E-learning is gaining knowledge through the use of electronic technology, typically the Internet, but also portable electronics, wireless classrooms, and other methods. Augmented learning is learning adapted to the learner that occurs on demand.
Psychologist B.F. Skinner first reported on the use of computers for learning as far back as the 1950s. However, the computers were used mostly to deliver content, and the student remained a passive learner, much like if he or she had been sitting in a lecture hall or classroom. Technological advancements in computing, widespread adoption of the Internet, and availability of networking that provides connectivity have led to improved use of computers for e-learning.
E-learning has grown rapidly as a way to provide knowledge in formal and informal learning. The growth has occurred because of technology, but also because young and nontraditional learners have asked for new ways to access knowledge. Educational institutions such as community colleges and universities took note of the demand and realized that providing more access to classes could increase their enrollment. Young people of public school and college age since the early twenty-first century have grown up with technology, and are comfortable with self-directed learning modules and virtual classrooms, for instance. They are not the only ones who ask for electronic access to knowledge, however. Only about 15% of today's students in many universities are the traditional type of student who lives on campus. Instead, parents might take courses online while they stay at home to care for their children or older adults might go back to school in their mid-30s to change careers when the job they originally trained for has been replaced by technology.
In the period between 2002 and 2011, higher education enrollmentin the United States grew at a rate of less than 3%, but online education grew at a rate nearly seven times greater. As of 2014, at least 25% of the student population at American universities and colleges had taken at least one online course. In addition, employers can access experts or gather employees in distant locations for training sessions, saving time and money and improving the training experience. Elementary, middle school, and high school students also are using computers. The ratio of students to computers in schools continued to decline from the early 2000s through 2009, one of the most recent years for which data are available. In 2009, there was one computer for nearly every five students. In 2013, a Harris Interactive Poll found that about half of elementary and secondary students also used tablets and smartphones in classroom learning.
E-learning, also called online learning, typically refers to courses taken over the Internet and managed by an instructor virtually. It includes distance education and other methods of electronic learning. Some courses require students to meet at particular times regularly or to participate in virtual discussions for the class. Others require only completion of the coursework according to a set timeline, taking quizzes or tests, and communicating with the instructor as necessary via e-mail or other methods. The college professor becomes more of a mentor or guide, and the student takes more personal responsibility for learning.
Convenience or access to knowledge is one of the advantages of e-learning. Online courses typically offer more flexibility in scheduling. A full-time worker can take courses at home in the evening using the computer instead of trying to schedule around work. Students in rural high schools can take advanced placement classes like their peers in cities, but do so by linking to colleges in their states offering online advanced placement courses. In addition, anyone wanting to gain knowledge about a variety of technical, cultural, and other topics can go online and find formal or informal instruction. Many classes cost less than in person or are free.
Augmented learning takes e-learning a step further, not only removing the passive nature of the learning, but personalizing it, much like the goal of student-centered learning. Augmented learning is made possible by advanced technology such as Web 2.0, a revision that occurred soon after the turn of the twenty-first century that enables easier creation, sharing, and distribution of digital information. Other technologies include augmented reality, also called virtual reality, which simulates real-world context by overlapping digital content. Augmented reality allows for human-computer interaction. Although young people already are familiar with the concept through advanced simulation gaming, augmented reality has been used heavily in training for professions such as military personnel, astronauts, and medical professionals. For example, doctors training to perform surgery can “virtually” operate using augmented reality-based training systems. The surgeon might wear gloves or hold tools that are attached electronically to software with computer-modeled “patients.” The system can provide feedback, such as having the computer patient bleed or otherwise react if the doctor errs. The doctor gains confidence in the procedure before operating on actual patients.
User control is an important part of augmented learning. Instead of hearing how to perform a surgery or drive a car, for example, the user actually simulates doing the activity. Although the consequences are not real, they can teach some outcomes without the learner facing risk or harming anyone. Advancements in mobile technology also make it possible to enhance experiences in a learner's real-world environment in real time. A concept called grounded cognition supports the idea that learners remember and recall information better when it is through problem-solving that simulates real-world examples.
The link between engaging learners with gaming and augmented reality is still not clearly proven. Designers of e-learning with augmented reality must know how to make the tools effective at meeting instruction goals. Researchers still are exploring how gaming can add to learning, especially when the learning is informal rather than formal. One study showed that just considering one's self a “gamer” made a person more likely to learn from involvement in playing computer and online games. Augmented learning in the form of simulation games designed for use in the classroom has been an education strategy for many years. Newer research is focusing on how playing video or online games at home might teach children and adults skills not considered before and make all formal and informal learning more relevant.
See also Learning ; Learning: formal and informal ; Learning: multimedia learning .
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International E-Learning Association, 304 Park Avenue South, 11th Floor, New York, NY, 10010, (646) 3973710, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.ielassoc.org/index.html .