On September 30, 2009, Oxford Union hosted an e-learning debate that centered around one question: "Is the e-learning of today essential to teach the important skills of tomorrow?"

It's an intriguing question that continues to spark emotions on both sides of the issue. One side laments that "e-learning is not only quicker and cheaper to deploy than traditional forms of learning, but it can be much more effective." However, the other side contends that "today's e-learning is both inadequate and ineffective."

This tense debate resonates inside this edition of T+D. In the cover story, Allison Rossett and James Marshall report the results of a study examining the definition of e-learning and its usage. "The most frequently occurring e-learning practice is the testing of skills and knowledge. Tutorials, scenario-based learning, and problem-solving strategies were persistent," the study found.

Fueling the argument that current e-learning efforts are ineffective, the study discovered that Web 2.0 activities involving user-generated content and collaboration were scarce, except in academia. However, e-learning champions maintain that the future will demand a change - not only to address the skills shortage in the workforce, but also because younger members entering the workforce have grown up with Web 2.0 technologies and will grow bored quickly with traditional learning experiences that do not incorporate informal learning technologies.

This debate, which likely will be never-ending, hinges on several key questions: What is the true definition of e-learning? Does this definition encompass blended learning such as simulations and Web 2.0 technologies, or is e-learning simply about an electronic means to test skill level and assess knowledge? What are the skills of tomorrow? Is it more important that the younger generation gain the social skills needed to have face-to-face conversations with their colleagues, or can the skills of the future be learned through electronic testing?

There is no denying that e-learning's evolution has been sluggish, but hopefully, it has also been deliberate. And indeed, there is little dispute that e-learning is here to stay, but that prompts further questions: What will the e-learning of the future look like? More important, will social networking tools overtake e-learning's ability to make a statement in workplace learning?

Paula Ketter

Editor, T+D