1. Ward, Janice MSN, RN

Article Content

Hello, my name is Janice Ward. I have been involved in nursing education for most of my career. My involvement in education has been in hospitals, both large and small, in academic settings, and in neighborhood clinics and physicians' offices. Most of my teaching experience has been in face-to-face situations, in the conventional lecture and/or laboratory setting. However, for the past 5 years, I have shifted to developing programming for e-learning. This involvement has run the gamut from writing grants, preparing budgets, working with an instructional design team to develop Web courses, recruiting and orienting faculty to teach in courses, developing e-marketing systems, facilitating (a.k.a. "teaching") online courses, and evaluating outcomes. Now I will be the editor of this new column in JNSD. The intent of this column is to answer your questions about e-learning and to direct you to resources to assist you to learn more about e-learning, where it fits in your practice and in your life.


Let us begin this first column with several definitions. Here are a few terms that have been added to our vocabulary-What is distance education? E-learning? Web-based learning? Internet learning? blended learning? Web presence? Web enhanced? asynchronous? And synchronous?


To begin to define distance education, e-learning, Web-based learning, or Internet learning, be sure to review definitions used by your employing organization and by learning institutions within your area or region. These definitions may be similar to national or international definitions but be refined for the area or region.


Distance education implies distance, an actual physical separation, between the learner and the instructor. Correspondence courses were one of the first forms of distance education. The postal service was used for communication between the learner and the instructor. As technology has developed, television, audio conferences, satellites, and computers now bridge the distance between learner and instructor. Distance education first began in institutions of higher education and in governmental agencies. Today, distance education exists in both private and public institutions of higher education, commercial for-profit companies, and other organizations as well. Distance education is education designed for learners at a distance (whether actual miles or time or space) from the instructor or the educational provider.


E-learning uses the Internet, intranet, or a computer network to connect instructors and learners. E-learning may also include content delivered by CD-ROM, DVD, interactive TV, satellite broadcasts, and computer-based instruction. E-learning is content that is presented electronically to the learner. Online learning is a term that is often used for both e-learning and Web-based learning.


Web-based learning refers to content that is presented via the Internet, specifically the World Wide Web. Learners have access to content via a learning management systems (LMS), the collection of tools that the learner can use. These tools present the content (printed and/or video and audio), discussion forums, chat rooms, e-mail communication within the system, and testing capabilities. Examples of LMS systems are Web CT(TM), Blackboard(TM), or Angel(TM). The features of the LMS, the skills of the course developer, and the ability of the learner to "pull down" the course greatly affect how the content is presented to the learner in Web-based learning.


Courses are also defined as "Web supported," "Web presence," or "Web enhanced." In a course that is "Web supported" or has a "Web presence," the syllabus for the course and other course information will be posted to the LMS on the Web site and the content is presented in a face-to-face setting. If a course is "Web enhanced," then only the course syllabus and other information is posted to the Web site; various other tools of e-learning such as chat rooms, discussion forums, course e-mail, or other resources may also be used. Blended learning is a mixture of online content, classroom, and/or clinical practice. Using a blended learning approach can address a variety of participants' learning styles.


Synchronous and asynchronous communication refers to communication in an e-learning environment and the time in which it occurs. Synchronous communications occur in "real time." Two or more persons are participating in a discussion at the same time. This is a chat. Asynchronous communication occurs at different times. This communication occurs in a discussion forum. Many learners like asynchronous discussion forums as they can participate at any time that is convenient to their life and work style.


We now have reviewed some of the terms that are used in e-learning. Whether you are just beginning to use e-learning in your work or in your own development, there are issues and questions that will be common for everyone. Questions may involve online testing, evaluation of learning, how to develop online learning modules and courses, the educator's role with e-learning, and many others. This column was established to answer those questions on e-learning, so do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail with questions to be addressed in future columns. You can reach me at