Computer-assisted learning is the process of using computers and computer programs to help students learn. The phrase traditionally referred to stand alone computer programs that would help reinforce subjects taught in schools. With the increasingly pervasive use of the Internet, the phrase has morphed to include learning that happens through computers and over the web. As tech-based learning has evolved, the notion of computer-assisted learning has become interchangeable with online learning, or e-learning.
Stand-alone computer programs are the typical components of computer-assisted learning. These programs are designed to reinforce lessons learned in traditional classroom settings. Popular subjects for computer-based learning are typing and languages. Students learning these subjects benefit from the kind of adaptive repetition that a computer program can supply. This adaptivity means that the program can recognize patterns of weakness and can tailor questions and activities to strengthen those areas in a way that a written workbook would be unable to replicate.
With the widespread use of the Internet in academic institutions, computer-assisted learning has come to mean more than just the use of a computer program on a single terminal in a one-way interaction with a machine. Educational institutions around the world are using the Internet to expand the interactivity of technology used for learning. A significant number of colleges and universities offer online learning programs that enable students to attend classes from a distance. Professors use web-based software to encourage real time participation in class by students located anywhere in the world.
Not only has computer-assisted learning become almost analogous to interactive online learning through curricula offered by educational institutions, there is also a growth in peer-based learning through computers and a change in the way knowledge is collected and stored for learning purposes. Instead of relying on a computer disk running a program to drill a student on a language, the student can log on to a chat room over the Internet and interact directly with a native speaker. Likewise, instead of inserting a CD-ROM containing a research collection, a student can use the Internet to access research databases and live collections that update frequently. There are also user-created encyclopedias, or wikis, that take computer-assisted learning into the realm of collaborative education.
Perhaps the one area of computer learning that has not been redefined as a result of the use of the Internet is in the area of custom program design. There are still companies that produce custom software to teach specialized subjects. For example, a flight simulator program is an example of a specialized learning program that would not likely migrate to an Internet-based format.