Synchronous. Asynchronous. Blended: Defining E-Learning - Get SACE

The E-learning industry is valued at over $165 billion and according to a report by Global Market Insights, it is likely to grow at a rate of 5% from 2016 to 2023. Africa in particular has been incredibly receptive to e-learning as a form of self-paced study. In countries like Senegal, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya, the adoption rate of e-learning has been increasingly rapid, with an industry growth rate of 15.2% annually. With the arrival of fibre optic connectivity, this rate is set to rise exponentially.

Fierce commercial competition has driven e-learning providers to become more and more innovative – to develop ways of presenting content that appeals to online learners, leads to greater retention rates and produces long-term competencies. This drive towards innovation has led to the development of inventive ways to interact with content and engage with subject material.

E-learning can typically be divided into three broad categories:

1.Synchronous E-learning

This kind of learning takes place in real-time. Learners interact with instructors or lecturers online through instant messaging and videoconferencing. Sessions can be recorded and played back. Synchronous e-learning aims to recreate the immediacy of the conventional classroom online and includes:

Virtual Classrooms (VCR’s):
Using online technology, VCR’s simulate the real-life classroom environment online through a web-based program, custom portal or through downloadable software. A teacher and other enrolled students log in to the system at the same time and interact with each other. Course facilitators use technology like shared whiteboards, web conferencing and web-based VOIP, as learning tools.

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2.Asynchronous E-learning

Asynchronous learning does not involve any live interaction with the tutor or instructor. All web-based training occurs offline/online and at the learner’s own pace. An interactive component is often assimilated into the course or module through bulletin boards and discussion forums, where students have access to other learners as well as their tutor. All learning content is made available online and can be accessed anywhere, and at any time, allowing for a great degree of flexibility. Examples of mediums through which asynchronous learning is delivered, include:

Text-Driven Content:
Through this medium, course facilitators are able to present content in manageable pieces of information which are predominantly text-driven, but may include audio and graphics to enhance meaning. Text can be downloadable. Tests on the written content can be included after each section to assess information retention.

Interactive Content:
This kind of content assimilates more engagement into the learning process and may require learners to interact with the content in some way. This may include drag-and-drop components, sound bytes, video content, quizzes and voice activated elements.

Gamification:
As a relatively new approach to e-learning, gamification leverages basic human psychology to create a learning environment that drives learners to succeed by appealing to tendencies like competitiveness, desire for reward, socialised learning and closure. Courses that use gamification may include components like leaderboards, reward point systems, achievement badges and progress bars.

2.Blended E-learning

As its name suggests, Blended e-learning harnesses the advantages of both synchronous and asynchronous learning in order to provide a comprehensive educational experience. The accessibility of real-time interaction and the flexibility of offline components for self-study creates an effective way of learning.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s):
These online courses are aimed at unlimited participation and open, global access. Courses may include traditional reading materials and lectures but also interactive discussion forums and support communities.

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Innovation is key in the e-learning space. Once, the industry offered little more than online documents to download. Now, driven by technology, e-learning is becoming an ever more immersive experience where learners can engage with the content, learn by experience and further their skills in a practical way.

Start-ups in this space are challenged with the need to deliver content in new, more effective ways and produce metrics that demonstrate the efficacy of this kind of learning. With time, industry investors are confident that e-learning will prove its longevity and value as a tool for human development in sectors across the board.