The Internet is currently the most influential media. From being only a source of information it has evolved to something more global and powerful than any media before. Along with being a source of information together with other media, currently, the Internet serves as a basis for business, education, entertainment, and even as a good that can be sold and bought. The business element of Internet grows stronger with years, and currently, e-businesses are even more popular and successful than the off-line ones.
There are two main types of e-businesses – the one that is solely digital, and the one that exists only as an element of an off-line entity. The first type of e-business entity exists only in the digital world and can provide customers with any type of goods or services: furniture, music, books, hairdressers, and jewelry to name a few. These companies may need off-line space only for offices and warehouses, or may even need no off-line space if they sell digital goods (music, software). The second type of companies named is created as a spin-off of an off-line business. These on-line elements have appeared in late 1990s-early 2000s as a reaction to the growing role of Internet. Serving at first as only additional elements to the off-line “mother ships”, the on-line entities have greatly developed the number of functions and possibilities over the decade. Currently, there are two main tendencies: while off-line companies are moving towards virtualization, the on-line ones establish off-line elements.
Along with various types of businesses e-learning services have been established as a new type of gaining knowledge. The same as business entities, they exist either as elements of an off-line teaching program or is solely digital. In the first case the e-learning elements assist in the process of tutor-student communication, information gaining and sharing, communication with fellow students, etc. at the same time there is a constant off-line work with materials and teachers. Digital e-learning programs propose students from various locations to go through tutorials that give lectures, learning materials, and possibilities to test oneself in digital form. These digital tutorials may work over the Internet, can be downloaded, purchased on a CD disc, etc. With the growing role of e-learning, the form of gaining knowledge is changing. And with the form, the essence of education is changed.
E-learning is “a broad range of ways computing and communication technologies can be used for teaching and learning”. The learning paradigm has changed significantly, which has influenced learning methods, strategies, and attitudes. Firstly, the teacher-based learning was the basis for education for a long time, which means that tutors were controlling the types and amounts of information they were passing to students. The recent shift to the student-based learning has dramatically changed the educational paradigm. With e-learning, the student is able to choose the type and form of information which s/he is interested in, and the level of knowledge required.
Secondly, the tutors from being teachers have turned into learners themselves. Teachers study along with students, gaining new knowledge from digital resources, colleagues, and even students. Thirdly, digitalization of education has increased the interaction of the learning process. Students can talk/write to teachers, fellow students, and specialists from all over the world. Therefore currently learning process is more of a dialogue, though the element of individual education still plays an important role. The social role of education has greatly increased with grown level of interaction. The individual tasks have turned into the ones completed by a group of individual who communicate via cell phones, and e-mails with instant Internet access. The fourth point concerns the development of Web 2.0. With blogs and social networks, a learner can feel him or herself not only as the one who gains information but also as a creator of genuine content.
There is one more tendency of the modern information society, which has a significant influence on e-learning. The main technological strategy is oriented towards the convergence of media and communication devices. Vide, audio, text, animated – all information is being united in one source – the Internet. Moreover, television and cellular phones also become a part of this unified world network. This convergence of information involves the implementation of various devices, which also influence the process of e-learning. “In the digital age, we can learn by using various external application equipment,” which means that all the types of information we get (i.e. video or audio) can be perceived with the help of gadgets. This amount of resources used by students greatly exceeds the limited number of documents available to students previously. Computers that still remain the main equipment for e-learning, ahs become such an important element of the educational process that learning “from computer” has turned into learning “with the computer.”
The same as for other e-businesses, there are two main forms of e-learning programs – either a spin-off from an off-line learning program (British Council) or a fully digital educational program. In the first type of programs, there are only elements that use e-learning practices, such as communication with tutors via e-mails, or getting information in digital form. For these practices, such programs as Toolbook, QMark, and HyperCard (programs that allow teachers to create tutorials in digital form) have been established. The other educational programs, such as Hanban – Online Learning or Open Language Learning Initiative, work only on-line, via the Internet. With the development of e-learning, the educational paradigm has changed itself. There are no mo teachers and students; instead, there are groups of learners. Secondly, learners are more flexible in choosing which materials to use and which form of educational information to choose. Thirdly, with the development of Web 2.0, the form of education has greatly changed. Learning has become a social process when in the process of studying one can comment on the information, communicate with other students, and create own genuine content.
Accessibility of e-learning is one of the major strength of the proposed program. Students will have a chance to study English disregarding their location. Thus students from remote parts of the world will have a chance to study. Accessibility is also related to the price, as e-based learning program will be much cheaper than the traditional one because there will be no need to pay hourly to a tutor, to rent accommodation for classes, etc.
A possibility to use various types of sources is another strength of e-learning. The different levels of digitalization allow to either combine tutors with e-learning or to work solely with digital material. In any case, the student gains access to various types of materials which exists in the video, audio, image forms, etc. Moreover, access to the different information resources allows a student to make the search for information and replies to all questions much easier.
Another strength of e-learning language program is that students decide the pace of learning and the type of knowledge they need. Students are not tied to one classroom or strict lesson plan. E-learning programs are flexible and allow students to access required information at any time. Moreover, everything a learner may need in the process of studying is a computer, which means the opportunities dramatically increase.