Anna Kirakosian

Oles Honchar National University of Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine



One of the biggest challenges in discussing e-learning arises from different understandings of the field. Most often, we attach our experiences and career to our conversations, presenting an image of e-learning that reflects what we have encountered. For an instructional designer, e-learning often means courses or learning materials directed at meeting an objective within the larger scope of program development. A corporate trainer may view e-learning as a combination of courses and knowledge management. No one perspective is symbolic of the whole industry.

A danger exists in discussing various segments of e-learning: paying too much attention to distinctions across categories. The real focus and unifying theme is (or at least should be) learning – whether it is in a classroom, online, blended, or embedded. Each category presented here is most effective when properly matched with the appropriate learning environment and desired outcome.

None of the categories listed function in isolation. Lines blur between categories, and a successful e-learning implementation will incorporate many different ones. In a previous paper, I detailed the holistic and interconnected nature of e-learning design. This paper attempts to present the categories, not procedures, of the e-learning field.

The categories of e-learning:

1.     Courses

2.     Informal learning

3.     Blended learning

4.     Communities

5.     Knowledge management

6.     Networked learning

7.     Work-based learning (EPSS)

Beyond the categories of e-learning, it is important to note a few additional factors that impact the field:

Ubiquitous computing

Tools and Delivery for elearning

Courses. Most discussion of e-learning centres on courses. Organizations typically take existing educational materials, add various media, sequence the material and consider it “transferred” to the online environment. The popularity of learning management systems (LMS) like WebCT and Blackboard, (and the perception that they are needed as a starting point) testify to the prominence of courses as a view of e-learning. Some designers are beginning to employ simulations, story telling, and the unique traits of online media in an effort to transform the material for representation in a digital environment. The predominance of “courses as e-learning” view stems from their similarities to the classroom environment. Both learners and instructors are able to relate to the general structure and flow on a course.

Informal Learning. Informal learning is perhaps the most dynamic and versatile aspect of learning. Unfortunately, it is also the least recognized. Informal learning is a by-product of “information foraging” – “the human behaviour when searching for information was similar to that of the hunter-gatherers and animals in search for food”( Dürsteler, undated). Our need for information (and how we intend to use it) drives our search. Search engines (like Google) coupled with information storage tools (like Furl) and personal knowledge management tools like wikis and blogs present a powerful toolset in the knowledge workers portfolio. Jay Cross (2003): states that: “At work we learn more in the break room than in the classroom. We discover how to do our jobs through informal learning -- observing others, asking the person in the next cubicle, calling the help desk, trial-and-error, and simply working with people in the know. Formal learning – classes and workshops and online events – is the source of only 10% to 20% of what we learn at work.”

Communities. Learning is social (Driscoll, 2000, p.239). Most problems within our business environments today are complex and dynamic. Yesterday’s solutions don’t always work today. Problem solving requires different perspectives to create an accurate understanding of potential solutions and environment of implementation. Online communities allow people to stay current in their field through dialogue with other members of the same organization, or the larger global field. Communities strongly contribute to the flow of tacit knowledge.

Knowledge Management. Knowledge management (KM) is the significant challenge for businesses in a knowledge economy. KM involves the process of identifying, indexing, and making available (in various formats) knowledge generated within the daily activities of an organization. Some companies have found value in managing content, mining emails, and creating communities of practice. Tafe Frontiers presents eight categories of knowledge management: learning and development, information management, client feedback, knowledge capture, knowledge generation, virtual teams, communities of practice, and content management systems ( The duplication of KM and elearning concepts highlights the strong connections (and blurring) between these fields.

Learning Networks. Communities typically form around a particular goal, concept or theme. A learning network is the loose, personal coupling of communities, resources, and people. It is the cornerstone of personal knowledge management. Vaill (1996) states that: “The permanent white water in today’s systems is creating a situation in which institutional learning patterns are simply inadequate to the challenge. Subject matter is changing too rapidly” (p. 41). The utilization of personal learning networks allows knowledge workers to remain current in their field.