I’m sure most people under 65 have heard of “e-learning,” are so I hope. Perhaps not; “electronic learning,” or “e-learning,” refers to the use of technology for providing educational content. Not the same as “distance learning.” That, too, is a child of e-learning. Think of e-learning as an umbrella held by a parent. Distance learning, and m-learning, both crowd under the umbrella of Mother Education, along with e-learning.
E-learning refers to the use of Powerpoint, or perhaps an iPad, using Blackboard to take a course, the Internet to research a topic, or the use of in-class clickers for responding to a professor’s question. Anything that involves technology and educating one’s self.
Distance learning involves sitting at some remote, or distance, location from where the course or training is being hosted. Many universities offer online courses. I personally have had a few students take my world geography course from Arizona, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Iraq. Of course, distance does not mean to imply hundreds of miles away. More than 50% of my students simply sit in their residence hall, on campus, a few hundred yards away from my office, and take my online course. 300 yards is still “distance.”
M-learning I discovered today. I was reading an article discussing the pros and cons of telecommunication in Africa, the costs and benefits of cellular phones in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. One of the benefits of cell phones in Africa is the delivery of educational content. Question: when the entire continent of Africa has less available bandwidth than Harvard or Yale University, how can educational content be efficiently delivered? An educational Purist might say that electronic learning is a luxury; pen, paper, and a textbook is all that one requires. And, a chalkboard.
OK, maybe in the 1990s one could get buy with that. This is the 21st century. The Internet and smartphones are rapidly altering the landscape of education and commerce. To stay knowledgeable and on top of rapidly changing markets, people need skills and training, i.e. education. For Democracy and government to work, and function well, an educated populace is required.
M-learning refers to “mobile education,” the use of smartphones and telecommunication networks to provide information. M-learning works in places unreachable or not yet reached by hardwired networks.
Again, I pose the question: How can educational content be delivered in hard-to-reach locations, when running kilometers and kilometers of fibre optic is financially untenable, or social unrest makes work dangerous?
Countries like Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania are working to jump to the virtual and real technological hurdles of providing electronic content. Part of that content is education-based. Much like the HAM radio correspondence courses provided to distant stations in the Australian Outback, cellular technology and smartphones are helping to bridge the knowledge gaps around the world, from rural China, the rural United States, and Africa.
Further reading: “Leapfrogging in the Information Economy: Harnessing Information and Communications Technologies in Botswana, Mauritania, and Tanzania,” by Joseph O. Okpaku, Sr.