alr: simplified

gLearning: The New e-Learning Frontier

By Steven Donahue
and Joe Ganci

Linguistic Cul-de-Sacs

Emerging technologies have always had an innovative impact upon the language : horse-less carriage became car ; steamship became ship; wireless cell phone is becoming just phone. Eventually the “distance” portion of distance learning will also fall away and become just “learning”. But, will e-learning be the same mode of learning? Or will it necessarily take on a new meaning; hence, a new linguistic form?

The Three Roadblocks

There are three problems associated with translating a face-to-face language classroom into a Web-based one. First, there is the CONTENT problem of rendering traditional content suitable for Web delivery. Second, there is the DELIVERY challenge of distributing the learning material anywhere, anytime. Lastly, there is the PARTICIPATION aspect of ensuring that everyone is optimally involved in the learning process.

If the CONTENT is cheap or boiler-plated, students chew through it with little result. If the DELIVERY depends on only broadband, many language learners are excluded. If PARTICIPATION is not an inextricable and inescapable aspect of the online paradigm, students will silently lurk in the background as online voyeurs at best.

The Perfect Classroom Day

Imagine that day when you had the perfect teaching experience as a teacher. Or that day when you had the peak learning experience as a student. When all the class is a buzz of activity, the teacher’s plan unfolds like an orchestrated piece, and all the pedagogical elements are in harmony.

Imagine no tardy students, no absences, and no daydreaming. Imagine a day when students smoothly break into groups and help each other learn. A day when the students madly scribble notes as the teacher speaks and fill in those blanks in knowledge so that that magical, ineffable “learning moment” crystallizes and sends the students out of the classroom with an exhilarating warm glow that has positively transformed lives.

Dream on. The perfect days are rare. The difficulties inherent in having twenty-five students rendezvous at a definite point at the same time and in the same ready-to-learn frame of mind pose daunting barriers. Cars, jobs, babysitters all intervene to thwart the perfect learning moment. On the other hand, the efforts thus far to harness the power of technology to affect the perfect learning moment have been wanting. A simple transfer of the architecture of the face-to-face classroom to a Web-based environment has not been a cure-all for the deficiencies of the onground classroom it was intended to replace. Indeed, the early attempts at distance education have been marked in common by a lack of imaginative re-engineering.

A Linguistic Turn for the OED

In fact, the “distance” has yet to fall away from “learning”. A plethora of terms have been proposed for this new form of e-learning: “Learnativity”, “e-Learning”, “CALL”, “CBT” and so forth.

In a linguistic turn, we propose the term “gLearning” for a re-engineered learning experience befitting the full, unleashed power of the Internet. A new online learning paradigm that satisfies the problems posed by Content, Delivery, and Participation.

The new coinage is composed of “glean”—picking up nuggets of sustenance after a rich harvest and “learn”—the personal ownership of knowledge. The “g” also harkens to “global” or invokes the phonetic intensive words “gleam”, “glint”, “glisten” and has connotations of shimmering light; hence, enlightenment through learning.

The definition of “gLearning” [pronounced either “gee-learning” or “glurning”—let the OED decide!] revolves around three principles: gLearning is Adaptable; gLearning is Ubiquitious ; gLearning is Uniform. In short, “gLearning” is not traditional Learning—it is not place-bound, role-bound, or time-bound. In fact, it is a new form of Learning and Teaching where both learner and teacher assume new, exciting roles.

How gLearning Works

gLearning sounds great, but how does it work?

Computer-Based Training and Testing (CBT) and has been around almost since computers have been invented. CBT has been used to teach and test everything from accounting to zoology, from how to perform surgery to how to talk to customers on the phone. CBT got a big push in 1974, when the National Science Foundation awarded grants to two universities to further the use of computers in learning. This grant eventually spawned several CBT-based authoring systems (the hardware and software used to create CBT) and through those several thousand courses.

With the advent of the Web in the early 90s, CBT began to move to the Internet, transforming into Web-Based Training (WBT). Whereas CBT was usually delivered over closed networks in an organization or distributed on CD-ROM, WBT allowed a course to be created and placed on one computer (a “server”) to which anyone in the world with the proper authorization could connect and learn.

This new approach has provided several distinct advantages, not the least of which is easy maintenance of a course. If a problem is found and fixed, no new CD-ROMs need be sent. A change is made on the server, and that’s that.

Normally, learners who are taking a web-based course stay connected to the Internet for the duration of a session, during which time the lesson materials are “streamed” to the user. Streaming refers to the downloading of course materials to the user a little at a time, so that it appears that the course is running smoothly.

Unfortunately, this is easier to envision than to make a reality, especially for those who live in areas where connections to the Web are slow or sporadic. A constant connection may not be possible or the connection may be slow. Other methods must then be employed.

One method is to download an entire lesson at a time. This, however, can be time consuming and the user is not able to study the lesson until it has completed downloading, an obvious disadvantage. In addition, if the connection to the Internet is interrupted during the download, the partially downloaded file would normally have to be scrapped and the download restarted the next time the user connects.

With the gLearner, the user downloads a small self-contained diagnostic test first, such as Spanish terms for a computer Mouse (figure 1). After which the Internet connection can be broken. After answering the questions, gLearner will determine which items the user needs to study. After checking to see if any of those items are already resident on the user’s system, it will proceed to reconnect to the Internet and fetch from a “Knowledge Repository” on the Web and download in the background any items the user still needs.

When it has finished downloading those items, it can then disconnect from the Internet again and the user is able to continue studying. If the Internet connection is accidentally broken (for whatever reason), items already downloaded will not need to be retrieved again.

The best CBT/WBT courses capture the best minds in a discipline of study and present a consistent and rich experience to learners. Learners are able to take lessons anywhere and at any time, even on a small pocket PC. In addition, a well-made CBT/WBT course will customize itself to each learner’s need, something that is very difficult for an instructor to do in a classroom setting. Each learner can move at his or her own pace because the computer has infinite patience.

Do we have to wait for fast lines?

Because users will be connecting to the Internet at varying speeds, an elegant WBT will accommodate the different speeds by presenting materials in different ways. For instance, a high-bandwidth (fast) connection will allow the use of digitized video files. The same course when confronted with a narrow-bandwidth (slow) connection may opt to use still pictures and limited audio instead. While the effectiveness of the learning materials may not be as rich, the instruction may be almost as effective. Certainly, at narrow bandwidth connections, a course without video and audio is better than no course at all.

Fig. 1 gLearner Interface and Diagnostic Test


Adaptable. In the earth-bound, role-bound classroom, whether it be grammar, pronunciation, or math, the teacher delivers a lesson (Content) that is new material for some and known material for others. It is the “shotgun “ approach. In the gLearning classroom each student receives only the particular lesson or incremental learning step as required. Customized learning objects are filtered to the learner in a hierarchy that maximizes acquisition of new material. Moreover, the student owns this customized material and can interact with it individually until the lesson has been mastered. Each student owns and controls their personal “Bell Curve” for learning and mastery of a subject area. For example, in a robust content hierarchy, a Learning Step could ultimately involve mastering the difference in the pronunciation of “Pat” and “Bat”.(Figure 2).

Fig. 2 Content Hierarchy


Ubiquitous. The traditional classroom is necessarily place-bound and time-bound. The catchword is “synchronous” or in real time. The online classroom can operate outside of the constraints and be “asynchronous.” However, the true power of the Internet has not been realized because the architecture of most course management systems looks suspiciously like the place-bound classroom, and the roles of the teachers and learners eerily echo the role-bound, terra-bound class.

The solution to Delivering Content anywhere, anytime is for each student to have his or her own customized, adaptable “Content Agent”. Such a Content Agent goes out and fetches just the specific content the student needs, just in time. (Figure 3)

Fig. 3 Intelligent Content Agent


Uniform. The unevenness of the conventional classroom is a multivariate problem that defies solution. Teachers, students, text, assignments, grading rubrics, exigencies, and policies all conspire to make each class a unique “pot luck” experience. In the gLearning environment the roles of the student and teacher are radically altered. Moreover, their rights are clearly stated and delineated in an Online Glearner’s Bill of Rights. [see note].

With the gLearner, the students exchange purposeful, standardized, pre-formed, assignable “Participation Units” or “e-Learning Currency” that must be “spent”. Participation units ensure that all students cooperate in teams, circles, communities and so forth. (See Figure 4). In essence, the “context of the content” is the involvement of the learning community.

Fig. 4 Intelligent Participation


Preliminary results from using the gLearner at sites including Broward Community College with over 450 students show that improvement in mastering English pronunciation has improved on the order of two standard deviations. Raising achievement by two standard deviations in equivalent to raising the performance of 50th percentile students to that of 98th percentile students. In other words, virtually every student is getting an “A”. Perhaps, with the help of technology we can say “adios” to the Bell Curve! (Figure 5)

Fig. 5 Glearner Results. ( n=489)

Vive The Differance

Technology has taught us that there is a critical mass that is necessary for an invention to work. All the ingredients must be in place for a new form to work. When the steam engine was invented, wooden sailboats burned up. The invention would not work until steel hulls were utilized.

The un-imaginative makers of horse carriages built the same horse-dependent vehicle, only equipped with an engine. However, not a single horse-less carriage manufacturer went onto become a major car maker.

It has only been seven years since the first Browser (Mosaic) was announced as “news” and the New York Times struggled to find words to describe this new thing.

Similarly, if we could only peer into the future of online education, we would probably be just as surprised about the standards and grammar for describing those standards. While the future form of online learning is still unclear, it is not going to fail or go away. Chances are that it will probably look something like the gLearner—Adaptive, Ubiquitous, and Uniform. And teaching and learning will never be the same.



glearner’s online bill of rights

all learners have the right to a quality, transforming, dynamic, door-opening learning experience in online classes distributed over the internet. Teaching in the traditional sense is not enough today—the learning experience must be re-engineered for the technological classroom. The information economy requires a revolutionary learning experience. this new interactive experience is called glearning. Glearn the essential & learn to apply it.

1. online students (glearners) have the right to manage their learning management system.

2. online glearners have the right to examinee-configured remedial software.

3. Online glearners have the right to adaptive course work tuned to individualized learning curves.

4. online glearners have the right to be matched into the optimum online classroom that promotes peer learning and adapts to multiple intelligences.

5. online glearners have the right to have expert online facilitators who are informed about their learning profiles.

6. online glearners have the right to inspect, post a lifetime resume, and update records as a personal url anywhere, anytime.

7. online glearners have the right to timely, fair assessment that provides constructive feedback.

8. online glearners have the right to nomadic electronic access to the classroom anywhere, anytime.

therefore, online glearners have the right to exercise the above options, manage their learning responsibilities, and control their educational destinies to get a 21st century glearning experience anywhere, anytime.


Technology assisted learning over the Internet has spawned a small industry of experts trying to coin new terminology to describe the process. Below are the origins of the new word “Glearn” which is used to describe the “idea of light” + “ to gather the best bit by best bit” + “to gain mastery”


1.To gather (grain) left behind by reapers.

2.To collect bit by bit: “records from which historians glean their knowledge” (Kemp Malone). See Synonyms at reap. [Middle English glenen, from Old French glener, from Late Latin glennre, probably of Celtic origin.]

3.The corners of fields were not to be reaped, and the sheaf accidentally left behind was not to be fetched away, according to the law of Moses (Lev. 19:9; 23:22; Deut. 24:21). They were to be left for the poor to glean. Similar laws were given regarding vineyards and olive yards. (Comp. Ruth 2:2.)

“And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers.” --Ruth ii. 3.

“Piecemeal they this acre first, then that; Glean on, and gather up the whole estate”. --Pope.

“Content to glean what we can from . . . experiments.”--Locke.

“To glean the broken ears after the man That the main harvest reaps.” --Shak.

Learn 1.To gain knowledge, comprehension, or mastery of through experience or study.

[ Middle English lernen, from Old English leornian; see leis-1 in Indo-European Roots.]

Phonetic Intensive: A word whose sound, by an obscure process, to some degree suggests its meaning. An initial “gl-“ sound frequently accompanies the idea of light, as in glare, gleam, glint, glow, and glisten.


1. To have a technologically assisted enlightenment or “learning moment” through e-learning.

2. To systematically acquire knowledge from an overwhelming harvest of information so as to have a lifetime of “learning moments”

3. The technologically assists to ensure that glearning takes place.

“ Online Glearners have the right to Manage their Learning Management System.”—Donahue

[ Middle English glenen (glean) + Middle English lernen (learn) = glearn (USA © 2000) ]

glearned, glearnt, glearning, to glearn, glearner, glearnativity, glearnable


go to “gLearner Download”.