Skip to content. Skip to navigation

Faculty Development

You are here: Home / eLearning in Clinical Teaching / What is e-learning?

What is e-learning?

e-Learning is now very much part of mainstream health professions education. Students and practitioners are very familiar with using computers and mobile technologies as part of their day-to-day life, in healthcare management and in education. In this article, we refer to e-learning as electronically mediated learning in a digital format (using technologies such as computers, tablet or mobile devices and the internet) to enhance or facilitate teaching and learning (Bullen, 2006). This definition covers the use of technologies to supplement face-to-face teaching (e.g. via a virtual learning environment [VLE] such as BlackBoard™) through to distance learning (DL) opportunities in which teacher and student may never meet face-to-face. Examples of the latter include the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Learning (Walsh and Dillner, 2003) or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses, see section ‘Modes of Learning’).


Ellaway and Masters (2008) distinguish between e-learning, e-teaching and e-assessment, highlighting that e-learning is not just about the content and the delivery of teaching, but is a pedagogical approach that aims ‘to be flexible, engaging and learner-centred: one that encourages interaction (staff:staff, staff:student, student:student), collaboration and communication’.

Thinking point

What are the key challenges in introducing e-learning?

a)      for you?

b)      for the organisation(s) in which you work?

Although huge opportunities exist to enhance all aspects of teaching through e-learning, there are challenges in determining pedagogical aspects. Teachers will need to be familiar with the range of innovations available so that they can select appropriate means of developing content, facilitating the process of learning and enabling communication.  Other challenges include becoming familiar with new systems, processes and online environments; making time to filter through and select appropriate materials; having time to support learners as they utilise e-learning; and keeping materials and activities up to date.

Print module to PDF

Save a PDF of this module, so you can print it and read it in your own time.

Email your comments

Let us know what you think about this module or give us your feedback.

Further information

More information about this module, further reading and a complete list of glossary terms.

Learning activities

Read about the recommended learning activities for this module.