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Friday, October 05, 2007

eLearning Defined

Richard Nantel was nice enough to point us to a set of glossaries for eLearning related terms:
Since I recently was discussing the meaning of eLearning (or is it e-Learning?), so I decided to look at the different definitions of eLearning in the various glossaries:
eLearning / E-Learning - learning that is accomplished over the Internet, a computer network, via CD-ROM, interactive TV, or satellite broadcast.

eLearning / E-Learning - Broad definition of the field of using technology to deliver learning and training programs. Typically used to describe media such as CD-ROM, Internet, Intranet, wireless and mobile learning. Some include Knowledge Management as a form of e-learning. Took awhile for the right term to come about, circa 1995 it was all called "Internet based Training", then "Web-based Training" (to clarify that delivery could be on the Inter- or Intra-net), then "Online Learning" and finally e-learning, adopting the in vogue use of "e-" during the dot com boom. The "e-" breakthrough enabled the industry to reaise hundreds of millions from venture capitalists who would invest in any industry that started with this magic letter.

eLearning / E-learning (electronic learning): Term 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, CD-ROM, and more.

eLearning / e-Learning - Any learning that utilizes a network (LAN, WAN or Internet) for delivery, interaction, or facilitation. This would include distributed learning , distance learning (other than pure correspondence ), CBT delivered over a network, and WBT . Can be synchronous , asynchronous , instructor-led or computer-based or a combination.

Hmmm ... this wasn't very satisfying since they mostly focus us on traditional forms of training, interaction or facilitation delivered in an electronic form. In my discussion, we were talking about tools that support understanding what actions are needed, coming up with action plans, tracking those plans, working with others on them, follow-up. This only makes sense in an eLearning world. But, it's not really content delivery. To me, this is certainly part of eLearning.

However, I'm not sure what the dividing line becomes? How do you separate knowledge management from eLearning? What about using search to find information? That can be part of learning. Is that eLearning?


jay said...

Okay, Tony, I'll take the bait.

A 1999 SmartForce white paper, one of the early mentions of eLearning on the web, defined eLearning:

* e-Learning is dynamic. Today’s content, in real time, not old news or “shelfware.” On-line experts, best sources, quick-and-dirty approaches for emergencies.

* e-Learning operates in real time. You get what you need, when you need it.

* e-Learning is collaborative. Because people learn from one another, e-Learning connects learners with experts, colleagues, and professional peers, both in and outside your organization.

* e-Learning is individual. Every e-learner selects activities from a personal menu of learning opportunities most relevant to her background, job, and career at that
very moment. e-Learning is comprehensive.

* e-Learning provides learning events from many sources, enabling the e-learner to select a favored format or learning method or training provider.

* e-Learning enables the enterprise. e-Learning builds enterprise learning communities.

Mind you, nine years ago, some of us were irrationally exuberant and believed we could change the world for the better. Six months later, every vendor with an email address was claiming to have eLearning.

A group of us (Marcia Conner, Josh Bersin, Hal Richman, Eilif Trondsen, and others) met at Pensare to try to hammer out a definition everyone could agree on. We didn't.

My old eLearning FAQ reported "eLearning is learning on Internet Time, the convergence of learning and networks and the New Economy. eLearning is a vision of what corporate training can become. We've only just begun."

The corporate hand-wringing over definitions of the term has been a giant, inconclusive waste of time. I've talked with companies that spent months hammering out a consensus definition of eLearning, only to realize they were spinning their wheels.

I wish we could stuff this genie back into the lamp. We have more important things to deal with. Outcomes, for example.

Tony Karrer said...

Jay - I like the aspects of eLearning you put in your comment.

And, given that you attempted and failed to get a consensus on the definition of eLearning - a term you coined - that suggests the term is not going to come to a common definition any time soon. So, like you said - spinning your wheels.

But it also makes life hard to explain what we do, how we do it, etc. Especially since likely there's not much agreement on definition of things like performance support.

jay said...

Tony, I'm working on the performance support angle. That, knowledge management, some OD, and a few other things are all learning as far as I'm concerned. I'll be coming out with the Jay-version of learning in a couple of weeks.


John W. Shaffer said...


A few years ago I came up with a definition of training for the Philosophy page of my e-Portfolio. I wrote that "Training is getting the right information, to the right people, at the right time, using the right medium and methods." Granted this is somewhat simplistic. Maybe that is not bad.

It is, however, also broad enough to encompass eLearning. As a subset of this definition I would define eLearning as any learning delivered by some electronic means. This covers all CBT and WBT plus the range of KM and EPSS solutions. Granted this is also quite simplistic. Nevertheless, perhaps this is good.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

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Chair, Dr. Ken Hartman on my podcast:

Also, see...



I'm glad I discovered your blog. We seem to have some of the same interests.


Tony Karrer said...

John - I like your definition of training. It's certainly a big tent. I'm not sure that it helps us differentiate the edges of training from search, km, etc. Right information at right time might be a search engine? Is providing the user a search engine training?

I would claim that it's a human performance intervention. Just most folks wouldn't think of it as training. Maybe that's our problem is that eLearning is equivalent to eTraining? And it's the narrow definition of Training?

Clark said...

Tony, you know I've been on a kick to get a better term than eLearning, because it buckets us in the 'training' mode instead of the broader picture that Jay alludes to of performance, and innovation, and...

That said, I think we dump the hyphen, and ensure that people 'get' that eLearning bridges Knowledge Management, Performance Support, Courses, portals, etc.

It's so much more than training: it's supporting the practitioners and experts as well as the novices. It's about all forms of support (our technology includes paper, ok?). We need a term that differentiates human performance (without throwing in the 'human' bit, cognitive or something) from financial performance (but aligns with it).

We have two choices: make elearning mean what we want it to mean (the broad picture), or find a better term. I've struggled with the latter, now I'm working on the former. What say you?

Tony Karrer said...

Clark - I'd like to back you up on this quest - but I'm afraid it's been sucked into the eTraining defition. Am I wrong on that?

wslashjack said...


We met at DevLearn 2007 (you were excellent there, by the way) and I would have to agree with others that elearning is a pretty small bucket...and it seems to put us into "training" as a force of habit.

As my team and I have been working on our first simulation designs, we have been mindful to let learners learn as they would naturally choose to learn. Does that help to define the edges of what is learning? I'm not sure.

We have begun work on a simulation that introduces some of our customers to the benefits and uses of simulations and web 2.0 technologies. This links them to various blogs, Facebook pages and YouTube videos...all within what has been explored as part of elearning, recently.

But I also have a small Design Basics course that I created for my son, where he is given common terms for the principles of visual design...and where his first step is to search the web for definitions and examples.

In my mind, an electronic source (of whatever kind) becomes elearning when it provides the necessary information that is focused on improving performance. So design of the we provide or direct learners to sources...can make most electronic resource, elearning.

mithunchetan said...

e-Learning is individual. Every e-learner selects activities from a personal menu of learning opportunities most relevant to her background, job, and career at that
very moment. e-Learning is comprehensive.

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Thanks for sharing.

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