This paper aims to critically explore the use of e-learning in the workplace, identifying both its benefits and its limitations as a viable alternative to more traditional forms of training and education at work. It begins by examining the growth in the use of e-learning systems and the rationale for this, and outlines its various forms. The paper then investigates the relative benefits e-learning has for organisations alongside some of the perceived challenges and criticisms of its use. The paper concludes by summarising the key learning points raised.
Globally, the e-learning market has been growing rapidly, and e-learning is beginning to emerge as the new model of training and education across a wide range of different sectors and industries (Su et al, 2008). This growth has resulted in part from extensive changes in the working environment, and from a shift from a product-based economy to a knowledge-based one, meaning that there is a more pressing need to train and educate workforces in new technologies and services (Ong, Lai and Wang, 2004). In addition, technological advancement and challenges in technology-oriented working life have paved the way for new forms of electronic learning (Cheng et al, 2014). Consequently, e-learning now accounts for a significant proportion of corporate investment in workforce training (Deeney, 2003).
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According to Govindasamy (2002), e-learning is a learning experience that is delivered by electronic technologies including for example, the use of the internet, intranets, interactive TV, virtual classrooms and so forth. However, there is no clear agreement on its definition and as a concept, it has been researched in various forms such as an ‘instructional medium’ (Salas et al, 2002), a ‘training method’ (Burgess and Russell, 2003), and a ‘learning environment’ (DeRouin, Fritzsche and Salas, 2005). It has been reported that the lack of consensus over the typology of e-learning in an organisational setting, the vagueness of the terminology used, the vastness in the range of technology and pedagogy involved demonstrates the complexity of e-learning as an entity (Cheng et al, 2014). For some, e-learning is considered only as a mechanism for delivering training and education via electronic medium (Engelbrecht, 2005), whereas for others, it is seen as a distinct form of learning which uses collaboration, internet-based communication and the transfer of knowledge to enhance and develop both the individual themselves and their organisation (Kelly and Bauer, 2004). Whichever way it is viewed, the growth of the e-learning market has resulted in the development and innovation of a vast range of different e-learning technologies including media streaming, providing learners with a much more stimulating and interactive learning experience (Liu, Liao and Pratt, 2009).
Some of the most commonly cited benefits of using e-learning systems as a means of training and educating the workforce include: a reduction in costs due to decreasing the amount of time spent off-site at expensive courses,
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