E-learning is part of the new dynamic that characterises educational systems at the start of the 21st century. Like society, the concept of e-learning is subject to constant change. In addition, it is difficult to come up with a single definition of e-learning that would be accepted by the majority of the scientific community. The different understandings of e-learning are conditioned by particular professional approaches and interests.
An international project, based on the participation of experts around the world, was undertaken to agree on a definition of e-learning. To this end, two main research activities were carried out. First, an extensive review was conducted of the literature on the concept of e-learning, drawing from peer-reviewed journals, specialised web pages, and books. Second, a Delphi survey was sent out to gather the opinions of recognised experts in the field of education and technology regarding the concept of e-learning with a view to reaching a final consensus.
This paper presents the outcomes of the project, which has resulted in an inclusive definition of e-learning subject to a high degree of consensus that will provide a useful conceptual framework to further identify the different models in which e-learning is developed and practiced.
In recent decades, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for educational purposes has increased, and the spread of network technologies has caused e-learning practices to evolve significantly (Kahiigi et al., 2008). However, any definition of e-learning must settle the issue of what is and what is not e-learning (Guri-Rosenbilt, 2005). The multiplicity of perspectives surrounding e-learning causes confusion and, sometimes, even contradictions (Mason & Rennie, 2006). Not only have different concepts been attributed to e-learning, but the term has also been substituted by others, such as computer-based learning, technology-based training, and computer-based training, which actually predate the first mention of e-learning in the mid-1990s (Friesen, 2009) or the more recent online learning. Moreover, some people confuse the concept of e-learning with the concepts of a virtual campus or online courses, which can be part of the e-learning universe but do not sufficiently define it.
The evolution of distance education, as a result of new technologies and the contributions of computer scientists to the field of education along with the conceptualisation of education as a lifelong process, poses a major challenge for educational institutions: how to integrate these technologies into their organisation and, especially, into their teaching. From simple occasional use of ICT to reinforce face-to-face teaching and learning to the use of virtual environments for courses conducted completely online according to a variety of educational models, the incorporation of ICT into the learning process is being achieved from very different perspectives and through an extensive range of formulas, albeit with one common denominator: the use of practices whose origin and pedagogical foundations lie in distance education.