A to Z of E-learning

HR professionals are still dazzled by new training technology.  Sue Weekes offers a guide to the key e-terms
with which they should familiarise themselves

A programming technology developed by Microsoft that can be used with a variety
of programming languages and in an Internet environment.

digital subscriber line (ADSL)
A high-speed, broadband data transfer system
that runs across existing telephone wires and which provides an "always
on" connection to the Internet. It operates at just over 500Kbps, around
10 times faster than an average modem.

A method of learning which takes place over elapsed rather than
real time. Typically, a learner can go online whenever it is convenient for
them to download course material and complete it in their own time via
discussion with a tutor or a group across e-mail, voicemail and threaded
discussions. It is the most flexible method of learning around because it
allows learners to participate at a time when it is convenient for them.

The amount of data that can be transmitted over a connection in a fixed amount
of time. Bandwidth is usually expressed in bits per second or bytes per second.
The higher the bandwidth, the faster the operation which you are carrying out
across the connection will be completed.

If you have a low bandwidth connection (for example a 28kbps
modem), you may experience restrictions in the type of files you use –
high-quality graphics and multi-media files, for instance, will be slow to
transmit or download.

A blend of online learning, virtual classroom learning and live,
traditional classroom training, which can be used in any combination to support
the learner.

The method of storing and marking progress within a programme and organising
selected URLs or web addresses in Netscape Navigator. The Internet Explorer
equivalent is called Favourites.

The piece of software used to locate and display web pages. Most modern
browsers can display graphics as well as text and multimedia information, such
as sound and video. The two most popular browsers are Internet Explorer and
Netscape Navigator.

The place where information is stored temporarily. Once a page is downloaded
from the Web, it is stored in the browser’s cache (caching). When you next want
to look at that page, the browser first looks to the cache area to retrieve it,
which is quicker than looking for the page on the Internet or an intranet. The
number of pages that can be stored in the cache area is set by the user.

training (CBT)
A method of training that is typically run directly on a PC
(not through a web browser) and accessed via CD-Rom or over a network. As CBTs
take the human interactivity entirely out of the learning process (unlike most
WBT systems), their success tends to be in very specific training areas.

A method of e-learning that is facilitated by an online tutor or
chatroom/discussion group (in real time or otherwise). The learner can benefit
from other users’ experience and questioning, while he or she continues to
learn at his or her own pace online. It allows interaction and discussion of
ideas between an expert and/or other members of the "class".

assembly tool
These are used to assemble the structure of e-learning course
content. Typically, these tools are used with Learning Content Management
Systems to assemble diverse learning objects into a topic, module, course or

management systems (CMS)
A system for the delivery and administration of
online learning material and the tracking of the online learner’s progress. A
CMS can be a subset of functionality within a Learning Management System.
Broadly, there are two categories: web content management  and e-learning content management systems.
WCMS products typically manage content that drives a website, whereas LCMS
typically have a rich learning functionality, such as Learning Object
architecture and personalised learning paths.

relationship management (CRM)
A form of marketing that allows businesses to
target and acquire new customers. By using CRM, each customer is treated as an
individual and it also allows the tailoring of sales and marketing information
to specific products and services of interest to them. Organisations are
therefore looking for ways to personalise online experiences through CRM tools
such as sales force automation, helpdesk software, e-mail organisers and web

A network connection that is established by dialling a telephone
number. Communication between computers using a dial-up connection takes place
via a modem.

These allow visitors to read and post messages on a website,
making it more interactive and inviting users to come back again. They can be
useful in e-learning for sharing knowledge on a common theme. They are also
known as message boards.

Where part or all of the HR function in a company is carried out using some
form of technology. E-HR can range from a set of simple, automated systems
covering areas such as payroll and benefits to a full-blown electronic HR
system where all functions rely on technology in some way.

resource planning (ERP)
The co-ordination of a company’s different
departments and their functions, including finance, HR, planning and
manufacturing, one-to-one computer system to serve the needs of the entire
organisation. As the ERP methodology has become more popular, software app-
lications have emerged to help business managers implement ERP.

A restricted network of computers, for example within a company or group of
companies over several sites. An extranet can be used to train internal
employees using e-learning in different geographic locations. Customers,
suppliers and dealers can also be given access to the learning extranet,
allowing the whole supply chain to be better educated. For instance, motor
company Ford has used an extensive extranet to train employees at its

A firewall is a set of programs that examines information being passed in and
out of a computer network to determine whether it complies with company policy.
If it doesn’t comply, the firewall will block its entry on to the network.

(file transfer protocol)
The high-level Internet standard protocol for
transferring files from one computer to another across the network.

user interface (GUI)
The "interface" between the computer and the
user is what is displayed on screen when the computer is switched on. A graphical
user interface uses icons and graphics to display a desktop that mimics the
real world. It was pioneered by Apple with the Macintosh computer. Microsoft
Windows 3.1, Microsoft Windows 95 and onwards, Microsoft Windows NT all have
graphical user interfaces.

A generic term to describe software that supports a collaborative working or
learning environment. It enables multiple users to share information and
knowledge through communication and workflow tools. In an e-learning context,
groupware can relate to collaborative tools such as discussion boards and
virtual classrooms.

(hypertext mark-up language)
The coding language used to create hypertext
documents for use on the World Wide Web. HTML is marked up using tags
surrounded by pointed brackets. The tags describe exactly how the HTML page
should be formatted and displayed. Nearly everything you see on the Web will
have at some time been formatted using HTML.

(hypertext transfer protocol)
The protocol for moving hypertext files across
the Internet. It requires an HTTP client program on one end and on the other
end an HTTP server program. HTTP is the most important protocol used in the
World Wide Web.

A hybrid approach to content includes splitting up material between
high and low bandwidth content. For example, the text and graphics might live
on the server, but when playing a video, the web page looks for content on the
local computer (possibly CD-Rom) rather than streaming it or downloading it.

management systems (IMS)
An e-learning project originally set up in 1997.
Today the IMS consortium is working towards a number of standards in areas such
as learning resources and learning systems. For a full rundown of its aims, go
to www.imsproject.org

A worldwide connection of computers. By linking your computer up to the web of
other computers, you can access millions of sources of information.

(integrated services digital network)
A high-speed digital telephone
service that increases the speed at which you connect to the Internet. ISDN
transfers data at 128 kilobits per second, much faster than an early analogue
modem, but slower than the more recent ADSL.

computer driving licence (ICDL)
A qualification demonstrating transferable
computer skills, overseen by the British Computer Society. It is recognised by
employers across the world.

The most appropriate mix of a broad range of media – text, audio,
animation and video – used together to produce effective e-learning products
and services.

The most widely used web browser, developed and supplied by

A private network, consisting of interlinked local area networks, contained
within a company. Its purpose is to share company information and resources
among employees. They provide an excellent medium for the delivery of
e-learning content, enhancing the aspect of just-enough and just-in-time
training which can be distributed to all employees.

A programming language designed by Sun Microsystems for the Internet. Java
is a relatively simple language to work with and can be used to create complete
online applications or little applets for use within web pages.

A programming language used in the development of Internet applications,
JavaScript is used for adding increased functionality to a web page. A less
complicated programming language than Java, Javascript is very flexible and
easier to learn. It is used in website development to perform such tasks as
automatically changing a date on a web page; enabling a "linked-to"
page to appear in a pop-up window or causing text or graphic to change as you
roll your mouse over it.

The business of promoting, capturing and sharing expertise in an
organisation. It rests on the principle that in the Information Age a company’s
capital assets are the skills and know how of its employees rather than
buildings, plant and machinery.

delivery environment (LDE)
The environment in which the learning takes place
and which integrates the components such as content, collaboration, tutoring
and assessment. Although vital to the e-learning process, the environment
should be transparent to the user, who should seamlessly move from one activity
to another.

management system
A software platform that administers and tracks both
online and classroom-based learning events, as well as other training
processes. The LMS registers users, tracks courses and records data from
learners; it also provides appropriate reports to management. The database
capabilities of the LMS extend to additional functions, such as company
management, online assessments, personalisation and other resources. Learning
management systems are also sometimes referred to as training management

At their simplest level, learning objects are reusable building
blocks of learning. The concept of learning objects is not to think of training
material in terms of monolithic courses, but rather as being constructed of a
set of smaller components or chunks of learning. Monolithic courses assume
everyone has the exact same needs in a course and learning objects recognises
that it is important to be able to tailor each course (perhaps even
automatically), based on individual needs.

A collection of learning services and related products within one
portal website.

A discussion group which uses e-mail to communicate. When a mailing
list receives an e-mail from a member of the group, it is automatically sent to
the other members.

A unit of measurement for electronic data storage. One megabyte (MB) is the
same as 1024 kilobytes (KB), 1,048,576 bytes, or 8,388,608 bits. A byte is a
form of storage capable of holding a single character. A floppy disk that can
hold 1.44 megabytes, for example, is capable of storing about 1.4 million
characters, or about 3,000 pages of information. Megabyte is frequently
abbreviated as M or MB. In e-learning terms, megabytes are important with
regards to how fast files and programmes can be downloaded to your computer. If
the files are too big or your computer has a small memory or processor, the
e-learning programme or course can take a long time to download and appear on
your screen.

The second most widely used web browser after Internet Explorer.

A group of two or more computer systems linked together. There are many types
of computer networks, but the main two are Local Area Networks (Lans) and Wide
Area Networks (Wans). Lans are where the computers are geographically close
together (that is, in the same building) and Wans are used when the computers
are further apart and are connected by telephone lines or radio waves.

traffic data
Transactions or messages of any kind crossing a network is
referred to as network traffic.

news transfer protocol (NNTP)
The protocol for the distribution, inquiry,
retrieval, and posting of news articles stored in a centralised database.

An online club which shares a common interest and posts and reads messages on
the subject. There are tens of thousands of newsgroups available on the
Internet on every subject imaginable and they are a good way to share and
obtain ideas.

development services
Online people development services are a critical
starting point for e-learning. They improve a company’s accomplishment by
optimising the efficiency and performance of its people, therefore assisting in
the growth of the organisation. Employees can access a wide library of
resources to improve their skills, and online appraisal information. The focus
is on the structured development of knowledge, attitudes and motivation,
building on incentives in the working environment.

A piece of software required in order to run some files, such as Real Player to
listen to music, QuickTime to watch videos and Flash to view animations. Often
the plug-in will be attached to the files and will install automatically when
it is required or else direct you to a website where you will be able to
download it.

Protocols are sets of rules used by the end points in a telecommunication
connection when they send data back and forth. For a successful transmission, the
rules or protocols have to be met at both ends. In online communications,
common protocols are: FTP, HTTP, NNTP and TCP/IP.

A proxy server mediates an organisation’s external access to the
Internet. In this configuration, the only live access to the Internet is
between the proxy server and the outside world. For example, if a user is
configured to work through a proxy server, when they access a web page the
request first goes to the proxy server instead of directly to the site. The
proxy server then makes the request, returns the page to the proxy server, and
then to the user.

access server
A technology that allows users to remotely access information
on the company network or intranet. A person can connect from anywhere in the
world, receive security validation and then access company information such as
training courses or HR-related material.

A powerful computer dedicated to storing and sharing information for a number
of PCs, typically on a network. A server can be the heart of a Lan (Local Area
Network) or at the centre of part of the Internet.

A servlet is a small application, designed to run on a server – typically a web
server such as Microsoft Internet Information server. A common application of a
servlet would be to retrieve information from a database, based on user input.
Servlets can be written in Java to improve performance.

Enables a user to play audio or video materials online in a steady
stream, without waiting for all the data to be downloaded first. Streaming is
fast and effective because the degree of file compression is adapted to the
available bandwidth. Online courses using streaming media will require a
special media player or plug-in.

Learning which occurs online in real time, as opposed to
asynchronous, which occurs over an elapsed period. A typical example would be a
live online interaction and learning between presenter and attendee, which
takes place in a virtual classroom. The benefits are that students get instant
feedback and discussion.

A low-cost computer with no CD-Rom/DVD players, floppy disk drives
or expansion slots. Such computers, sitting on a network, tend to be clients
and not servers. They are called thin because they are stripped down in terms
of the client applications that they use. The increase in use of thin clients
in the workplace and educational establishments demonstrates the need for
cheaper computers that are dedicated to Internet usage. Thin clients are not
necessarily for Internet usage, though, and can be a low-cost machine that sits
on a network.

training (TBT)
A method of coaching that is delivered through customised,
interactive training programs, designed and delivered using multimedia.
Training programs can incorporate a variety of media-rich features, such as
audio, video, 2D/3D graphics, animation and photographic stills.

This is the basic language or protocol of the Internet which allows equipment
from different vendors to communicate. IP (Internet protocol) represents the
scheme by which two devices communicate and TCP (transmission control protocol)
manages the flow of IP, thus ensuring that the IP packets remain error-free and
that they can reach their destination correctly.

resource locator (URL)
The name given to a web page’s unique Internet

A set of synchronous tools dedicated to live online presentation
and training and typically including voice conferencing, videoconferencing and

training (WBT)
A system which delivers learning content across intranets,
extranets and the Internet. They typically fall into two categories: learning
management systems, which focus on the administrative tasks of learning, and
e-learning content management systems (LCMS), which concentrate on leveraging
the power of web technology to speed up, personalise and enhance the whole
learning process.

Effectively a broadcast, which is carried out from a website. Webcasts can form
one of the components of an e-learning programme.

A program that delivers web pages. Every web server has an IP
address and usually a domain name. When entering the URL
http://www.netg.com/index.html in your browser, for instance, a request is sent
to the server whose domain name is netg.com. The server then fetches the page
named index.html and sends it to your browser. There are quite a few popular
web servers, including Microsoft’s Internet Information Server, Netscape
FastTrack, Enterprise servers and Apache.

Wide Web (www)
The graphical user interface developed by Tim Berners-Lee to
view information on the Internet.

(extensible markup language)
XML is an infinitely customisable programming
language. It is a variety of metalanguages, used to describe other programming
languages. XML allows users to define their own values for commands to create a
limitless number of different document types.

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