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E-learning

E-learning is a technology mashup that brings the classroom experience to your home computer.

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In our article How E-learning Works, we describe how e-learning makes it possible to have a classroom-like experience any time without ever having to step into a physical classroom. Modern e-learning is a true technology mashup. In a single class or course, you might use a Web browser, CD-ROM, word processing software, an e-mail system and perhaps even a Web cam. Depending on what you're learning, you may use tools specific to the topic, too, such as accounting software for a business class or an integrated development environment for computer programming.

While each of the tools listed so far can stand alone, software developers have produced specific e-learning software, which is a mashup of software-based tools targeted to delivering courses online. Many e-learning applications are Web-based systems that you can access using your Web browser, though they may require installing some supporting technology like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight. In addition, if the instructor is sharing files in a certain format, such as PDF documents, you'll need software on your computer that can open and view those files.

E-learning software, also called learning management systems (LMSes), can create a classroom-like environment in which students are able to watch streaming video, virtually raise their hands when they have questions and even take quizzes online during the class period. Some e-learning applications integrate Web cams so that the instructor can see remote students. In addition, some applications have emoticon buttons that students can use to convey nonverbal feedback to the instructor, such as "I'm confused" or "slow down."

While e-learning can help us master new skills, the next technology mashup assists us when we're putting those skills to work.

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