All 10 Types of E-Learning Explained

These are ten distinct types of e-learning that are commonly used in online classrooms. is supported by our community of learners. When you visit links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.


Some educational scientists have identified types of e-learning according to learning tools, while others have chosen to focus on different metrics such as synchronicity and learning content. In this article, we will filter down all these findings into 10 easily distinguishable types of e-learning.

These are the 10 different types of e-learning:

Types of E-Learning

Alternatively, some educational scientists have chosen to classify e-learning types more simply. They identify just two primary types of e-learning: computer-based e-learning and internet-based e-learning. This method of classification could be seen as more accurate because it differentiates e-learning from online learning, the two of which are often incorrectly used interchangeably. Some forms of e-learning such as CML and CAL are not required to take place online, but they are considered types of e-learning nonetheless.

1. Computer Managed Learning (CML)

In the case of computer-managed learning (CML), also known as Computer Managed Instruction (CMI), computers are used to manage and assess learning processes. Computer managed learning systems operate through information databases. These databases contain bits of information which the student has to learn, together with a number of ranking parameters which enables the system to be individualized according to the preferences of each student. As a result of two-way communication between the student and the computer, determinations can be made as to whether the student achieved their learning goals on a satisfactory level. If not, then the processes can be repeated until the student has achieved their desired learning goals.

Additionally, educational institutions use computer-managed learning systems for storing and retrieving information which aids in educational management. This could mean information such as lecture information, training materials, grades, curriculum information, enrolment information among others.

2. Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI)

Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI), also sometimes referred to as computer-assisted learning (CAL), is another type of e-learning which uses computers together with traditional teaching. This could mean interactive software for the students or the kind of training software used by Patrick Suppes of Stanford University in 1966. Computer-assisted training methods use a combination of multimedia such as text, graphics, sound, and video in order to enhance learning. The primary value of CAI is interactivity – it allows students to become active learners instead of passive learners, by utilizing various methods such as quizzes and other computer-assisted teaching and testing mechanisms.

Most schools nowadays, both online and traditional, use different variations of computer-assisted learning to facilitate the development of skills and knowledge in their students.

3. Synchronous Online Learning

Synchronous online learning enables groups of students to participate in a learning activity together at the same time, from any place in the world. Real-time synchronous online learning often involves online chats and videoconferencing, as these tools allow training participants and instructors to ask and answer questions instantly while being able to communicate with the other participants.

This kind of community-oriented online learning has been made possible with the rapid development of online learning technologies. Before the invention of computer networks in the 1960s, truly synchronous e-learning was practically impossible to implement. Nowadays, synchronous e-learning is considered to be highly advantageous as it eliminates many of the common disadvantages of e-learning, such as social isolation and poor teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships. Synchronous e-learning is currently one of the most popular and quickest growing types of e-learning.

4. Asynchronous Online Learning

In the case of asynchronous online learning, groups of students study independently at different times and locations from each other, without real-time communication taking place. Asynchronous e-learning methods are often considered to be more student-centered than their synchronous counterparts, as they give students more flexibility.

For these reasons, asynchronous e-learning is often preferred by students who do not have flexible schedules, because it allows them to utilize self-paced learning. They can set their own timeframes for learning, and they are not required to learn at specific time intervals together with other students.

Before the invention of the PLATO computer system, all e-learning was considered to be asynchronous, as there were no methods of computer networking available. However, nowadays, with the availability of computers and the World Wide Web, deciding between synchronous and asynchronous e-learning becomes a more difficult task, as each has their pros and cons.

5. Fixed E-Learning

Fixed e-learning is a fancy name for something you are likely already familiar with. “Fixed” in this context means that the content used during the learning process does not change from its original state and all the participating students receive the same information as all the others. The materials are predetermined by the teachers and don’t adapt to the student’s preferences.

This type of learning has been the standard in traditional classrooms for thousands of years, but it’s not ideal in e-learning environments. That is because fixed e-learning does not utilize the valuable real-time data gained from student inputs. Analyzing each student individually through their data and making changes to the materials according to this data leads to better learning outcomes for all students.

6. Adaptive E-Learning

Adaptive e-learning is a new and innovative type of e-learning, which makes it possible to adapt and redesign learning materials for each individual learner. Taking a number of parameters such as student performance, goals, abilities, skills, and characteristics into consideration, adaptive e-learning tools allow education to become more individualized and student-centered than ever before.

We are now at a point in time where laboratory-based adaptive instructional techniques can be used for mathematical sequencing of student data. When done correctly, this could mean a new era for educational science. While this type of e-learning can be more difficult to plan and accomplish than traditional teaching methods, it’s potential value and effectiveness is often understated.

7. Linear E-Learning

When referring to human-computer interaction, linear communication means that information passes from sender to receiver, without exception. In the case of e-learning, this becomes a very limiting factor, as it does not allow two-way communication between teachers and students. This type of e-learning does have its place in education, although it’s becoming less relevant with time. Sending training materials to students through television and radio programs are classic examples of linear e-learning.

8. Interactive Online Learning

Interactive e-learning allows senders to become receivers and vise versa, effectively enabling a two-way communication channel between the parties involved. From the messages sent and received, the teachers and students can make changes to their teaching and learning methods. For this reason, interactive e-learning is considerably more popular than linear, as it allows teachers and students to communicate more freely with each other.

9. Individual Online Learning

Individual learning in this context refers to the number of students participating in achieving the learning goals, rather than the student-centeredness of the material. This type of learning has been the norm in traditional classrooms for thousands of years. When practicing individual learning, the students study the learning materials on their own (individually), and they are expected to meet their learning goals on their own.

This type of learning is not ideal for developing communicational skills and teamwork abilities in students, as it largely focuses on students learning independently, without communication with other students. Therefore, a more modern approach is necessary to supplant the communicational of skills and abilities.

10. Collaborative Online Learning

Collaborative e-learning is a modern type of learning method, through which multiple students learn and achieve their learning objectives together as a group. Students have to work together and practice teamwork in order to achieve their common learning objectives.

This is done through the formation of effective groups, where each individual student has to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each other student. This boosts the communicational skills teamworking abilities of the students. Collaborative e-learning expands on the idea that knowledge is best developed inside a group of individuals where they can interact and learn from each other.

While this type of learning is more often used in traditional classrooms than in online courses, it’s still a valid type of e-learning which can be highly effective if done correctly.