History of e-learning

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April 15, 2013 by Ozgur Ozden

In this article we would like to discuss evaluation of online learning, e-learning systems. Online learning became a major education source in last two decade. Many prestigious universities and institutes are offering online degrees to people living all over the world.

History of  e-learning

First electronic device for learning was developed by Sidney Pressley, Ohio State University professor, in 1924. Device was called “Automatic Teacher” and able to deliver let students test themselves. But this was not a successful attempt.

In 1954, Burrhus Frederic Skinner invented a machine called “Teaching Machine”. It was a mechanical machine and purposed to deliver curriculum in schools.

1960’s PLATO – Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations was designed. It was a fairly small system designed by University of Illinois to connect teachers and students via around 1000 computers. Students were allowed to read specific documents and teachers were able to follow their progress, do drills and ability to skip questions. But this cannot be considered as the system that we have known today.

In 1966 Computer Aided Instruction, C.A.I., was designed by Patrick Suppes and Richard Atkinson to deliver math and teach reading in schools.

ARPANET is established at 1969 by US Department of Defence. ARPANET is first step to the İnternet as we know today.

People started to use more computers in the 70’s and 80’s. Companies and schools used computers to train their employees and schools to educate their students. One limitation that these trainings were offline, i.e employee or a student has to be in company or in school to take these courses.

Online education that we have familiar with actually did not started till the end of 1980’s and in 1990’s. University of Phoenix and some other universities started to offer online degrees. This was a milestone for online learning. More companies adopted e-learning programs and schools developed comprehensive online programs. These programs become a good alternative for working people or living different places on the planet.

Present day even high school diploma is offered online. Methods of delivery and the learning management systems are developed and system is improved.
Online learning seems to be a tailor made solution for working people who would like study one or additional degrees. Also creates continuous learning and assessment opportunities for students.

What is e-learning

There are various definitions for e-learning. American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) describes as “covering a wide set of applications and processes, such as web based learning, computer-based learning, virtual classrooms and digital collaboration. . It includes
the delivery of content via Internet, intranet/extranet (LAN/WAN), audio- and videotape, satellite broadcast, interactive TV, and CD-ROM” (Derouin, 2005).”
Another very comprehensible definition is made by Open and Distance Learning Quality Council of UK as “E-learning is the effective learning process created by combining digitally delivered content with learning support and services”  There are different variations of E-Learning and in the next part we will try to take a look at these learning/teaching styles.

E-learning Levels

Very broadly we can divide E-learning into four different categories.

  • Knowledge databases can be considered as a central database which is a collection of various information. This database can be searched by means a simple software and merely interactive. Howstuffworks, or Wiki can be considered as knowledge database.  

  • Online support can be considered as forums, journals, chat rooms, bulletin boards, e-mail. In this system users can interact with each other, discuss different subjects, share files. The components creates an important portion of e-learning.

  • Asynchronous Courses consists of self motivated courses by means of CD, DVD, network, intranet or internet. Mainly depend on peer-to peer interactions as well as online instructors. Some of the methods suitable for Asynchronous learning are chat rooms, forums, bulletin boards, Moodle, BlackBoard, Sakai, WebCT, etc… These are developed to help and support online learning, as well as online sharing.

  • Synchronous Courses  is done live with an instructor and student both online at the same time. Lectures, discussions, quizzes requires a set time for the students. Course may take from several weeks to months. Chat, voice, internet telephony, virtual worlds are examples of such systems.  

Advantages of online learning

  • Course work can be arrange according to individual schedules

  • Less expensive compare to on campus education.

  • Freedom of learning. Students can choose where they would like to study.

  • Differentiated education. Pace for every student is different so students can progress depending on their capabilities.

  • Journals, discussions, forums can be completed anytime

  • Instructors can interact with more directly and can provide more feedback.

  • Assessment can be done anytime and anywhere.

  • Introduce familiarity with computing systems

  • Creates self-motivation

Disadvantages of online learning

  • Not suitable for unmotivated students

  • Students sometimes might feel separated from the coursework.

  • Internet connection problems can cause problems

  • Requires a certain level of computer skills.

  • Real time lab work may be difficult to perform.

A survey done by Allen and Seaman shows that in 2010 around 6.2 million students took at least one online course and 6.7 million at the fall semester of 2011.

Online learning seems to be a tailor made solution for working people who would like study one or additional degrees. Also creates continuous learning and assessment opportunities for students. People realized that they can work on a second major without leaving home and specialize in different subjects. (just like me!) E-learning looks really promising for the future and maybe my son go to a college in the Stated without leaving home one day?



1- Carlota Perez1, Technological revolutions and techno-economic paradigms (2009) [online] available at: http://www.carlotaperez.org/papers/PerezTRsTEPsTUTWP20.pdf [Accessed: 21 March 2013]

2- Renée E. DeRouin, Barbara A. Fritzsche, Eduardo Salas, E-Learning in Organizations, (2005) Online, Available at: http://jom.sagepub.com/content/31/6/920 [Accessed: 22 March 2013]

3- I.E Allen, J. Seamen, Going the Distance (2011) Online, Available at: http://sloanconsortium.org/sites/default/files/pages/OnlineLearningSurvey-Infographic-1.png [Accessed: 22 March 2013]


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