Cyberlearning vs. Elearning – Is there a difference?
By Ashley Pereira
If you are interested in the field of educational technology, you have likely come across the phrase ‘cyberlearning’. If you are anything like me, you likely assumed that it was just another word for elearning among the ever-expanding array of edu-tech jargon.
This is precisely what happened to me when I first came upon the word ‘cyberlearning’. I figured it was another form of elearning, and moved on. But as I encountered ‘cyberlearning’ in an increasing number of contexts, it became apparent that it was not quite the same as elearning. I was intrigued, and wanted to learn more.
So I started where most people do these days when they have a question – I googled it. First I tried ‘elearning vs. cyberlearning’, but I couldn’t really find a concrete answer. So I googled both terms separately to see if a difference could be ascertained. Here is what I found:
Google result for elearning:
learning conducted via electronic media, typically on the internet ‘successful elearning depends on the self-motivation of individuals to study effectively’
Google result for cyberlearning:
“In the field of education, this is an exciting time to find ways to harness the power of computers and the networked environment to better educate students. As defined by the National Science Foundation, cyberlearning is the use of networked computing and communications technologies to support learning.”
Interesting to note that a ‘formal’ definition for cyberlearning did not pop up on google as it did for elearning. Based on these definitions, and my subsequent research, cyberlearning and elearning are essentially working towards the same goal: provide learning experiences via a technology-based platform. However, the difference lies in the ways in which such learning experiences are provided.
Cyberlearning is essentially a newer twist on elearning, where technology tools are used to actually carry out and facilitate learning experiences that would otherwise be impossible without the technology itself. Elearning, on the other hand, is essentially the pure delivery of content (online) as opposed to actual ‘doing’. Here are some examples:
In elearning, the focus is on transmission of information via a digital platform, whereas cyberlearning uses a digital platform to create a comprehensive technology-based learning experience, wherein students derive their own meaning, understanding, and thus learning.
According to The Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (2016), cyberlearning is “the use of new technology to create effective new learning experiences that were never possible or practical before. The cyberlearning movement advances learning of important content by applying scientific insights about how people learn, leveraging emerging technologies, and designing transformative learning activities”.
Similarly, the National Science Foundation (2015) has a funding opportunity specifically devoted to cyberlearning, in which they fund projects that seek to “integrate advances in technology with advances in what is known about how people learn…Of particular interest are technological advances that allow more personalized learning experiences, draw in and promote learning among those in populations not served well by current educational practices, allow access to learning resources anytime and anywhere, and provide new ways of assessing capabilities.”
Through this program, the NSF anticipates the production of research related to cyberlearning, which will “shed light on how technology can enable new forms of educational practice and that broad implementation of its findings will result in a more actively-engaged and productive citizenry and workforce” (NSF, 2015).
The technology-based tool and the corresponding learning experience together become ‘cyberlearning’. This approach will help promote computational thinking, a type of problem-solving method that uses computer science insights to engage students in generating solutions to complex problems. Computational thinking is a key component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and cyberlearning is a promising way to integrate this higher order thinking skill into K-12 classrooms.
“In both science and engineering, mathematics and computation are fundamental tools for representing physical variables and their relationships. They are used for a range of tasks such as constructing simulations; statistically analyzing data; and recognizing, expressing, and applying quantitative relationships” (NGSS@NSTA, 2016). Cyberlearning will serve as a bridge between science, technology, engineering, and math, helping students to derive meaning through interaction with the content in an interdisciplinary, research-based way.
Here are a few examples of cyberlearning technologies that are transforming education, details of which can be found in this Huffington Post article:
- Turning classrooms into phenomenon-based inquiry zones: Wallcology, HungerGames
- Games: GalaxyZoo, CitizenScience
- Digital Experiences for Young Learners: ScratchJr, KIBO
- Collaborative Tools for Learning: skWiki, Juxtapose
- Virtual and Augmented Reality: EcoMUVE, River City
In essence, cyberlearning differs from elearning in that it is a way to actually “do” something rather than just learn about it (as in elearning), enabling new educational experiences via innovative digital tools. The educational implications of cyberlearning are vast and incredibly exciting, and I look forward to learning more!
Ashley Pereira is Principal Consultant at Greater Good Consultants where she engages students and educators throughout the world in innovative STEM learning initiatives. She also teaches science education courses at Eastern CT State University in Willimantic, CT.