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The Rise and Fall of 'e'

By Bob Little / November 2011

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The Rise and Fall of 'e'

November 16, 2010

"e-Learning" was once a word denoting the "leading edge" application of learning delivery technologies and the latest thinking in instructional design. Yet, for years, studies have showed that less than 10 percent of those who start an e-learning program ever complete it.

However, thanks to advances in learning delivery technologies, e-learning—which was formerly prescriptive and characterized by the authoring of traditional educational content—has given way to self-generated, grass roots learning content production, profiling, and exchange. This change was possible when subject matter experts got hold of rapid authoring tools that they could actually use.

And the result is the emergence of learning communities.

Current delivery technology developments suggest that soon, e-learning can become personal, using constructive pedagogy and delivering individualized contents. This will be characterized by de-structured content, tagged using XML, and made available via mobile devices.

Although epitomized by the self-paced online "course," e-learning now encompasses: mobile learning, simulations, 3D learning environments, performance-support systems, knowledge management, informal media, social learning, and more.

However, are the things being delivered by all these tools and environments homogeneous enough for all of it to be called e-learning? Or would calling it all e-learning cause confusion, especially in the minds of the buying/learning community?

The good news for e-learning designers, developers, and deliverers is that, in its traditional form of the self-paced, online-accessed course/program/learning materials, what is being called "e-learning 1.0" is going to be with us as long as there are desktops, laptops, discs, and the internet. The not-so-good news is that this e-learning is no longer "leading edge."

Meanwhile, those at the leading edge of learning technologies are likely to have a background in the digital industries—perhaps computer games, website design, search engine optimization, and social media development. These are the people who will give the world the personalized, individualized, contextualized, self-development, performance support materials which can be delivered to the recipient on any convenient device.

In the information age, learning is not about acquiring and remembering knowledge; rather, it's about the skill of knowing where and how to access that knowledge as it becomes appropriate.

It's not "learning" in the way that we have traditionally thought of learning, be it "e-" or otherwise.

Or maybe learning/e-learning are still what we always thought they were, but the state-of-the-art information delivery technologies are going to be delivering something that's significantly different. For a start, the new personalized, individualized, contextualized materials are going to be too brief or immediate to have a learning structure. Nor are they going to build in tests of learning retention (whatever use we may think these have) to the information they impart.

Either way, whether there is still such a thing as e-learning, or what we might be tempted to call e-learning, isn't really e-learning. e-Learning is not what it was. This could be a cause for celebration.

About the Author

For more than 20 years, Bob Little has specialized in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning—especially e-learning—and technology-related subjects. His work has been published in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., and Australia. Contact Bob at [email protected].


  • Wed, 08 Dec 2010
    Post by Chris Ferrandou

    A real, dynamic, web 2.0 Individualization was very much needed for eLearning. It was not possible in the past, mainly due to technical constraints. With new generation LCMS and Portal technologies the world of eLearning is changing and it is quite exciting. Chris Ferrandou - CEO - goFLUENT

  • Tue, 07 Dec 2010
    Post by Allison

    Agree with Rick Shade. While your point about reference and support is well taken, what of skills and knowledge where the performer must be fluent, confident, speedy, and adaptive? That's about learning. Was. Still is. The "e" is the means, not the ends.

    I love performance support, really I do. But let's place it in context.

  • Wed, 24 Nov 2010
    Post by Steve

    >> For some applications learning is about acquiring and remembering knowledge, especially where real time decisions have to be made.

    Exactly. Like learning a language, or a musical instrument.

  • Tue, 23 Nov 2010
    Post by Rick Shade

    One's perspective of learning is in the application. For some applications learning is about acquiring and remembering knowledge, especially where real time decisions have to be made. For other applications, it is not.