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What is e-Learning?

e-Learning is the delivery of learning and training using electronic media, ie: using computers, internet, intranet. In principle, e-Learning is a kind of distance learning; learning materials can be accessed from the web or CD via a computer, and tutors and learners can communicate with each other using e-mail or discussion forums. e-Learning can be used as the main method of delivery of training or as a combined approach with classroom-based training.

Other terms used include:

Online Learning and WBT (Web-Based Training)
Similar to e-Learning, the delivery of learning and training using electronic media, ie: using computers, internet, intranet.

TBT (Technology-Based Training)
Has a broader meaning, training through media other than the classroom, including computers, TV, audio and video.

CBT (Computer-Based Training)
Is wholly delivered via a computer not linked to a network. It does not include any tutor input and relies completely on the software to manage the learner's experience.

Why e-Learning?

e-Learning can contribute to the educational aims of the UK Government by raising standards; improving quality; removing barriers to learning and participation in learning; preparing for employment; upskilling in the workplace and ensuring that every learner achieves their full potential.

Examples of e-Learning

For many students e-Learning has opened up a new, much more flexible and accessible world of learning that was previously closed to them due to disability or family circumstances, or perhaps due to the fact that the course they wanted was on the other side of the world. In other words, there are now no longer any geographical constraints to learning; e-Learning brings learning to people, not people to learning. For example, if a student would like to attend a lecture at Gresham College in London, they don’t have to go there, they can watch it live on the internet, or if they can’t make the time, watch a recording.

e-Learning means that learning no longer needs to be a passive experience, with the learners all sitting in front of the teacher and 'learning by telling', e-Learning makes learning an active experience. The emphasis is on interactivity or 'learning by doing'. So, for instance if someone wants to find out about print making, they could work through the interactive demonstration, "What is a print", from MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art), in New York.

e-Learning makes learning exciting, engaging and compelling. Hard and boring subjects can be made easier, more interesting and appealing with e-Learning. For example, Shakespeare is brought alive with videos in this example, "Shakespeare Subject To Change", from Cable in the Classroom. Or, if understanding the concept of blood typing is difficult, then playing the "Blood Typing Game" from the Nobel e-Museum, where lives of car crash victims have to saved by giving them the right blood, may help.

e-Learning is also helping to embed learning within work processes, as organisations begin to recognise that learning is not something that only takes place in a classroom. If employees need answers to problems quickly, they don’t want to have to book a place on a 3-hour course weeks in the future, they want an answer now and fast. Hence, short, simple solutions like JEDlets are more appropriate for organisational learning needs.


The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) made it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in terms of access to employment, services and premises; but did not cover education. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 is a new amendment to Part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which now makes it unlawful to discriminate against disabled students in the provision of education, training and other related services.

Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001

The two basic tenets of the Act are that disabled students must not be treated less favourably than others, and that reasonable adjustments must be made to lessen any major disadvantages they face. It states that:

  • Discrimination has occurred if a person is treated less favourably for a reason, which relates to their disability.
  • Reasonable adjustments must be made to ensure that disabled students are not placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with students who are not disabled.
  • Educational institutions must not discriminate against disabled students in the student services they provide. (The Code of Practice for Providers of Post-16 Education and Related Services gives a list of areas that could be included under the heading of student services. Many of these are relevant to e-learning providers, such as: teaching, curriculum design, examinations and assessments, distance learning, independent learning opportunities such as e-learning, and information and communication technology and resources.)

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) does not apply specifically to education, but contains references to service provision, which could relate to making content accessible in learning environments. It states that:

  • A service provider must not discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide that service if it is already provided to the public, or by making it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to make use of any service. (Services covered by the Act include: access to and use of means of communication, or information services).
  • Where a service provider has a practice, policy or procedure which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to make use of that service, reasonable steps should be taken in order to change that practice, policy or procedure so that it no longer has that effect. Reasonable steps should be taken to provide auxiliary aids, such as provision of information on an audio tape, or a sign language interpreter.

Disabled Teachers and the Law

Much of the discussion on learning technology and accessibility focuses on the needs of the disabled student. Disabled teachers may also be using learning technology and they should have the same opportunities as non-disabled teachers to access and use online learning environments.

Employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled employees are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Section 4 states:

  • “It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a disabled person…in the opportunities which he affords him for promotion, a transfer, training or receiving any other benefit...[including] facilities and services”.

It suggests that the employer may need to acquire or modify equipment, and modify instructions or reference manuals, to make them accessible to disabled employees.

American Legislation

Section 508 was added as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act in 1998, requiring Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Alternative means of access may be provided, as long as this results:

  • “ substantially equivalent or greater access to and use of product for people with disabilities.”

Issues to be considered

  • Software development
    Software and content needs to be developed with specific learners in mind. Software designed specifically for learners with disabilities can impact positively on programs for ALL learners. The right blend of technology, content and support must be achieved. This will enable individuals to progress, whatever the barriers.
  • Ensure technologies assist learners
    Identification of critical factors that ensure learning technologies assist students to access the curriculum and improve their learning. For example, development of more diagnostic tests that will support disabled learners in developing communication, literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Provision of multiple media
    For disabled learners new hardware such as expanded keyboards, head-mounted infra-red pointers, speech recognition software and word prediction are already having obvious benefits. Similarly, talking word processors, screen readers, screen enlargers, and tactile graphic pads offer great advantages. The flexibility of digital media enables change from one medium to another, such as text-to-speech, speech-to-text, text-to-touch (for example, braille). The capacity to use multiple media enables the provider to pick and mix resources to the needs of the individual to reach a broader set of students.
  • Inclusive design
    Having access to, and the ability to use, online information (presented in ways that are accessible to the disabled), could open up valuable new ways for people with physical or cognitive difficulties to learn, work or communicate with others. Internet resources should be for everyone. There is a clear and growing need for appropriate internet information and applications for underserved communities. As the number of low-income users grows, the internet audience diversifies.
  • Choice
    Learners have choice in their different learning experiences and environments.

E-learning designers and content creators should provide accessible content and/or alternative means of accessing content. The Special Educational Needs Act ensures that disabled students are not treated less favourably, and reasonable adjustments are made for them; hence educational institutions will need to be aware of these requirements when implementing e-Learning environments.

Further information


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