A Historical Perspective and Look Forward at the e-Learning Industry

Written by:  Stephen Gatlin

E-learning is one of the fastest growing fields, and it has been a dynamic process that has dramatically changed traditional teaching by eliminating many challenges. The evolution of the Internet has brought simplicity to education providers by creating a virtual learning environment that allows us to standardize quality and implement superior training methodologies- all while reaching a world of students simultaneously. With the development of e-learning, education is now more convenient than ever, leaving countless online education opportunities for the future.

When I started in higher education, I provided career training to adults in a classroom setting as the Internet had not yet been adopted as a learning platform. There are special challenges unique to providing education through brick-and-mortar schools that have been eliminated by the development of the Internet. The logistics, specifically finding and reserving a location, hiring good instructors, and negotiating facility costs all translated to wasted time and lower profit margins due to duplication of efforts. Another challenge was that the target audience for adult career training is part of a social network that finds the ability to meet in traditional classrooms at specific times difficult if not impossible. This demographic might include stay-at-home mothers who want to get back into the workforce, homebound job-seekers with disabilities, or working professionals who want to make a career switch but can’t find the time due to their current positions. In the early 1990s, the Internet presented itself as an opportunity to reach these groups with the career training they needed, at the time and place of their own choosing.

It was very evident to me that I could eliminate time-consuming and costly duplication of efforts while eliminating the variance in the quality of instruction if I made the transition to the Internet. In 1995, I took our travel agent training program that was being taught in colleges and universities and developed it for online distribution. The course became successful due to its quality and simplicity, and it made me aware of the countless advantages of providing education online. E-learning made a student’s home his or her personal classroom, providing state-of-the-art curriculum, the necessary course materials, and the best professional instructors at the touch of a button. Through Web-based delivery, all students receive the same information of the same quality across the globe, and there is no difference in teaching styles, as is the case when hiring local faculty for classroom education. In this way, distance education allows us to provide the best instructors to all students worldwide, ensuring that all parts of the curriculum are covered with the same emphasis and value. Before distance e-learning, students in rural education districts were often at a great disadvantage when it came to subjects being offered because smaller colleges don’t always have the resources to attract teachers who are in high demand. Now, instead of having multiple instructors with varying quality, all students get a high standard of instruction no matter their location. As this educational equality is possible through general distance learning, there is a key advantage offered exclusively by e-learning: the student-mentor relationship. With e-learning, mentors can interact with students via e-mail, live chat, and discussion boards- something that is essential to a student’s grasp of course information, which had been a missing component of correspondence learning.

It’s safe to say that around 70% of the world’s population is comfortable learning online, and this is made increasingly evident each year as more and more adults are completing their education on the Internet. The need for effective and quality programs is not only being noticed in higher educational institutions but in corporate training departments as well, and we will see e-learning solutions more and more for MBA and doctorate-level degrees. As an early adopter and industry old-time, I saw a need to have a one-stop solution for online career training and have partnered my company with content providers, corporations, governments, and colleges and universities worldwide to provide options for adults to improve their education and career development skills. We created TheeLearningCenter.com, a worldwide initiative to provide the largest and most comprehensive collection of online continuing education programs, where students in Naples, Los Angeles or Beijing can begin learning with a few clicks of a mouse. With over 7,000 courses from many of the world’s top authors and companies, The eLearning Center has become, in 2 short years, the largest single marketplace for online courses. It has concentrated on continuing education in fields as diverse as finance, healthcare, and automotive repair with course prices as low as $12.00.

Yet, there is so much more to be achieved with e-learning, and the tools to provide a state-of-the-art education are available for us. Soon, the entire learning spectrum will be revolutionized, and e-learning will be available for every type of education, from the prekindergarten level through grade school and MBA degree levels, even making it possible to obtain a doctorate through online education. On the international level, the industry will continue as practitioners expand their worldwide efforts. Advanced countries such as the United States with greater income and Internet progression will see the most e-learning growth because of the acceptance of its structure. This is the single greatest factor today in the sales and distribution of content to adult populations. As the individuals responsible for driving the industry to new heights, we must keep improving on our e-learning products and concepts, as they are wide and varying, and students now look online for the support, convenience, and the most cutting-edge learning content available to improve every aspect of their lives from personal to professional skills.

Innovative and emerging communication technologies have brought pivotal changes to the educational landscape, transforming both the depth and range of learning in the past decade. The adoption of e-learning is most advanced in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe but is growing in all parts of the world, allowing great development in the higher education and corporate development sectors. Our industry is an indispensable resource for individuals to access education on demand, and it will continue to grow in the future.

Distance Learning Volume 5 Issue 1 March 15, 2008.

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