e-Learning - what is that actually?

e-Learning has many faces and so you always have to deal with your dialogue partner first of all, what is meant by the term.

Basically, e-learning is understood as the forms of learning that are supported or implemented with digital media. Learning content is presented or made available with the help of digital media. These digital learning formats can be interactive self-learning programs such as Web Based Trainings (WBT), learning apps for learning on the go, Game Based Learning or Virtual Reality (VR) applications or others. The choice grows from day to day.

To produce learning content you need authoring tools and to manage the learning content and learners you need a learning management system (LMS). And if you would like to conduct live online seminars, a virtual classroom (VC) is added. You'll notice - there are many terms, trends, tools, technologies - and that's what e-learning is all about. But we always have to keep the focus: first the human being and then the technology. In this article we will first explain some selected terms and then give some important tips for the introduction of e-learning.

Web Based Training (WBT)

WBTs are often referred to as online training. They are self-learning programs that are prepared interactively. This means that the learner works through the learning program independently, completing exercises and test items. The feedback is automated. WBTs are offered via the Internet or Intranet and are accessed via the browser. The main advantages are that they can be updated quickly and are centrally managed. The learning program can be updated at short notice. This ensures that all learners always have the most up-to-date knowledge at their disposal.

Learning videos

There are two main types of learning videos. The explanatory video describes a subject and the learner is exclusively a "spectator". In the interactive video, the learner is actively involved in what is happening. For example, a realistic situation is presented to the learner and he can influence the further course of events by mouse click or have different solutions displayed. Thus, the learner is guided clearly and interactively to the right way to solve a problem situation.

Mobile learning

Mobile Learning offers learning units via mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. By offering training courses as Mobile Learning, the learner has the opportunity to learn when he has the time (e.g. on the train) and to learn what he needs at the time - "learning on demand". But this also means that when designing these mobile learning programs, one has to think about the scope and structure. Because when learning with mobile devices it is necessary to think in smaller learning units. Micro-Contents are self-contained small learning units, sometimes consisting of only 3-5 pages. It is suitable for vocabulary learning as well as for technical information about devices instead of a repair manual. Mobile Learning is also very popular in the form of quizzes, e.g. to refresh knowledge after a classroom training and thus counteract the forgetting curve.

Social learning

Social learning used to take place exclusively offline. As a result of many technical innovations, social learning is now understood to be learning that integrates all forms of media exchange. The collaborative aspect - i.e. developing a solution together - is usually the main focus here. "Share your knowledge and use the swarm intelligence" - this is how Social Learning could be summarised in a nutshell. Here, public social networks can be used as well as internal company communities.

Game Based Learning

Game Based Learning is a development that is becoming increasingly widespread in e-learning. It is also known as serious games. Behind this lies a rather game-based learning offer. Of course, the focus is on learning. But playing is used as a motivation for the learner. Game Based Learning is always very helpful when real situations have to be simulated and the learner can literally play through situations "in a protected space". Without causing any damage in reality, he can work through conversations, actions and activities and make mistakes, which do not harm anyone. Two essential aspects of this are trial and error and self-efficacy. In this context, simulations are often used in training.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

The use of virtual learning worlds in the form of VR and AR offer the learner an intensive learning experience - with and without the use of VR glasses. With AR the real environment of the learner can still be seen. The learner receives additional content via his mobile device when he points it at a specific object. With VR, however, the real world is hidden and the learner enters the virtual world completely with VR glasses. AR and VR can of course also be used in conjunction with serious games.

Virtual Classrooms (VC) (Live Online Seminar)

The live online seminar is closest to the classroom seminar. It is conducted in a virtual classroom (VC). The learning group meets online in the virtual classroom instead of the seminar room - at the same time but not at the same place. The contents are explained directly by the trainer, as is the case in the presence seminar. The learners can ask questions and exchange information (communication with headset, telephone or in chat). In VC one can work very interactively, therefore the number of participants should not exceed 15-25. The more participants, the more difficult the interaction becomes. But there are also VCs with 3,000 participants. Of course, the interaction is limited, but still possible, for example, through surveys.

Blended Learning - combination of different learning forms and formats

Blended Learning is a combination of different forms of learning, e.g. classroom seminar and online training. Any combination of learning forms is possible as long as it serves the achievement of the learning objective in the best possible way. Three possible variants are:

1) For preparation: Suitable for target groups with different levels of prior knowledge. With the help of an online training, all learners receive the same previous knowledge. In the attendance phase, all start from the same level.

2) For follow-up: For some topics it is important to first of all give all participants a personal introduction to the important contents, e.g. on the topic of "First aid at the workplace". Here the participants must be given practical knowledge on site and be able to practice it themselves. Background knowledge is then imparted afterwards via online training courses.

3) Support: The learning group has the online training constantly available and can access the learning content flexibly. In between, the learning group meets in attendance phases to deepen or repeat the theoretical knowledge in practice. In between, VCs are scheduled to answer open questions directly or to impart further content.

Now a brief look at two tools or systems that are important in e-learning scenarios:

Authoring tools

An authoring tool is used to create interactive WBTs. Advantages of authoring tools are, among other things, that they offer templates for the page structure (so-called templates) and have already prepared interactions. Many authoring tools also offer a simple usability of the tool, so that you can create content yourself in a relatively short time. However, one should not believe that one can easily produce good WBTs with the tool, because a good tool does not make a good online training. In order to create a good, interactive learning program, what is needed above all is media-didactic knowledge about page structure and the use of meaningful interactions.

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Up to now, we have only talked about training content in the context of e-learning. But these training courses also have to be managed and organised. Learning Management Systems (LMS) serve this purpose. In these systems the data of the learners (e.g. name, e-mail address) is entered - mostly automatically. All courses are also entered in the LMS so that learners can be assigned to courses that are relevant to them. The LMS thus enables a central administration of learners and courses.

In addition, it usually also offers communication options such as e-mail, forums, chat and wikis to promote communication between learners. The LMS also provides an overview of whether learners access the courses, how they cope with the tests and who cancels their training earlier. This information helps the trainer to support the learner in his or her learning process, for example. At the same time, the trainer learns how successfully the measure he or she has designed is accepted.