Buzzwords in education have been in existence since the on-set of formal education as we know it today. Many of these terms come and go based on their usage and their context but some terminologies have withstood the test of time. Let us take a look at some of the common terms along with the chronology of how they evolved.
Although often used interchangeably, there is distinction between distance education and distance learning. Distance education takes place using print-based and electronic learning resources. Learners are connected to resources, instructors, and to other learners, and they tend to be separated by time and/or geographic/physical distance. Distance learning on the other hand is the actual system and the process, which connects a group of learners with the distributed learning resources. Learning takes place in various different forms but in general learners, instructors, and the necessary resources are separated by time and space.
Distance learning has over the years transitioned to online distance learning. It tends to utilize synchronous and asynchronous tools, and learning and communication methods. Synchronous learning uses electronically delivered teaching and learning with participants simultaneously and directly connected and communicating. On the other hand asynchronous learning is characterized by a time lag in communication.
A while back, along came e-learning! Electronic learning (e-learning) is defined as the delivery of instructional content using electronic means such as the Internet, intranets, audio and video equipment, web conferencing, virtual classrooms, CD-ROM, and more recently Web 2.0 tools. Simply put, e-learning is another mode of technology-aided teaching and learning. In the last few years, it has come to replace terms such as audio-visual learning, computer-based learning, web-based learning, online learning, and other buzz terms of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
E-learning is moving toward total automation of teaching and learning processes using software known as Learning Management Systems (LMS). To facilitate the development of courses that utilize Internet-based technologies, more and more colleges, universities, and businesses have embraced both open source and proprietary LMS tools. A growing trend in e-learning is the use of “hybrid” or “blended” or “multimodal” instructional approaches that replace or supplement partial in-class instruction with technologically enabled teaching and learning, which in many cases utilizes many tools bundled in the LMS.
Along the same lines many students engaged in e-learning may not be geographically distanced from the institution. For example, learners may be traditional learners living on campus or nearby yet taking course partially or fully online. This is often linked to the need for flexibility in personal (family) responsibilities and work schedules. Taking advantage of e-learning adds an extra layer of flexibility. In fact some people see distance learning as not being synonymous with e-learning, argue the point that distance learning is a generic term that presently happens to use the Internet as a vehicle. Thus, the position presented is that while distance education and e-learning do overlap, they are not identical but complementary.
E-learning is growing rapidly and is often associated with the Internet. There are however other modes of learning that are growing at a considerable rate too. Mobile learning (m-learning) for instance, is a rapidly growing innovation that has the advantage of allowing learners to be “on the move while learning. In other words, multi-tasking, for example jogging or listening to recorded lectures while driving to work. Therefore, m-learning is an extension of e-learning, which uses mobile (cell) phones, Personal digital assistants (PDA), and MP3 players (with iPods and podcasting being the mostly widely used). In places where bandwidth is limited m-learning is growing at a rapid rate.
As the technology gets more affordable and readily available, educational options will continue to expand. For those looking for flexibility due to family and work commitments, e-learning and m-learning may be an option to consider. For organizations and institutions looking to train employees without having to trade-off on productivity, time, cost, or hiring a consultant, this is also an option to consider.