Well, at the very least, it's a question I see from time to time. There is a short clever answer, and a longer answer. Let's start with the former.
The "e" is for Everyone.
I believe everyone is both student and teacher. Of course this has always been the case, but our institutions and systems of "learning" have formalized too much of what is simply part of being human (please consult your local anthropologist for more information). With technology EVERYONE is empowered to not only search and consume, but to engage, collaborate, and reflect. I believe everyone has something to say and to teach. Before the internet only special people could be teachers. With the internet we are all teachers. And there's never been a better time to enjoy learning.
The long answer isn't so clever. When we talk about learning we're really talking about biology and how our brains deal with our surroundings...and how we survive those surroundings. So, conversations around learning can be applied to both academics and corporate training. eLearning is a little more complicated.
I think most people will not argue that eLearning is technology supporting or enhancing teaching and learning. However, some might argue that TV is a technology and so why didn't we have eLearning back in the 60's. Or radio even. Why stop there, let's go with the pencil as technology while we're at it. And this is where the argument gets buried in...well....argument stuff. And this is where I lose interest in the conversation most of the time.
The reality is that there is a market for eLearning. Even moving the old model of classroom style teaching to an online version of exactly the same thing is considered eLearning. And reading a .pdf in a web browser and then taking a multiple choice quiz on the content is considered eLearning. Our industry has a tendency to get concerned about this. But the reality is that there is no right or wrong answer. The word "eLearning" has meaning no matter what you think the "e" stands for. In schools, eLearning is any technology based alternative to showing up in the classroom. Most of the time it's self-paced or self-study, but it doesn't need to be anymore.
We should be less concerned about the "e" and more concerned about how technology can help our kids, and how technology can provide business value in the form of corporate training. This is where the true split happens. What does eLearning mean in corporate training versus K-12 and high-ed? While there is some overlap of applications, development processes, and tools, there are some significant differences.
But that's a conversation for another blog post. But before I write it, I want to get your feedback. Do you think there is a difference in eLearning between corporate training and education? If so, what are the biggest differences you see?