The Beginner’s Guide to e-Learning

The Beginner’s Guide to e-Learning

If you’re new to the world of e-Learning, it may seem like a daunting place with numerous different options and concepts. This guide aims to give you an overview of e-Learning and demystify some of the jargon.

What is e-learning?

"E-learning is the use of technology to enable people to learn anytime and anywhere."

The term E-learning covers many different types of learning delivered primarily over the internet, but is sometimes also delivered via CD, or can be downloaded. Teaching is usually done using a range of media which can include text, slides, animations, audio, video and webinars and there is often some form of assessment or testing of the concepts taught.

Learning online can vary from simply searching for information on the internet to taking a structured course on a particular subject, to even obtaining a degree. There are vast amounts of free educational resources available on the internet, including tutorials, courses, lectures and open courseware. Although many of these resources are of a very high standard, the quality of what’s freely available can vary quite significantly, and it is important to do some research before you embark on any form of online study. MoocLab’s reviews of online course providers is a good place to start.

Types of free online educational resources


MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. It is an educational course which is delivered online and is open to a large group of students who all learn the same thing at the same time. MOOCs are often delivered by renowned professors from famous universities and they're usually free.

Massive because they are open to thousands of learners who can all study the same course together at the same time, Open because they are free of charge and there are no barriers to enrolment, Online because the courses are accessed over the internet, and Course because it is a class on a specific topic taught by a professor, complete with a syllabus and lesson plans.

MOOCs are often delivered by renowned professors from famous universities and typically feature a blend of video content, quizzes, discussion boards, downloadable readings, and peer-to-peer assessment of learning. The goal of MOOCs is to reach a much larger audience than traditional courses can accommodate whilst allowing students to learn at their own pace, connect and collaborate with instructors and other learners. Often, MOOCs offer a Statement of Accomplishment for free to all those who complete the course, and in some cases a verified certificate which is a paid for service. Some MOOC platforms also offer skill-based courses, some of which are paid.

Learners sign up to MOOCs via MOOC Provider Platforms such as Coursera, EdX, Futurelearn etc. To see MoocLab’s reviews of MOOC Providers, click here , or for information on using Online Course Directories, click here.

Free Online Courses & Tutorials

These differ from MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in that they don’t offer the whole learning experience as described above. Free online courses don’t usually require enrolment and are more suited to the self-directed, independent learner.

Free online courses & tutorials usually consist of a single or a collection of short videos on a particular topic or theme, with, in some cases, exercises and quizzes to check understanding. Some course provider platforms also feature discussion boards allowing learners to interact with each other, or, in some cases with instructors. Topics can cover anything from hobbies to professional skills to academic subjects and are geared towards all ages, including primary and secondary school kids. Learners study at their own pace and there is usually little to no interaction with peers or instructors. Such resources can be created and delivered by a particular provider via their own website, or are crowdsourced, meaning the courses and resources are generated by the site members, and can include individuals, institutions or organisations.

The quality of free online courses and tutorials can vary immensely, and it is advisable to do some research beforehand. MoocLab offers independent reviews of free online course providers here , including crowdsourced education platforms.

Other types of free educational resources available online

In addition to video courses and tutorials, there are other forms of educational resources freely available on the internet.

e-books: “an electronic version of a printed book which can be read on a computer or a specifically designed handheld device.”

Text-based tutorials: Tutorials covering a range of subjects or professional skills, delivered in a text format. These are particularly useful for learners who prefer learning by reading rather than video or audio.

Documentaries : Educational films on a range of subjects

Articles : Subject specific articles written by experts and available on the internet

Lectures : Some websites offer free access to recorded video lectures given by top academics, experts and thought leaders on a broad range of topics. is an example of such a provider.

Open Courseware : Open Courseware (OCW) is a term used for core teaching materials used in graduate and undergraduate university classes made openly available online at no cost. Open Courseware may include text-based documents, audio and video files, lecture notes, podcasts etc . OCW can be used as a teaching resource or for self-directed learners wishing to deepen their knowledge in a subject. Usually, platforms offering OCW do not have any interactive features, discussion boards or assessment options. You can view MoocLab’s independent reviews of Open Courseware platforms here.

Low-cost online courses

These providers offer an alternative to traditional campus based courses by providing affordable skill-based or academic courses online, some with transferable credit which is recognised by certain colleges or universities. In some cases, these providers also offer 1-to-1 mentoring from course instructors.

To see MoocLab’s independent reviews of providers offering low-cost online courses, click here.

Tuition-free online degree programs

University of the People (UoPeople) is a tution-free, non-profit, accredited online academic institution offering Associates and Bachelors degree programs in Business Administration and Computer Science.

UoPeople does not charge for tuition or books/materials, but a one-time application processing fee is required and subsequent examination processing fees levied per course. Student scholarship funds are available to assist students in financial need.

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