needs to be a substantial proportion on line (See Table 1).  

What is Online Learning?

As noted earlier, in contrast to the term ‘blended learning’, Online learning has a higher proportion of the course (module) delivered Online. It is often used in relation to the more distance-learning programmes, where the students are primarily off-campus and are geographically distant from the campus, for example UCD Online. Online learning has been described as:
The use of the Internet to access learning materials; to interact with the content, instructor, and other learners; and to obtain support during the learning process, in order to acquire knowledge, to construct personal meaning, and to grow from the learning experience’ (Ally, 2005, in Anderson, 2008).

Some useful reading
The literature on e-learning is growing. In our own review of the teaching and learning design literature, we found that
•    Diana Laurillard’s (2012) recent book on ‘Teaching as Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology’ sets out how you can design the Online environment for Learning for Acquisition; Inquiry; Discussion; Practice and Collaboration.
•    Partridge, Ponting and McCay (2011) give a readable overview of the different blended design models and frameworks.
•    Gilly Salmon’s (2007) book described in detail about setting up and implementing
•    Littlejohn and Pegler’s (2007) book is a very useful resource around making your design transparent.
•    Anderson’s (2008) commons-copyright download of the Theory and Practice ?of Online Learning is one comprehensive overview of Online learning.

Printable Resources
  • Allen, E. & Seaman, J. (2010). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, Babson Survey Research Group
  • Bonk, C. J., & Graham, C. R. (Eds.). (2006). The handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local designs. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
  • Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 7, 95–105. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2004.02.001
  • Laurillard, D (2012) Teaching as Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology.  London: Routledge.
  • Littlejohn, A., & Pegler, C. (2007) Documenting e-learning blends, In, Preparing for Blended E-Learning. 70-93. New York: Routledge.
  • Partridge, H., Ponting, D. McCay, M (2011) Good practice report: Blended Learning.  Australian Learning and Teaching Council.
  • Salmon, G (2007) E-tivities: The key to Active Online Learning. Oxon: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • Sangra, A., Vlachopoulos, D, Cabrera, N. (2012) Building an inclusive definition of e-learning: An approach to the conceptual framework. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, [S.l.], v. 13, n. 2, p. 145-159, feb. 2012. ISSN 1492-3831. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 27 Jun. 2013
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