More on defining e-learning, elearning, eLearning…

As I wrote in my last article, I’ve a preference for Don Morrison’s definition of e-learning:

The continuous assimilation of knowledge and skills by adults stimulated by synchronous and asynchronous learning events – and sometimes Knowledge management outputs – which are authored, delivered engaged with, supported and administered using internet technologies.

(2004, p.4)

I also treated of the term “the continuous assimilation of knowledge and skills by adults” in the context of Malcolm Knowles’ work on andragogy.

Today, I’m going to talk a bit more about the phrase “synchronous and asynchronous learning events.” A proportion of the content I develop for the workplace includes non-formal informational and knowledge content delivered to learners (which I call “Information Sessions”) which are delivered via a number of synchronous and asynchronous channels.

I will delve into the detail of learning approach at another time. For now, it’s useful to take special note of the meanings of these categories. Colvin Clark and Mayer in e-learning and the Science of Instruction (2003) define synchronous delivery simply as that which occurs simultaneously, whereas asynchronous “occurs at different times” (p.201). I would suggest that implicit in the term ‘synchronous’ is the term ‘collaborative’ – that is, two or more learners, possibly in the presence of an instructor or domain expert, participating (remotely) in a learning event and exchanging information and knowledge.

In Designing World-class E-Learning, Roger Schank (2002) calls this “e-learning by doing” (p.13) and cites the industry-wide use of computer-based air flight simulators in aviation as training tools to understand the potential of collaboration to develop learners in situated environments. Equivalently, implicit in the term ‘asynchronous’ is, I suggest, the notion of self-paced content. As Morrison points out though, “the flexibility of internet technology creates grey areas around the notion of synchronous and asynchronous” (p.7). He gives the example of a virtual class which “starts life” as a synchronous learning event, is recorded and can thenceforward be played back on-demand by learners. In a sense, Morrison argues, the presenter and participants taking part in the original event become co-authors of an asynchronous learning event. This, in fact, could serve as a rather broad working definition of the category of learning that the Information Sessions inhabit.

Next Time: More on defining e-learning



Clark, R. C. & Mayer R. (2003) e-learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer

Morrison, D. (2004) E-Learning Strategies: how to get implementation and delivery right first time, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Schank, R. (2002) Designing World-Class e-Learning. London, McGraw-Hill

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