E-learning (also called electronic learning) is any type of learning that takes place through or with a computer. E-learning is primarily facilitated through the Internet but can also be accomplished with CD-ROMs and DVDs, streaming audio or video and other media. The purpose of e-learning is to allow people to learn for personal accomplishment or to earn a professional degree, without physically attending a traditional university or academic setting. E-learning can be applied for all levels of schooling from grade school to graduate degrees, and is versatile enough to accommodate all learning styles.
There are a number of types of e-learning that depend on the amount of physical interaction. Entirely online e-learning occurs without any face-to face interaction. Course work and materials are distributed electronically through email, websites, online forums and/or CDs or DVD-ROMs. Combined learning uses a combination of Internet-directed instruction, as well as face-to-face interaction. Most traditional colleges and universities use combined learning as students learn in physical classrooms, with instruction augmented by online lessons. For those learning for personal accomplishment, e-learning can also use a combination of e-learning types, as they can be entirely self-directed, or they can use the assistance of an expert in their selected field.
Because the only requirements for e-learning (in most cases) requires a computer with Internet access or a CD/DVD-ROM drive, e-learning students can learn from home, libraries, Internet cafes or any other location that has Internet access. This is why e-learning is a preferred option for those who work full time or part time and cannot afford to travel to a physical school. The ease of location with e-learning also makes it preferable to stay-at-home parents with young or special-needs children. E-learning can also save money in that e-learners do not have to pay for gas, vehicle repair or parking validation if they choose to remain at home while taking courses online. Ease of location is also beneficial to students who are home-schooled, as they can gain social interaction through online communications as well as educational materials.
Another benefit to e-learning is that it is self-directed, meaning that the e-learner sets the pace of her learning. Unlike traditional methods of education, e-learning allows a student to pace her educational needs with her comfort level. This is especially true when a person chooses to use e-learning for personal accomplishment. For those seeking a professional degree, there may be requirements and course work that must be completed by a certain time, but these deadlines are usually more flexible than the requirements made at traditional learning institutions.
The most controversial aspect of e-learning is for those who are seeking professional degrees. Some online learning institutions may not meet the academic standards set forth by private accreditation organizations. Accreditation standards are used to confirm a learning institution’s academic quality. This does not mean that an online institution that is not accredited has poor academic quality, but it can cause problems when an e-learner seeks to transfer credits from an online institution to a traditional educational facility. Another drawback to e-learning is that it can be difficult for individuals who are not primarily self-motivated. While self-directed learning has been appropriately praised for its versatility, it can be a trap for those who need the external motivations physical classrooms and instructors can provide.
E-learning has also been praised as a lower-cost option for those seeking additional education. Costs for individual classes and learning institutions vary depending on location, degree or type of program, and area of study. Online universities generally charge the same way traditional universities do, by charging per credit hour. But also like traditional universities, scholarships, grants, and student loans are available as well. See the Resources list below for sites with information about e-learning costs by discipline and degree desired.