Towards a Definition of Elearning

Over the last year or so here at E-Learning Curve Blog Towers, I’ve been building a theoretical and conceptual framework for how I approach elearning, beginning with an interpretation of a general theoretical view about how learners learn, through the multifaceted approaches of Constructivism. I began to place this in the context of learning in organisations, and even touched on how organisational entities corporately enhance their business intelligence. In this next series of article, I will define some of the key terms relevant to the development of an effective approach to e-learning.

“E-learning” means different things to different people. When you consider that you can call the discipline “e-learning”, “elearning” or even “eLearning”, it’s no surprise that there is a range of definitions of the subject, as “we prefer to define things according to how we use them” (Morrison, 2004, p.4). Clark and Mayer (2003) consider the “how, why and what” of e-learning: that the “e” in e-learning refers to the “how” – the course is digitised so that it can be stored.

The “learning” refers to the “what” – the course includes content and ways to help people learn it, and the “why” – that the purpose is to help learners achieve educational goals or to help organisations build skills related to improve job performance (pp.13-14). The assumptions in their definition are telling: note the use of the term “course” and references to organisational skill-building – there is an inherent, unspoken claim on e-learning (what ever that is!) to be part of the corporate, human resources development arena.

Now consider Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, published only three years later. blogs-wikis-podcasts-will-richarsonIn the e-learning context, a quick scan through a text’s table of contents, introduction, or index will usually orient the reader to the author’s perspective on what they think e-learning is: not in this text. The very first point Richardson makes is that “this may look like a book about technology, but it’s really a book about …connections” (p.vii). With a nod to Jonassen, the author discusses“cool tools”, “collaborations and conversations” and “creatively motivating students to learn more deeply” using a teaching and learning “toolbox” (p.9).

He’s obviously talking about e-learning, but does not see the need to define what it is. So, e-learning has become a common if imprecise term used to refer to technology-enhanced learning. The two views described above signify the breadth and the richness of the terrain that e-learning encompasses, and I contend highlight its importance of the context of learning.

Next Time: More on E-learning, Elearning, eLearning…



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.

Richardson, W. (2006) Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

One Comment

  1. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for reading my book. I think the question that’s most relevant right now is when do we drop the “e” in all of this? This is just a part of the way we learn in a networked world, within the connections we make. We don’t say “book” learning much anymore, right?



    Will Richardson

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