April 2006 Index
Home Page

Editor’s Note
: The tools of online learning have attracted the attention of instructors to enhance learning in traditional classrooms. This is not surprising since internet tools have become global, ubiquitous and easy to use.

On-Line Learning:
A Creative Environment for Quality Education

Nitin Upadhyay


Learning is not limited to geographical area and time domain. Electronic media and supporting resources, along with well planned structured learning material, enhance learning. In this paper the author highlights issues related to online learning such as learning goals, technology, challenges, evaluation schemes and discusses the future potential of online learning.

KeyWords: Online learning, CBT, CAI, WBT, m-learning, e-learning.


Online learning is considered as the extension to distance and distributed learning. An important aspect is to customize learning for students and to make it available anytime, anywhere.

Table 1
Learning Environments.

Technology word

Joining word

Education word





A large storage capacity interactive medium for distribution of learning programs for training.




Virtually any kind of computer use in educational system, including drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, instructional management, writing using word processors, and other applications.




Drill-and-practice, tutorial, or simulation activities governed either by themselves or as supplements to traditional, teacher directed instruction.




Use of computers by institute staff to gather student data and make instructional decisions or activities where the computer evaluates students' performance, and store and manage the outcome after analysis.




An education system where student’s learn by executing a special training program on a computer.

Interactive Media



Two way communication with a program that incorporates video, audio, text and graphics.




Generic term for any type of training on-line.




Learning experiences presented on computers that are connected to intranet, extranet, and internet.

It has been identified that online learning enables the level of interaction of learners with each other and also with tutorial staff which in no way possible with traditional correspondence course [1]. Table 1 shows different learning environment for online training and education.

Key factors for the online learning are:

Learning material: These must be effective and suitable as per need of the learner. It can be as simple as traditional lectures and quizzes that are transcribed into a computer program; or depending upon the learner input it guides learner to the actual content; or the material can be based on work session compiled by chat session. The material that learner interacts with can be presented as text, graphics, animated graphics, audio, video, or a combination of these.

Supportive resources: To support learner’s learning request effectively proper resource must be used that are available through computers. These resources come under two categories- first for preparing learning program or material and secondly for delivering the outcome to learners.

Paradigm Shift

The acceptance of online learning is due to growing availability of commercially available Learning Management Systems (LMSs) such as WebCT, BlackBoard, Learning Space, IntraLearn , Top Class, eCollege, Click2learn, Authorware, LearnLinc ,Virtual-U, Web Course in a Box, UniLearn and WebBoard [2].

"Behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist theories have contributed in different ways to the design of online materials, and they will continue to be used to develop learning materials for online learning. Behaviorist strategies can be used to teach the facts (what); cognitivist strategies to teach the principles and processes (how); and constructivist strategies to teach the real-life and personal applications and contextual learning. There is a shift toward constructive learning, in which learners are given the opportunity to construct their own meaning from the information presented during the online sessions. The use of learning objects to promote flexibility and reuse of online materials to meet the needs of individual learners will become more common in the future. Online learning materials will be designed in small coherent segments, so that they can be redesigned for different learners and different contexts. Finally, online learning will be increasingly diverse to respond to different learning cultures, styles, and motivations" [3].

Emerging technologies are leading to the development of many new opportunities to guide and enhance learning that were unimaginable even a few years ago. There are already about one million courses on the internet, 30,000 of them compiling with a scientific definition of online, 22,000 of these are listed on the telecampus portal, with many of them making didactic use of the World Wide Web [4].

A significant and remarkable shift in paradigm has been identified. Table 2 describes the paradigm shift:

Medium of Learning

Learning can be identified as of the perspective view – intentional or coincidental. Acquiring this perspective, the designers and programmers tend to conceptualize their views and programs in order to achieve learner goal effectively and efficiently [5]. It has been identified that an online course could require two or more hours a day to read student mail and discussions and make appropriate responses [6].

Table 2
Paradigm shift from traditional to online learning
Traditional Learning Online Learning


(From)                  (To)



comprehension of content

acquisition of content









Individual effort

Team effort

Print (document) media

mixture of media



 Table 3 describes different major contexts and medium in which learning can be achieved.

Table 3
Medium of learning






Situations where people learn side-by-side while working

People work in different locations so learning involves use of

E-mail, chat, discussion

File & report sharing



Synchronous and asynchronous


Connectivity to computer network.

E-mail account.

Software necessary to perform sharing of resources.


High-speed network connectivity to transmit audio-video files.

Camera and related software to capture and transmit images.

Microphone and related software to capture and transmit sounds.

Software which enable to view and transmit all files.

Knowledge Management

Deals with capturing, storing and organizing lessons learned and experiences of individuals and groups within an organization.

Information retrieving through knowledge database.

Information retrieval:

Formal corporate information.

Informal information.

Expertise information

A network.

Database program to manage data.


Graphical User Interface.

Interactive media for handling queries.

On-line training and Education

Training and education involves structure events that are intended to enhance knowledge and skills.

Event has—



In a classroom, events are instructor (person) and earners (persons).

But for online learning events are instructor (computer) and learners (persons)

For developing learning material:

Computer and supportive resources to prepare rich interactive material.

Word processors, authoring tools, presentation software, graphic software, audio and video management software.

For delivering learning material:

Computer, sound cards, speakers.

Software for playing course material (including sound bytes and video sequences), and reading course material from internet.

The Three Dialogues and Interaction modes

Interactive online learning deals with the two aspects of communication and dialogue which are the key processes of learning, wherever, and whenever it occurs. Interactive online learning that is designed gives focus and is centered to these three types of dialogue and interactions. The dialogues are:

  1. between instructors and learners,

  2. among learners, and,

  3. between the learner and a rich interactive media and supporting learning resources.

In extension to ‘document delivery’ for learning, teaching staff must concentrate to interaction mode available to them and even explore and identify more in order to make teaching effective. Fig 1 describes the interpersonal level of interaction available in the online course.

Figure 1 Interpersonal level of interaction available in the online course.

Electronic mail, chat, bulletin boards, discussion forum and online help are excellent and effective means for integrating the interactive dialogue with instructor to learner learning models. Acquiring these new strategies learners also tend to become more active learners and quickly group into communities of collaborative learners.

Online Courses- Perspective View

Faculty perspective view to develop online courses:

  • Reuse, rethink and modify the course.
  • Enhance and strengthen instructor to learner and learner to learner dialogue.
  • Provide valuable information and access to extra resources.
  • Complex figures and animations can be used in course structure.
  • Easy to distribute assignments and exercises.
  • Encourage student collaboration approach.
  • Courses can be provided to students anytime, from anywhere.
  • Students perspective view to enroll in online course:
  • Work schedules and time constraints.
  • Family obligations and responsibilities.
  • Accessibility and distance.
  • Convenience of learning at home or at work.
  • Time flexibility in enrolling and taking the course.


Flexible scheduling of course activities.

  • Individualize learning.
  • Free instructors for more meaningful contact with students
  • Virtual office hours for interaction with instructor.
  • Participation in an online learning community.
  • Interaction with other learners through electronic discussion lists.

Give a sense of control over learning.

  • Learning can be done anytime anywhere.

  • The hypertext format makes the learning easy as it allows the learner to choose the sequence of the inquiry and to navigate through the material in a simple way.

  • Course structure comprise of full multimedia resources which enhance the learning approach of learners.

  • Providing learning materials, regardless of the format, is clearly one piece of the equation in the design of meaningful instruction.

Computer mediated communication provides a rich resource for discussion, interaction, sharing, reflection, and active participation in articulating personal understanding.

  • The social learning environment available by means of written discussion forums invites careful reflection by providing the learner time to think and make proper responses.

  • Learners can communicate and interact at times that best suit their schedules.

  • The absence of face-to-face interaction or physical proximity may reduce learners’ shyness and hesitant behaviour.

  • Build proficiency in computer use, which will be valuable later in life


  • reconceptualizing courses from student learning perspectives view;

  • enhancing teaching strategies and modes in order to design online learning activities;

  • writing sophisticated hypertext and structuring navigation for effective learning purposes;

  • easy delivery using course management tools;

  • guiding to do research as a professional development approach;

  • engaging students in appropriate interactivity and sustaining it;

  • assessing and evaluating learning at a distance; and

  • negotiating intellectual property rights.

There are many benefits of online learning for both the learner and the instructor. The following are just a few of the potential benefits:

Scheduling Flexibility

It has been identified that adult students generally work full-time, many have family responsibilities and obligations, and many live far away from campus. If possible to complete selected courses from home or work without attending weekly classes is the greatest convenience.

Time Saving Learning

Time saved in traveling to and from campus in order to go for a selected course can be utilized and redirected to learning.

Growth in Adult Learners

Adult learning increases due to the fact that learner no way has to sit and attend the lecture meant for a large group rather can go for specific and specialized course of their interest.

Increased Interaction with Classmates

Web-based communication tools can actually increase interaction among students by permitting group work that would be difficult to arrange if students have to meet in the same place at the same time.

Virtual Office Hours

Electronic communication between students and instructor can actually increase the degree of interaction, since students can e-mail instructors at their convenience, rather than find time to get to office hours or reach instructors by telephone. Students and instructor can communicate at their convenience.

Unlimited Learning

The World Wide Web has a wealth of resources from which students can learn a great deal more than instructors can teach. Everywhere, the role of the faculty is being reconceptualized in the form of "coach" rather than "instructor". Students are perfectly suited to take benefit of coaching to get out of the course what will be of most value to them.

Accessibility and availability

Course material is accessible and available to students anytime, anywhere.


Online Learning increases the collaboration capability between learners and instructors for effective learning.

Features of Successful Online Learners

Before going to enroll for online courses one has to give self assessment test as not all students are successful in online courses. Some students have difficulty with time management, need the environment of a classroom, or miss the face-to-face interaction with other students and the instructor. The following are some of the features that the students should have to be successful learner online.

  • Possess work management skills.

  • Posses time management skills.

  • Motivation to read, writes, and participates fully in class activities.

  • Time to give approximately 12 hours a week to a 3-credit course for effective learning.

  • Flexibility in dealing with technology problems.

  • Self-initiator should not procrastinate.

  • Capability of learning from the printed word.

  • Ability to work independently and in teams.

  • Do not hesitate in asking the questions when they do not understand.

  • Knowledge about working computer, internet and accessories.

  • Good at basic computer skills.

Table 4 shows the self-assessment test which must be taken by students going for the online courses. If self-assessment results in several "beginner" selections, then one want to build skills before enrolling an online course.


Evaluation includes getting ongoing feedback, from the learner, instructor and learner’s organization, in order to identify performance gaps and capture learned lessons for continuous growth and improvement [7]. Online courses include interactive session as well in comparison to distance learning. This can be done via synchronous and asynchronous mode. Evaluation process of online learning is an extension to distance learning. This follows the same principle as evaluation of distance learning course. Here interactive session and mode has to be considered. It has been identified that interviews and focus groups can provide a medium to assess individual response about the social aspect of the course and how they affected learning [8-10].

Table 4
Self-assessment Questionnaire





e-mail working (sending and receiving messages and attachments)




e-mail working (replying and forwarding messages and attachments)




Managing sent and received messages and attachments in folders.




File Management skills (creating, sharing, copying, deleting, moving files)




Managing applications and files in a Linux, Mac or Windows environment.




Able to use word processing software, (accessing and manipulating documents -Opening and Saving Files, etc.)




Know basic working using internet (connectivity, modem etc.)




Able to open web site if given its URL




Able to use hyperlinks




Able to save current web page, download things from site.





Able to go back and forward to pages, and search items using search engines such as Google, AltaVista.






Able to work with CD-ROM, Floppy etc.




Future Potential

The wireless technologies of the mobile revolution have noticed the worldwide production of wireless communication devices [11].

It is experienced that in the e-learning market growth, mobile learning is evolving into a dynamic, interactive and personalized experience for employees. “Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC predicts the e-learning market will grow from $6.6 billion in 2002 to nearly $25 billion by 2006. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the UK-based business information arm of the company that publishes "The Economist," expects e-learning and traditional learning to become indistinguishable in the near future. More than 150 million Americans carry a mobile phone. According to IDC, that number will grow to more than 180 million by 2007” [12].

It has been identified that technology access makes technology an integral part of daily learning [13]. It has often been suggested that access on its own will not fulfill the promise which many have meant lies in the use of ICT in school [14], but where several criteria for the successful integration of ICT play a role[15].

It has been identified that learning in school is done by memorization and reproduction of school texts and where instructor presents teaching session which dominates and students’ activity is centered to answering questions formulated by the instructor [16]. Expecting mobile telephony in such a learning culture, make their role as of an “intruder”, a disturbance [17], and as such a troublesome technology. It has been pointed out that mobile technology actually offers the suitable educational environment to assist learning actions both inside and outside the classroom [18].

As Paul Harris in Goin’ mobile states mobile learning is the ability to enjoy an educational moment from a cell phone or a personal digital assistant [19].

Today’s ICT has significantly extended the scope for learning anywhere, anytime and the term mlearning has gained serious strength and influence in describing the future of education [20]. From a pedagogical perspective, mobile learning supports a new dimension in the educational process. Features of mobile learning include [21]:

  • Urgency of learning need;

  • Initiative of knowledge acquisition;

  • Mobility of learning setting;

  • Interactivity of the learning process;

  • ‘situatedness’ of instructional activities; and

  • Integration of instructional content.


Online learning enhances the mode of learning as learning become easy anytime anywhere. In online learning the role of instructors has changed. Learning course material should be created after analyzing the target audience and resources available. Students are also advised to give a self-assessment test before going for any online course. It has been identified that analyzing of resource material and self assessment increases the growth of learning. The future potential of on-Line learning has been discussed. “In order to the proper functioning of the mobile Internet for learning, the e-learning community must focus on the performance and productivity issues rather than traditional lecture style training or courseware. To enhance the mobile learning environment, course content and learning methodology should encompass use of quizzes to test knowledge, summary of main learning points, and interaction with other students and the tutor” [22 ].


[1].   Bates, T. (2005) Technology, eLearning and Distance Education, Routledge.

[2].  Abernathy, D. J. (2001). “Get Ready For M-Learning.” Training & Development 55(2): 20-22.

[3].  Ally, M. (2004). Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning. In T. Anderson & E. Eloumi (Eds). Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca, AB. Athabasca University.

[4].  Anonymous (1998). “Merging the Intellectual and Technical Infrastructure of Higher Education: The Internet Example.” The Internet and Higher Education 1(1): 10.

[5].  Carliner, C. (2005). “An Overview of On-Line Learning”. Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai.

[6].  Palloff, R. and Prat, K, (1999) Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace, Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

[7].  Clark, D. (1997) Instructional Software Development – Evaluation Phase – Chapter VI. http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/sat6.html.

[8].  Alexander. S. (2004) Students’ online learning experiences: Iformation and Computer Sciences. SOLE case study series, Learning and Teaching Support Networks and JISC. Available from http://sole.ilrt.bris.ac.uk

[9].  Jones, H. (2005) “Three years of e-learning: the Guinea – pigs Bite Back!” Learning and Teaching in Action 4(1).

[10]. Nicol, D. J., et al. (2003) “The Social Dimensions of Online Learning”. Innovations in Education and Training International 40(3), pp: 270-280.

[11]. Landers, P. (2002). From E-Learning to M-Learning, Ericsson. 2002.

[12]. Nancy D,Christopher V. K (2004), Human Resource Executive

[13]. Soloway, E et al (April 2001) Learning in the Palm of your Hand

[14]. Bransford, J., Brown,A.L., & Cocking, R. (2000) How People Learn. National Research Council, Washington DC.National Academy Press

[15]. Dwyer, D.C. (1993) Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow.

[16]. Miettinen, R (1999) “Transcending traditional school learning: Teachers’ work and networks of learning” in Engeström, Y., Miettinen, R., Punamäki,R., (1999) (Eds) Perspectives on Activity Theory. USA: Cambridge University Press.

[17]. Mifsud, L., (2002) “Alternative Learning Arenas – pedagogical challenges to mobile learning in education”. WMTE proceedings 2002: IEEE publication.

[18]. J.Fleischman(2001), Going Mobile: New Technologies in Education, Converge Magazine.

[19]. Paul, H. (2001), “Goin’ Mobile” – Learning Circuits ASTD Magazine All about eLearning.

[20]. Donna, A. (2002), “@ work; Get ready for m learning” – On line teaching 4 libraries.

[21]. Chen, Y.S., Kao, T.C., Sheu, J.P. and Chiang, C.Y. (2002). A Mobile Scaffolding-Aid-Based Bird-Watching Learning System. In M. .Milrad, H.U. Hoppe and Kinshuk (Eds.), IEEE International Workshop on Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Education (pp: 15-22). Los Alamitos. USA: IEEE Computer Society.

[22] Upadhyay, N. (2006) “M-Learning- A New Paradigm in Education”. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. pp (31-34).

About the Author

Nitin Upadhyay is an acknowledge teacher and prolific writer. He is currently working as Faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, BITS, PILANI-GOA Campus. He has created a definite niche for himself in the field if Computer Science by contributing eight books. His research and creative zeal has enabled him to contribute research papers for journals and conferences.

Nitin Upadhyay
Faculty, Department Of Computer Science & Information Systems

E-mail: nitinu@bits-goa.ac.in, upadhyay.nitin@gmail.com Phone (M): 9326815639

go top
April 2006 Index
Home Page