This paper will deal with the current state of e learning and learning systems and the next paper will deal with the future look and feel of the world of education the technology it will use and what the effects will be.


The fascinating and ironic thing about this question is, that the thing which is holding back the progress, even demand for e learning, is education itself, and the e learning systems that were designed for it.

‘The application with perhaps the greatest influence on education and society is e learning’[1]

Many argue that e learning is not new at all and that it is distance learning in new clothes. It is true that distance learning, or correspondence courses, have been around for more than one hundred and fifty years, but I would disagree!

In the 1840’s Isaac Pitman taught his students shorthand by a ‘correspondence course’ [2]and my mother was able to qualify as a music teacher aged 16, via the same method through Trinity College of Music in London in the 1930’s.

In 1924 Pitman’s students could test themselves and later in 1954 a teaching machine was invented at Harvard University.

However, it was only in the 1960s, that the first computer based course, PLATO, was designed at the University of Illinois, Chicago, USA. Today that university is still a world leader in e learning.[3]

In the seventies we saw see the Open University in the UK exploiting e learning very effectively to deliver learning over a distance to thousands. In the early eighties with the dramatic reduction in the cost of computers, led by companies like Apple, home computing took off. The widespread use of the Internet and dramatic rise in broadband speeds enabled video streaming and video conferencing which now enables people to learn anywhere at any time face to face.

In education the term lifelong learning has been much talked about for many years. Nowadays, however, with most people doing some kind of research, online training, or learning every week, positioning us firmly in the true age of.

It is the widespread adoption of e learning at all age levels, in schools and commerce as well as by individuals which is what is making online learning news now. Everyone seems to be talking about it, or doing it and that isn’t a misleading impression.

‘The five-year compound annual growth rate, (E learning,) is estimated at around 7.6% so revenues should reach some $51.5 billion by 2016.’

‘According to IDC, the number of PCs will fall from 28.7% of the device market in 2013 to 13% in 2017. Tablets will increase from 11.8% in 2013 to 16.5% by 2017, and smartphones will increase from 59.5% to 70.5%.’[4]

The Pros and Cons

When you take part in e learning you are taking part in a virtual experience. You are working on your computer, or increasingly, another device, connected by the Internet to a website where you meet your fellow students, tutors, where you access materials for your course and where you are tested.

Until very recently students studying online have been mainly in the late teenage, or adult age group, but that’s all changing. As governments all over the world push their education programmes online, for all ages, e learning is reaching a much younger audience.

Here are some examples

  • In September 2011, the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan announced they would buy 500,000 new computers every year with the goal to have a one to one student to device ratio by 2020. Additionally, their goal is to have 90% of schools equipped with broadband connectivity by 2020.
  • In early 2012 the Japanese government passed the Distance Education Universities Law that authorized the online programs of 54 universities and 11 distance education junior colleges
  • In May 2012, the Vietnamese government announced sweeping reforms to the education system that will be instituted in the next four years. The government has been aggressively equipping schools with technology and broadband access to the Internet.
  • The military run telecom operator Viettel will provide free Internet to all
  • 29,500 schools reaching over 25 million students and teachers in the country.
  • In June 2012, the Italian government announced that they were on track to equip 34,600 middle school classrooms and 62,600 high school classrooms with computers and digital content by the start of the school year in the fall of 2012.
  • In June 2011, the South Korean Education Ministry mandated that all instructional content in all primary and secondary schools must be 100% digital by 2015.
  • In China, the central government develops and controls the academic curriculum. As of 2010, the entire primary and secondary curriculum was online in China. Although the content is online, relatively few students have access to it yet. The Chinese government’s goal is to have their entire K12 population of over 200 million students online by 2020.[5]


We can already see that many of these new e learning programmes are story, character and game based, providing a glimpse of the future of e learning.

However, in conventional e learning, you can learn by a hybrid model where you meet up for physical classes sometimes, or not at all. You can learn asynchronously, or synchronously. In other words you learn live online using audio, video and whiteboards, or by yourself, sharing information after the event with nobody else present. In most cases, good e learning will be a combination of all of these functions.

In most cases you will be using a learning environment, or LMS that has this usual type of functionality.

  • Secure user name and password access
  • Document storage
  • Internal communication by message, mail or video
  • Tracking of progress through courses
  • Assessment and grading
  • Management of students records and progress
  • Accreditation

Many of these platforms are available to access on handheld devices making learning truly mobile and accessible, almost anytime and everywhere. eMarketer expects 4.55 billion people worldwide to use a mobile phone in 2014 ’.[6]

7 - Figure1

Figure 1 Number of Internet Users February 2015



E learning is now widely adopted because it is a convenient, scalable efficient delivery method, which reduces costs. If the materials are constructed in the right way it can be entertaining and can now even be delivered in a virtual world.

However, if you define the original e learning as 1.0 and the new as 2.0, we can examine and identify the differences and see what’s holding back progress.

In e learning 1.0 there was a feeling of solitude and loneliness. You would probably log on to a sterile looking website, devoid of graphics, looking like a poor website. You would read a document and be asked to fill in a radio button quiz, with no feedback, or comments. The experience was devoid of warmth and generally not something that promoted high completion rates, or any cognitive awakening!

There might be a phone discussion with a coach, or tutor, but no contact with other students.

Compare that to version 2.0. The interface is well designed and the landing page can be personalized for each user. There is a social networking application that connects you with other people studying your course, who you can link up with you to share ideas. You will be encouraged to blog and have live video sessions with tutors and other students.

Assessments give instant feedback but you can book tutorials to discuss your work and seek further clarification, or support. You will be encouraged to share your ideas and work with other students.

Initially there were concerns about whether e learning actually worked and teachers saw it as some Orwellian conspiracy to replace them with machines! As usual with these kinds of views they are based upon lack of knowledge and insecurity.

Despite the widespread use of e learning there is much that is poorly conceived and constructed which has given it a bad reputation, and rightly so.

For e learning to work a number of things have to be in place, most importantly a motivated student!

The software has to work, the materials must be valid and engaging, so teachers have to know how to construct e learning materials themselves and have the skills to teach online.

The learning environment has to support social learning interaction and the content should be SCORM (Searchable Content Object Reference Model), compliant and operate within the learning environment and not simply be uploaded PDFs, or Word documents.

Perhaps most importantly the environment has to support the student’s independence and not promote an old-fashioned ‘school’ culture.

As you will see from the above references to governments driving their education programmes onine the enigma is that very few people understand how to create good e learning, or have the skills to be able to do it.

There is a very good argument to say that the question being asked of education as a result of the e learning revolution is, ‘Is current teaching pedagogy valid anymore?’; this in itself is the reason that so much e learning is not fit for purpose.

‘Although e learning has attracted much attention it’s adoption has outstripped our understanding of the technology from the educational point of view. The value of e learning is in it’s capacity to facilitate communication and thinking and thereby construct meaning and knowledge. Upon reflection, it should be no surprise that most research into using technology for educational purposes has shown no significant differences in learning outcomes between traditional and technically advanced media. Why would we expect to find significant differences if we do essentially the same thing we always have done (both teaching and learning activities) except that the medium of communication has changed or a deficient approach has been enhanced with some visually appealing or entertaining technology.’[8]

The detailed issues

Lets explore some of the barriers.

Valid and engaging materials

For materials to be ‘seen’ and tracked in an LMS they have to be SCORM compliant. SCORM is technical standard that enables code to be written so that materials are complaint and can use the features of any SCORM compliant LMS. It’s a de facto standard for producers of e learning but there is a more recent variation called Tin Can API, which also works outside the learning environment and enables information to be traced in external environments for learning purposes.

SCORM enables materials to be seen and tracked within any learning environment, enabling tracking of student’s progress, assessment and grading.

Until very recently the SCORM engines have been very expensive and outside the reach of normal people which has meant that producing e learning was very difficult for teachers and the province only of e learning technologists. This has recently changed and the common tools to produce basic e learning are now available as is any other piece of software. This is of vast significance. There result will be a clearing of the log-jam for the nearly 6m teachers with materials to publish who cannot publish them easily currently. (UNESCO Statistics 5,883,894 teachers 2012).[9]

Trained teachers

Despite the very strong push of governments all over the world for teachers to adopt and use e learning there is little or no training available and no easy tool for them to convert materials into e learning. It’s not going to work is it?

The result is more poor e learning on poor systems.

Student independence

In addition to these factors I have already discussed the issues that the education establishment have in facing the new and different type of pedagogy required to engender successful learning. ‘The third age of education (Technology), has already started, and technology and the Internet have created it. However, education is in direct conflict with the way people have now become used to learning.

Education is not generally accepting that it should change its methods. For this reason it is not in tune with the Technology era, rather than adapting and using the changes to produce better education, they are resisting the inevitable, and this is causing frustration for teachers and learners.’ [10]

Social learning

The other aspect that is mitigating against good e learning is the social aspect of e learning. For good e learning, and you could argue, any learning to happen there has to be a social element.

‘At the core or of the e learning context is a collaborative transaction’ [11]

Education institutions are struggling to understand that the new technology is not just a means of delivery, or a way to make materials more entertaining, but actually affects the learning.

With in excess of 74% of online adults using social networking we can say that the worlds has changed.

social media

As of September 2014:

  • 71% of online adults use Facebook
  • 23% of online adults use Twitter
  • 26% use Instagram
  • 28% use Pinterest
  • 28% use LinkedIn[12]

Despite these clear and unequivocal figures the idea of sharing and collaborating during the so-called, learning process, is forbidden in schools! It’s called cheating! Yet, absurdly when you reach the workplace this asset of cooperating with colleagues is a highly prized asset.

What are the current systems and do they suit the current teaching methods?

The fascinating and ironic thing about this question is, that the thing which is holding back the progress, even demand, for e learning, is education itself, and the e learning systems that were designed for it.

Let me explain.

E learning systems are provided for, and sold to, the education establishment and commercial organisations for teaching and training; and are designed around the needs of teachers and trainers, not learners, or trainees.

The way that organisations want to educate is still based on the pedagogy of classroom training that was designed for a different generation, media and social conditions.

Therefore, even if teachers were trained, could accept the changes in pedagogy, could construct the materials and would allow students to behave as they want, e learning would still not work as it should!

Let’s look at this in detail.

‘We can be so familiar with the medium that we can be ‘anaesthetized ’to the mediation it involves: ‘we don’t know what we are missing’. Insofar as we are numbed to the processes involved we cannot be said to be exercising ‘choices’ in its use.’ [13]

Many of those using e learning are unaware of what it is and how it needs to be used effectively. They assume it is a delivery mechanism into which you put your content, in the same as you use in a conventional course, or lecture, but allowing your students to access it online. The main benefits being saving photocopying, distribution and making them accessible to students online to download to their own hard drive.

I remember one department meeting when the primary reason for the faculty head wanting us to put our lecture notes and module details into the learning managements system was so that we could reduce our expenditure on photocopying! Not surprisingly he is an economist!

It is also true that students don’t understand why they should be using these systems. I had one mature information systems class on a CIPD course that virtually rioted when I said there were no ‘handouts’. I told them the information had been loaded on to the learning management system. Eventually with some management pressure I gave in and photocopied all the notes times twenty-six students resulting in mountains of paper and a huge photo copying bill. In the end they decided there was too much to carry home and the notes were wasted!

So in essence teachers consider e learning as a new convenient delivery and storage system. Unfortunately, that is not the way current generations of students see it, (excepting my CIPD students)!

There is now a younger generation of teachers, thankfully, who would like to embrace new media and e learning, because they have grown up with it and use it every day, in the way it should be used, for ‘micro, or bite sized’ learning.

The systems being used however are based on the old pedagogy which is not designed for this medium, and therefore the technology is just being used as a delivery method or a way of enriching the content, using exactly the same methods of teaching as would be used in a face to face situation. A radical change in design of the software would not be effective because the teaching and training establishments would not want to use a system which proposed a teaching process that they had not been trained in and which gives students more control.

There is the enigma.

For the education establishment to understand that the mores have to change with in it’s own culture, will take time, but it will happen, and that will be an exciting change.

Therefore, because the technology is not understood and it’s designed for face to face pedagogy, technology in education is doomed to limited success.

The informal learning habits that people have become used to will impose themselves on education in the same ways as they have on other sectors, business, government, medicine, finance and social structures.

I believe we are on the edge of a revolution in education that will have widespread effects.

First education is, and will become for everyone, a part of everyday life, all ones life. It is already possible to find facts any time, any place anywhere, and this trend is being extended into education and training. Furthermore because the social, cultural, economic and business scene is changing so fast, people have to constantly to train and learn.

Education is changing and the main benefit will be that there will be more of it and it will be more accessible. There are exciting times ahead.

That trend is clearly demonstrable, Moodys said

‘The recent rush by leading universities in North America and Europe to create collaborative networks offering free online courses through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) marks a pivotal development for the higher education sector. MOOCs signal a fundamental shift in strategy by the industry’s leaders to use their powerful brand reputations to get ahead of rapid technological changes that could destabilize their residential business models over the long run. We expect positive credit effects to develop for the higher education sector overall as elite universities offer more classes for an unlimited number of students across the globe through-low cost open courseware platforms. However, there will eventually be negative effects on for-profit education companies and some smaller not-for-profit colleges that may be left out of emerging high reputation online networks.’[14]

The effects of these changes will also be fascinating to observe and we hope that it may lead to solutions for some of the world’s problems, terrorism, prejudice, poverty and lack of basic education itself. Many of us hope for this and there are thousands working towards this, a very optimistic situation indeed, I am sure you will agree!



[1] Garrison and Anderson (2003)



[4] A Report by Docebo,

[5] Ambient InSight





[8] Garrison and Anderson (2003)

[9] UNESCO Statistics 2012

[10] Chris Heron Education needs to change

[11] Garrison and Anderson (2003)

[12] The Pew Research Centre

[13] Chandler (1995 : 10)

[14]Special Comment : Shifting Ground : New technology begins to alter centuries old business model for Universities–PR_255083