‘E-learning’ – once a word denoting the ‘leading edge’ application of learning delivery technologies and the latest thinking in instructional design, this ageing nomenclature has become popularly synonymous with the presentation of information in an uninspiring and pedestrian way. For years, studies showed that less than ten per cent of those who start an e-learning programme ever completed it.

In recent times – thanks to advances in learning delivery technologies – e-learning, which was prescriptive and characterised by the authoring of ‘traditional’ education contents online has given way to self-generated (via rapid authoring tolls in the hands of subject matter experts), grass roots learning content production, profiling and exchange, leading to the emergence of ‘learning communities’. Current delivery technology developments suggest that, soon, e-learning can become personal, using constructive pedagogy and delivering individualised contents. This will be characterised by de-structured content, tagged using XML to make it available via mobile devices.

Although epitomised by the self-paced online ‘course’, e-learning now encompasses, among other things, mobile learning, simulations, 3D learning environments, performance support systems, knowledge management, informal media and social learning. However, can what is being delivered via these various environments be homogenous enough for all of it to be called e-learning without producing some confusion, especially in the minds of the buying/learning community?

The good news for e-learning designers, developers and deliverers is that, in its traditional form of the self-paced, online-accessed course/ programme/ learning materials, what is being called ‘e-learning 1.0’ is going to be with us as long as there are desktops, laptops, CDs and the internet. The not-so-good news is that this e-learning is no longer ‘leading edge’.

Meanwhile, those at the leading edge of learning technologies are likely to have a background in the ‘digital industries’ – perhaps computer games, website design, search engine optimisation and social media development. These are the people who will give the world the personalised, individualised, contextualised, self-development, performance support materials which can be delivered to the recipient on any convenient device. In this information age, learning is not about acquiring and remembering knowledge but, rather, it is about the skill of knowing where and how to access that knowledge as it becomes appropriate.

So, it’s not ‘learning’ in the way that we have traditionally thought of learning, be it ‘e’ or otherwise. Or maybe learning/ e-learning are still what we always thought they were but the state-of-the-art information delivery technologies are going to be delivering something that’s significantly different. For a start, the new personalised, individualised, contextualised (and so on) materials are going to be too brief or immediate to have a ‘learning structure’ to them. Nor are they going to build in ‘tests of learning retention’ (whatever use we may think these have) to the information they impart.

Either way – whether there is still such a thing as e-learning, or what we might be tempted to call e-learning isn’t really e-learning – e-learning is not what it was. So, maybe we should bow to public pressure and find another name for it and consign another ‘e’ word of the ‘90s to oblivion.