E-learning is now a reality in many learning environments all over the world. With the development of new technologies in and for the classroom, school and academic libraries are in a position to actively and effectively support these changing pedagogies.
But what is e-learning and can we say that e-learning is happening just because learners and teachers use technology?
In fact, there is some debate and even fuzziness about how e-learning is defined. This lack of consensus as well as clarity is significant because it could lead to missed opportunities—if we aren’t clear about what e-learning is, then how can we make full use of its potential as an approach to learning and ultimately enhancing our services. So what is e-learning?
One of the most important things to understand about e-learning is that it is not just one thing. It has many dimensions and applications and can be used in many different ways, from supporting teaching and learning in the classroom to providing fully
online distance education. E-learning is best viewed as part of a teaching and learning continuum that begins with face-to-face teaching without the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) at one end and
fully online distance learning at the other end.
As we move along the continuum from fully face-to-face teaching, technology is used to replace the face-to-face elements. Initially, this has very little impact on how teaching is organized and how learning occurs because the technology is used primarily to enhance the face-to-face teaching. But as we move further along the continuum, the nature of teaching and how it is organized is increasingly affected by the use of ICT. Somewhere around the middle of the continuum we have what is called blended learning or the “flipped” classroom.
In a blended environment, fewer face-to-face sessions are held as technology is used increasingly to deliver the teaching and to facilitate the learning. And nature of the face-to-face sessions changes. Instead of coming to class to listen to a teacher, students come to discuss, and to work and collaborate in small groups. Once we reach the right end of the continuum there is no longer any face-to-face teaching and we have fully online learning in which all teaching is technology-mediated. E-learning is that part of the continuum that begins when technology is used to replace some of the face-to-face teaching to the point on the continuum where it replaces it all.