E-learning leverages communications technology to broaden the learning environment for students. The Internet has had a significant impact the ways in which students learn and teachers teach; e-learning, or electronic learning, extends the learning environment into this virtual realm. E-learning takes place in an online, computer-based environment and covers a broad range of teaching techniques and practices. These include online instructional presentations, interactive lessons, and computer-supported in-class presentations.

Cpl. Chad Tucker, a financial management resource analyst with Marine Expeditionary Brigade–Afghanistan, studies at the end of his day here, Feb. 20. Like Tucker, many Marines have taken advantage of online education while deployed.

Cpl. Chad Tucker, a financial management resource analyst with Marine Expeditionary Brigade–Afghanistan, studies at the end of his day here, Feb. 20. Like Tucker, many Marines have taken advantage of online education while deployed.

Also known as online learning or virtual education, e-learning is commonly used in public high schools or at college and universities. It may use of a variety of electronic media, including, but not limited to, text, streaming video, instant messaging, document sharing software, Blackboard learning environments, webcams, blogging, and streaming video. E-learning's key benefits include broader access to education by a wide range of students; collaborative interaction between students, peers, and teachers; development of technological skills and knowledge; and independent study.

E-learning is not synonymous with distance or mobile learning. Instead, e-learning refers solely to the use of online, computer-based technologies to complete an area of instruction. E-learning can take place in or out of a classroom and can be led either by a teacher in real time or completed at a pace set by the student, although many e-learning courses include some hybrid version of those two scenarios. The virtual learning environment is typically collaborative and often incorporates a blog or wiki entries to facilitate this relationship.

E-learning is also at the forefront of college and university education structures, with a significant number of university curriculums offering courses that take place solely in an online, e-learning environment. These courses, called massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are often available to anyone in the world without charge. Additionally, other universities have taken e-learning a step further to build entirely mobile programs of study, establishing online higher-education programs where students can complete a bachelor's or master's degree program entirely in an e-learning format. The US Department of Education reported that 62 percent of the postsecondary institutions surveyed offered online education courses in the 2011–12 academic year.

In one 2012 study, Groux reported that while the “income, race, and ethnicity” is the same among online students as their peers in traditional courses, students who take online course tend to be older than traditional students, with about 40 percent of online students being under the age of thirty with only 20 percent under the age of twenty-five. Kolowich reported in his 2012 study that sixty percent of online students are white, 20 percent African American, and 8 percent identifying as Hispanic.

E-learning is also being implemented by many companies and organizations to keep their employees up-to-date on various topics and to ensure compliance with the organization's policies and practices, offering training seminars in a completely online environment. This frees up resources by placing the burden of learning on the student, alleviating some oversight and human resources costs associated with training workforces.

—Laura L. Lundin, MA

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