There are many definitions available that attempt to explain learning processes delivered, enabled or mediated using electronic technology for the explicit purpose of learning. These definitions include such terms as distance learning which may occur even in the absence of electronic technology. Distance learning has for a long time been performed using correspondence (Fee, 2009).
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An example of these terms is computer mediated learning which is used to define any learning process that is facilitated by electronic technology. Computer mediated learning therefore implies that the learning could be facilitated by both one way and two way learning exchanges as well as learner to learner exchanges.
Among the terms that are often used and erroneously taken to have the same meaning as computer mediated learning is the term computer authored learning. Computer authored learning defines a learning process that is designed or engineered through the use of computer technology (Distefano, Rudestam & Silverman, 2004).
This mode of learning involves the use of authoring tools which are computer programs. These programs are used to create powerful scripts that can create useful learning content. Prior to the emergence of the internet such tools were commonly used to ease the process of learning. In some reports it is stated that by 1993, there were over 165 authoring tools available for use by instructors (Distefano, Rudestam & Silverman, 2004).
However, with the emergence of the internet web authoring tools have fast replaced these tools. In fact many web page developers have taken to use the authoring to describe the process of web page creation (Distefano, Rudestam & Silverman, 2004). One major advantage that is the result of the emergence of the World Wide Web is the ease with which content can be changed and updated.
This appears to have been a major short coming of the early models of computer authored learning tools. Other terms that have long been used interchangeably with computer mediated learning are computer based training and computer assisted instruction. These approaches have for long used embedded questions in an instructional module to determine paths for individual students (Ifenthaler & Seel, 2010).
One of the most common uses of this approach is in the testing of students located in various remote locations. The modern approach is to use the results from the tests to guide the provision of instruction based on student needs (Ifenthaler & Seel, 2010). As the discussion has indicated many of these different terms were used based on the needs of the vendor.
The goal appeared to have been to place the vendor at the center stage. Based on these many definitions there has been a need to come up with a single term that will provide a convenient umbrella for all these different activities. (Fee, 2009). Terms such as distance learning that emerged from learning institutions though authoritative are still quite diverse.
It is for this reason that the term e-learning is fact becoming a more convenient umbrella term than any of the previously mentioned definitions. According to the American Society for Training and Development, “e-learning covers a wide set of applications such as web based learning, computer based learning, virtual classrooms and digital collaboration” (Fee, 2009).
This definition appears suitable especially due to the fact that this is the world’s largest professional body for professional development and learning. The organizations membership is reported to be in the range of 70,000 and the body can be found in almost 100 countries across the globe (Fee, 2009).
This large membership and global representation makes this body more suitable than most to define learning that involves the use of computers and digital technology. It is possible that as times goes by this term and the accompanying definition will replace the many confusing terms that have been used both in the past and today to describe the role and interaction between computer, students and instruction.
DiStefano, A., Rudestam. K. E., &Silverman, R. J. (2004). Encyclopedia of Distributed Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Fee, K. (2009). Delivering E-Learning: A complete strategy for design, application and assessment. London: Kogan Page Limited.
Ifenthaler, D., & Seel, N. M. (2010). Computer-Based Diagnostics and Systematic Analysis of Knowledge. New York: Springer Science + Business Media LLC.