Inspired Elearning: Expanding The Definition of Elearning in 2015

Inspired Elearning: Expanding The Definition of Elearning in 2015

What is elearning? Most of us who have ever taken an online course or like us develop custom elearning on a daily basis think that we have a pretty firm grasp on what it actually is.

The thing is, that as 2015 moves on and technology changes, it becomes a little less easy to define.

Let’s start at it’s most basic definition. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines elearning as:

Learning conducted via electronic media, typically on the Internet

That seems pretty straightforward. Let’s look at another definition. This one is from Cambridge Dictionary: They define elearning as:

Learning done by ​studying at ​home using ​computers and ​courses ​provided on the internet

I have some problems with the Cambridge definition. Namely that they assume that the elearning is done at home and on a computer. These days, this is becoming less and less likely.

So if we use that Oxford definition, it opens up the doors to more than simply the online courses that we are familiar with. That being said..

What is Elearning?

People can learn things online a variety of different ways. There is everything from step-by-step tutorials on how to accomplish a task. There are also countless how-to YouTube videos. I’ve used these myself and found them very helpful when it came to basic car maintenance.

However, just because these examples can be used as a form of online training, that necessarily make them elearning. I would say no and this is why.

At its most basic, the distinguishing features of elearning are:

  • They are accessed online
  • They provide a sense of progress
  • They transfer knowledge

There could be the argument that the emanuals we produce don’t fall under the umbrella of elearning. However they do because they fulfill these basic requirements by featuring very basic knowledge checks and have the ability to navigate to any point in the course.

Contrast that with the elearning that we know that can include role-playing scenarios; a variety of question types, and gamification elements.

But this is 2015 and if we look at the definition of elearning there are other things would fall under that definition.

Are Apps Elearning?

The days of SCORM-compliant, LMS-accessed ways of obtaining knowledge and skills are on the wane. The fact of the matter is this, as of 2014 more people are accessing the internet via mobile devices like phones or tablets than they are desktop or laptop computers.

All the courses that we have built over the last few years have been able to accessed via these mobile devices. For very focused learning in a very specific area of learning, more and more people are using apps because they can provide a much better learning experience that elearning courses built using traditional development tools like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate simply can’t provide. That’s not to say these tools can’t build great elearning courses they can and they do. It’s just that are confined by the type of data that their Learning Management System (though SCORM or the Tin Can API) can collect.

What an app like Duolingo does for instance is to forgo the LMS altogether because of these constraints to provide a fun, and educational way to learn another language through gamification, rewards, and progress that a traditional elearning courses is unable to.

As much as apps can provide a much different experience than traditional elearning courses, there are downsides. Those downsides are central control and deployment.

The main advantage of the LMS from the perspective of an organization is to see at a glance how employees are progressing throughout their online training. The LMS provides this. Contrast that with an app like Duolingo where they control the data exclusively. There is no learning management needed because it is catered to the individual learner.

Another problem with learning apps is deployment. How do you get the training onto your employees phones are tablets. This is especially tricky with the advent of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). It’s not at all like ten years ago when employees carried the company Blackberry that could be controlled through a company-controlled blackberry server.

In that sense, apps could be considered elearning but from a highly-individualized perspective.


Moving forward the definition of what elearning is becomes more and more blurry. But as technology changes and improves, it becomes more and more exciting. What the next few years hold for the definition of elearning, we can only speculate.


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