On the surface, E-learning is simple enough to understand. A broad umbrella term that is used to refer to using technology in a learning, educational environment, E-learning could be a number of things; touch-responsive, interactive technological systems in a young classroom, online testing systems, web-based courses, online databases; they all qualify as e-learning systems.
The past few years have seen a markedly increasing use of e-learning methods, especially in two sectors: online courses/teaching or VLEs (virtual learning environments), and online, open-source information databases. Universities worldwide [my alma mater included] employ the use of Moodle, a learning platform that provides personalised learning environments to students. An open-source platform, students, educators and faculty can access personally, systematically tailored learning environments to access information related to reading material, courses, grading and notifications, with easy, simplified intra and inter-departmental communication streamlined by the interface. An extremely useful tool, it significantly simplifies the learning experience.
For Users: (Via Examining the Khan Academy Model)
With internet access increasingly permeating fields where resources are typically scarce (such as highly advanced or specialised qualification), e-learning tools can greatly help with practice, tutoring, honing specific skill sets or even teaching new ones altogether.
The popular Khan Academy, set up by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Salman Khan in 2006, provided micro-lectures via YouTube videos, exercises and educator tools to those who needed them, entirely free of cost.
The interface has since expanded, with the gamification of the website; a previously video-only set of tutorials is now interactive, with medals awarded to users during the learning process. This has both modernised the online learning experience and made it more of an open, fun experience for younger learners, while still providing necessary skills.
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Videos by the Khan Academy, which initially focussed solely on Mathematics, now span a range of topics across the sciences, such as biology, cosmology, health and medicine.
For Coders and Developers- SCORM vs. xAPI
A lot of software used by the Khan Academy (and other e-learning portals) tends to be open source, which is extremely convenient for developers to build on.
The existing technical standard for e-learning software products, SCORM, is in place to indicate to programmers the degree to which their code can interact with e-learning software. ExperienceAPI (also known as xAPI and Tin Can API), a new e-learning standard designed to replace SCORM, is an e-learning software specification that allows learning content and learning systems to speak to each other in a manner that records and tracks all types of learning experiences.
More analytics-rich than its predecessor SCORM, xAPI means that e-learning is now available across wider platforms that are not as restricted. Performance tracking, already a feature in some e-learning databases, is now not restricted to browsers, finding support in desktop and native mobile applications.
Platform transition, working on an e-learning set via a certain platform (via browser) and being able to continue it via a native application, is another feature xAPI allows. xAPI is also much more specific than SCORM, allowing more granular tracking by developers, coders and users, resulting in a more analytical, data-rich experience across the board.
Ultimately, this benefits both user and developer, with each community able to effectively track progress, effectiveness and interaction via a single, open source software specification.
Writer and communications professional by day, musician by night, Anuradha Santhanam is a former social scientist at the LSE. Her writing focuses on human rights, socioeconomics, technology, innovation and space, world politics and culture. A programmer herself, Anuradha has spent the past year studying and researching, among other things, data and technological governance. An amateur astronomer, she is also passionate about motorsport.
More of her writing is available here and she can be found on Twitter at @anumccartney.
(Image credit: Learnsity)