The advent of the internet has led to the development of e-learning as a tool for education which can be compared with more traditional instructor based learning. It’s therefore worth looking in some detail at the benefits and drawbacks of e-learning.
The proponents of e-learning claim that it offers three types of learning style amalgamated into one. These are auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learning. It is thought that people learn by one, or a combination of these three styles. Other claimed advantages include the fact that you can learn at your own pace and travel is not required to a place of learning. In traditional classes, the students learn at very different rates and in many cases the speed of the class becomes that of the slowest learner, which can encourage those who learn more quickly to become bored with the pace of the class or even worse, to leave the class for more interesting tuition. E-learning can therefore be offered to large numbers of students and those students have the ability to then pace their own tuition and test their own understanding as often as required.
Collaborative learning theory claims that humans learn best when there is human interaction and the best e-learning provides for this by using such media as message boards, e-mail and teleconferencing. Fans of traditional learning claim that the traditional relational between student and teacher provides a unique learning environment in which the best teachers can stretch the mind of the student sufficiently without over-reaching in a way that technology cannot emulate.
The single biggest advantage to the learning provider is the reduced cost of learning provision. In many cases the learning is fully automated and therefore the need for highly paid instructors, room rental and learning material is reduced or even eliminated. A further advantage is that the learning content is consistent and not subject to individual tutor interpretation. Finally the understanding of learning can be tested and the understanding statistically analysed to improve the content for future students.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to the student is that material is available 24/7 on demand and does not rely on a third party dictating the availability. This means that the student can plan the learning when it is most convenient to them and also fit in around a busy family life and a demanding job. The material can be repeated as many times as required until a full understanding is developed and the addition of bulletin boards and on-line meeting rooms provides a vehicle for asking questions and learning from others.
While e-learning offers many advantages, it also possesses some disadvantages. The cost of development of the learning material can be expensive as an up-front cost and is reliant on the technology of the user to work at the intended speeds. Video and animation are particularly memory hungry and users with slower download speeds can find that the buffering of the material causes the animation to be jerky and slow. The use of e-learning also assumes that users are reasonably proficient on a computer.
The portability of the learning material can be a significant disadvantage to the student who is used to carrying a book around and snatching learning time at any convenient moment. Some people cannot get used to the lack of social contact with instructors and fellow students and some cite this as a reason for their preference of traditional learning techniques. However, material can be printed by the student, and many e-learning interfaces also have created chat rooms for students to interact with each other, as a means of socializing and forming study groups.
There really is no right answer since the advantages and disadvantages depend on the reasons for learning, your computer skills and your family and work time availability. For the vast majority of students, e-learning offers a structured self paced and above all cheaper method of learning the material in the shortest space of time.
So whatever your learning needs, give e-learning a try and step up that career ladder!