eLearning is usually understood as „electronically supported learning“. The word eLearning has been used since the mid-1990s. There is a wide range of different approaches to defining this term, including presenting information via electronic media; provision of learning materials with electronic media; computer and network supported learning; and learning with information and communication technologies which are components of the learning process.
In this context, content management systems simply the work process of creating and administering online content. The advantage of the educational software lies in the fact that content is relatively easy to structure and update.
A key feature of eLearning is interactivity. The term is derived from the Latin words “inter” and “agree”, meaning “reciprocal action” or “reciprocal approach”. The aspect of “reciprocity” implies that the information process must run in both directions. Here, a distinction is made between “controlled interactivity” and “didactic interactivity”, depending on whether a user determines the order in which and the time at which online material is called up (controlled interactivity) or whether the system specifies how the interactive information is to be processed (didactic activity), the latter of which takes considerably more effort to prepare.
Software is made available on a variety of learning platforms in order to facilitate the web-based organization and supervision of courses. Learning management systems (LMS) manage user data, evaluate results, and monitor the overall process, which is directed via a user interface where teachers have the ability to create assignments.
In teaching, a purely visual application of eLearning is less common. In most cases, the so-called blended learning approach is employed. Freely translated, blended learning stands for mixed or hybrid learning. This means that a combination of traditional face-to-face learning and computer-based learning is carried out.
eLearning courses often take place in the form of traditional classroom instruction, where students can access learning materials and exercises via web sites or exchange platforms and then work on and solve them with the support of instructors (supplementary mode). Increasingly popular are the so-called mixed-mode blended learning courses, where some sessions take place as classroom instruction (e.g. an introductory course in which groups are formed) and others take place online. During the online sessions, students may submit the results of research, presentations, or homework assignments, and the instructors then review the work and provide the students with feedback. In the periods between the online sessions, all groups hold regular face-to-face meetings.
Purely virtual forms of teaching are offered by both the Bavarian Virtual University and the University of Hagen. With the exception of the final exam, the programs do not require attendance of any face-to-face courses.