The Evolution of Elearning (then & now – what’s changed?)

I speak from experience about the shifts and evolution of elearning. I encountered my first online course as a student in 1999 through the University of Alberta in Canada, and since that time completed three educational degrees online as well as taught and designed many in the online environment.

EARLY INNINGS (1999 to 2004)

Winning Features

  • We all were so happy to learn online due to the convenience of not travelling to attend a course or being unable to register for training or a program that we desired to take. It gave us options.
  • Though content was mostly delivered via text (or poorly scanned documents) the convenience of learning online outshone the presentation quality of lessons.
  • At that point, learning was mostly one-way communication with some dabbling in discussion forums. Asynchronous learning was the norm.

Some Issues

  • In those days, we had dial-up access to the Internet which caused many connection problems. I can still hear that dial up sound in my sleep.
  • The biggest issue for me was the isolation. Outside of calling someone (on an ol’ school phone), there was little synchronous interaction. It basically felt like a correspondence course with a digital twist.


MIDWAY (2005 to 2010)

Winning Features

  • During this period, the technology developers caught on that elearning was an emerging industry though resistance to it persisted in academia, public education and the workplace.
  • An unfolding of new course management platforms, educational tools and learning technologies were popping up at learning conferences throughout North America.
  • The notion of computer-based training emerged and training became a new experience that provided immediate feedback and virtual learner support.


Some Issues

  • Simply put, bandwidth was an issue as was cross platform and browser compatibility. Our limited selection of technological tools for learning were starting to frustrate the early adopters, pushing new development more and more.
  • Educational research on the impact of technology was emerging but not quick enough to feed the many questions of the emerging e-learning industry, such as the impact of human-computer interaction, brain-based research on technology use, and computer-supported learning.


MODERN TIMES (2011 to 2015)

Winning Features

  • Learning technologies have become a popular mode of delivering education and training among all sectors after more than 10 years of resistance. Its potential is finally understood.
  • Current affordable technologies have put communicating, exploring, expressing, creating and networking into the hands of the learner, or more so, the consumer. Our lives are delightfully supported by technical tools and networks.

Some Issues

  • The overwhelm of choice in terms of soft – and hardware is mind boggling and the e-learning marketplace is getting aggressive lauding promises they can’t always keep. Learning is getting lost in the wave of commerce.
  • Though serious gaming is something to watch in terms of supporting learning, the online environment has become burdened by unneeded bells and whistles (read: distractions).



Reflecting over the last 16 years of elearning I think each period of time offered something useful.

  1. In the beginning, we were expected to work diligently, albeit alone, and grasp the material to learn the materials. It made us think critically more than with current trends of edutainment (education laced with entertainment).
  2. The power of computer-based learning allowed those with motivation to learn, and it supported those with learning disabilities or living at a distance to improve their skills. We see the reach of online learning into developing countries and it warms my heart that more will have educational opportunities than before.
  3. The ability to create and express is endless. The functionality of some technology to create moving videos, beautiful graphics and sounds, and interactive learning stamps this the Cadillac years of e-learning. The expression of people, both lovely and harsh, is a true reflection of our world.


Where is elearning going next? Personalizing and humanizing education more by augmenting student learning with technology – not overtaking it. Why will this happen? Because the marketplace (aka people) will demand it in order to feel a true connection to their work, learning and others.

Mitchelle Boyle

Digital Marketing Specialist at Learnkit
Learnkit works with industry leading businesses and top academic institutions to create innovative custom elearning that delivers measurable, real world results
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