Dixon, M.W., Karlsson, J.M. and McGill, T.J. (2009) Data communications and e-learning. In: Khosrow-Pour, M., (ed.) Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Second Edition. Information Science Reference, pp. 908-913.
Information and communications technology (ICT) has increasingly influenced higher education. Computer-based packages and other learning objects provide a useful supplement to students studying conventionally by illustrating aspects of the curriculum. Other packages are directed at aspects of course administration such as automated assessment (for example, see Randolph et al. (2002)). Initially such software and materials played only a supplementary role in course offerings, but this has changed rapidly. For example, Coleman et al. (1998) describe a successful early attempt to replace all lecturing with computer-aided learning. Remote delivery of courses also became a viable option because of the advent of the WWW. For example, Petre and Price (1997) report on their experiences conducting electronic tutorials for computing courses. Online education of various sorts is now routinely available to vast numbers of students (Alexander, 2001; Chen & Dwyer, 2003; Peffers & Bloom, 1999). Various terms have been used to label or describe forms of education supported by information technology. These include e-learning (e.g., Alexander, 2001; Campbell, 2004), Web-based learning (e.g. Huerta, Ryan & Igbaria, 2003; Khosrow-Pour, 2002), online learning (e.g., Simon, Brooks & Wilkes, 2003), distributed learning and technology- mediated learning (e.g., Alavi & Leidner, 2001); with e-learning probably the most commonly used term used to describe education and training that networks such as the Internet support. E-learning has become of increasing importance for various reasons. These include the rise of the information and global economy and the emergence of a consumer culture. Students demand a flexible structure so that they can study, work and participate in family life at the same time (Campbell, 2004). This flexibility is reflected in alternative delivery methods that include online learning and Internet use. We have also become more sensitive to cultural and gender differences, and to the learning needs of the challenged. These needs may be addressed by e-learning (Campbell, 2004).