E-learning has become an integral part of learning for most university and school students. In the wake of the global pandemic, traditional classroom learning has swiftly transitioned towards complete or partial online learning. The development of e-learning technologies over the decades made this transition possible. This essay follows the technological progress from the 1960s to the present and its contribution towards e-learning. The development of telecommunications and the Internet facilitated the transition of traditional learning to initially partial and eventually full online learning.
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E-learning might seem like the product of the current digital age, but its first occurrence tracks back to the 1960s. The advances in telecommunication technology provided learning resources for individuals who did not have access to higher education. The American Public Broadcasting Service decided to use the cable system to educate adult Americans, and gradually more than 53 learning stations had developed (Cheong Li, 2018). Through the 1980s, the wide distribution of cassettes allowed for the development of audio classes. Audio learning allowed increased flexibility and accessibility of various learning materials beyond traditional classroom learning. The main limitation of this period was that communication was unidirectional (Cheong Li, 2018). The absence of a teacher meant learning material could not be adapted to the individualistic needs and lacked the feedback component.
The 1980s saw the beginning of the digital age, as increasingly more homes began buying computers. While satellite TV remained the primary source of distance learning throughout the decade, the appearance of CDs promoted the development of new educational software (Cheong Li, 2018). CDs contained multimedia learning materials, including exercises and corresponding solutions that facilitated material consolidation. By 1990, the creation of the Internet has significantly advanced the capabilities of online learning. Students could communicate with teachers via email, and the learning materials began to include pictures and videos. The bidirectional learning encouraged collaboration between students, facilitating the creation of learning communities.
From the mid-90s to the mid-2000s, high-bandwidth transmission allowed Internet videoconferences to occur, connecting students and teachers everywhere. Pre-recorded or live streaming lessons became more frequent, allowing for even greater flexibility. Learning management systems (LMS) also developed during this time, which served as a stepping stone for organization and easy access to course materials (Cheong Li, 2018). Furthermore, LMS’s use gave rise to discussion boards where students could ask questions and receive feedback. This way, the courses or specific tasks could be tailored to the students’ needs (Cheong Li, 2018). The provision of feedback promoted students’ engagement and open dialogue between students and teachers. Similarly, students could provide feedback to teachers with comments to improve e-learning systems. The learning experience became fully bidirectional, benefiting both the students and the teachers.
In 2008, open online courses emerged, allowing for students to take any classes online. Many of these were free of charge or at a decreased price, allowing lower socioeconomic groups to access higher education. The increasing availability of mobile phones among students encouraged the development of mobile learning technologies. Mobile apps, such as Duolingo and Quizlet, began to gain prominence. Students could access them on their phones outside of classroom hours to consolidate material or prepare them for tests. The subsequent development of lightweight computing devices, such as IPad, allowed students to access computing applications anywhere quickly (Cheong Li, 2018). By 2015, smartphone ownership has reached 96% among American society, extending the availability of resources toward all socioeconomic classes (Cheong Li, 2018). Additionally, YouTube and Facebook served as additional learning support, providing tutorials, and digital study group environments, respectively. As a result of technological progress, learning became a personalized experience.
While some argue that e-learning will never fully replace classroom education, the emerging education technologies beg to differ. Virtual reality platforms are already in use for educational purposes. They can simulate a variety of practice environments, eliminating the need for physical presence (Minocha, 2015). For instance, virtual and remote laboratories allow science students to gain practical skills through emulating laboratory environments (Minocha, 2015). They can be accessed from any location and prepare students for real-life practicals. While these platforms initially served as an additional learning component, the COVID restrictions might result in the complete replacement of science practicals.
Throughout the decades, technological progress directly influenced the emergence of new e-learning strategies. Nowadays, e-learning has created a community of learners and promoted universal access to education. The costs of education have significantly decreased, allowing individuals from various economic backgrounds to access the desired classes (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015). E-learning eliminated physical and time limitations, as courses can be accessed at any time and from any location. Individuals with full-time work commitments can receive the same standard of education as traditional full-time students. Additionally, people with disabilities can now benefit from the lack of physical restrictions (Arkorful & Abaidoo, 2015). Students, who struggle to adapt to the conventional learning system, can create flexible curriculums and schedules.
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Online learning evolved from unidirectional to the creation of whole online communities. The support offered through the e-learning technologies facilitated universal education more than traditional institutions ever could. The next stage of development could see online degrees become widely recognized on par with classroom-delivered courses. Regardless of what the next technological breakthrough looks like, e-learning will undoubtedly remain an essential component of education.
Arkorful, V., & Abaidoo, N. (2015). The role of e-learning, advantages, and disadvantages of its adoption in higher education. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 12(1), 29–42.
Cheong Li, K. (2018). The evolution of open learning: A review of the transition from pre-e-learning to the era of e-learning. Knowledge Management & E-Learning: An International Journal, 10(4), 408–425. Web.
Minocha, S. (2015). The state of virtual reality in education – shape of things to come. International Journal of Engineering Research, 4(11), 596–598. Web.