What is eLearning? Your 2021 Guide (+ Strategy & Tips!)

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You’ve got questions, questions like “what is eLearning,” and is it something my business should be investing in?

What is the difference between eLearning and online learning?

How does eLearning work?

This post has everything you need to know, including the history and types of elearning, benefits, and how to launch successfully.

Read on to get up to speed on how you can harness eLearning to train your workforce more efficiently.

What is eLearning - featured image

What is eLearning?

ELearning is the delivery of virtual training or learning using digital devices.

It uses digital devices in a face-to-face and/or virtual classroom.

It includes quizzes, videos, course completions, and Virtual Reality. Because the definition is so broad, there is a lot to unpack.

Some relevant statistics:

  • The eLearning market is forecasted to be an incredible $457.8 billion in 2026.
  • The eLearning market in the US in 2021 is estimated to be $90 billion.
  • 77% of US-based companies were using eLearning in 2017.
  • Deloitte, a professional services and research company, estimates that dedicating 1% of an employee’s time (24 minutes per week) to training can lead to 218% higher revenue per employee!

Brief History of eLearning

The term ‘eLearning’ was first used by Elliott Maisie in 1999.

Today, eLearning is the most popular way to deliver training. What made this possible?

There were several factors:

  • Internet: Without the world wide web, there’s no virtual learning. The internet powers digital devices, and without it, we would be reliant on CD-ROMS and other physical devices.
  • Cost: When computers were invented, the cost put them out of reach for most people. Today, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones are more affordable and accessible.
  • Learning Management Systems: Learning management systems (LMS) are predominantly cloud-based and make user access a breeze. Sophisticated solutions now dominate.
  • SCORM: SCORM was released in 2000 and was the first step to allowing users everywhere to create and deliver content.

COVID-19 provided additional acceleration as companies pivoted online, and remote or hybrid work arrangements are more commonplace.

Main Types of eLearning

ELearning can be synchronous, asynchronous, or blended.

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous learning means teaching a group of people at the same time. This means face-to-face training and virtual classrooms, and message boards.

Many tools enable synchronous eLearning, including online chat rooms, video conferencing, webinars, live whiteboards, online collaboration tools, and audio conferencing.

This offers a higher level of learner engagement than self-directed learning, but it can be challenging to get a group to attend a training session simultaneously.

Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous learning allows people to move at their own pace and flexes the experience around their schedules. Examples include watching a video or listening to a podcast.

Again, many tools support asynchronous eLearning, including self-paced learning modules, discussion groups, message boards, and forums.

The advantage is the flexibility to complete the learning experience at an individual pace. However, some people struggle with the technology and find it isolating not having feedback from an instructor.

Blended Learning

What is eLearning - blended learning

Blended learning offers the best of both worlds.

If you’ve attended online or in-person training and had follow-up homework or online quizzes, you’ve experienced blended learning.

This ensures that learners understand basic concepts and have a chance to ask questions while reinforcing key concepts and encouraging self-paced study.

Custom-Built or Out-of-the-Box?

Once you decide to implement an LMS, you have two choices; a custom-built program or an out-of-the-box option.

Custom-Built

A custom-built solution offers control over branding, content, and functionality.

It is also a good fit where training and development programs are unique to a company’s processes, systems, or plans.

They offer other advantages, including higher employee use and greater employee retention. Implementation costs will be higher, and there are risks with finding and selecting the right partner.

Out-of-the-Box

An out-of-the-box option keeps costs down and offers increasingly sophisticated customization options.

This shortens implementation timelines and is particularly well suited for delivering training on common topics, such as using a particular application.

You lose some customization and are less likely to brand your course offerings fully.

The Technical Jargon

If you are considering an LMS, there are some key terms that you’ll need to understand.

Learning Management System (LMS)

What is eLearning - LMS

An LMS is an application that handles all aspects of the eLearning platform; creating, housing, delivering, and tracking your program.

It automates processes, such as identifying organizational and individual goals, tracking progress, and providing analytics.  They are often used for onboarding and skills gap analysis.

These systems make the delivery of training and development programs more efficient and available. They are cost-effective versus traditional face-to-face learning, which involves travel and other costs.

SCORM

On the surface, SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) sounds complicated. Don’t be alarmed!!

While it is complicated at a technical level, you need to know that it is a set of technical specs that standardizes how eLearning courses are created and launched. SCORM underpins most popular authoring tools and follows a similar structure.

To use it in your eLearning, you need to be sure you have a SCORM-compliant LMS. This is because content authoring takes place in a separate but complementary system, a Learning Content Management System (LCMS).

It does add extra expense due to the cost of using a separate authoring tool; however, it also gives the learner a more interactive and engaging experience.

xAPI

xAPI is a newer, popular standard for online training delivery. There are misconceptions about it that need to be clarified upfront.

xAPI governs how data is tracked and stored but does nothing to enhance or change user experience or the design of online course content.

What it does is track learning experiences that take place outside your LMS and makes data across all platforms in a simple and consistent format. It suits today’s world where people learn on the go while commuting or taking a lunch break.

Its biggest advantage is that it gives a holistic view of a learner’s experience.

Types of eLearning Training

There are many applications for eLearning; this list is in no way exhaustive! It does show that eLearning helps businesses ensure compliance and better support for employees, customers, and partners.

Employee Training

This is the most frequent use of eLearning. It offers an affordable and efficient way to deliver high-quality, engaging content, such as onboarding programs.

Employee training and development plans can be tough to track and manage. Learning of all types can be supported by eLearning, especially when this is complemented by a quality LMS.

Another advantage of eLearning over other delivery methods is that you can continuously run reports and gather feedback to improve your corporate training program.

Onboarding Training

Onboarding is commonly delivered using an LMS. This is the process of getting new hires integrated with your company and culture, and it ensures that they have the tools and information needed to hit the ground running.

Many organizations view this as a strategic process that lasts well beyond an employee’s first few days. Taking this approach means ample eLearning opportunities that can help ensure your new hires are supported and engaged.

Compliance Training

What is eLearning - compliance training

Organizations have varied and complex compliance requirements, including compliance with laws and regulations and internal compliance expectations, like policy statements.

Compliance training is often mandatory and covers topics like health and safety, dignity and respect in the workplace, and diversity.

Using an LMS makes the process of tracking and reporting on this training easier. This is critical to protecting your reputation and staying onside with regulators.

Customer Training

Training customers to use or understand your product or service adds significant value, especially in certain industries, like software development.

The benefits flow both ways; customers have a better experience, and organizations have smoother customer onboarding and enhanced engagement.

These are big underlying factors in customer retention, which is how this type of eLearning can contribute to your bottom line.

Partner Training

Partners are often selling your products or services!

Giving them the tools and training needed to sell, support, and market your product or service is critical to success. This is why this training is often mandatory before a person or organization is accepted as a partner.

This offers benefits like protecting your brand, higher engagement and sales, and reduced support costs.

Product Promotion

Creating a quick demo or video explaining your product or service is a type of eLearning. This can be an effective way of promoting your product or service as people research online before buying:

  • 81% of consumers go online before making a big purchase.
  • Consumers are spending an average of 79 days gathering information before making a major purchase.
  • 60% of consumers start with a search engine, then go to a retailer’s website, and ultimately, 88% made their final purchase in-store.

These stats demonstrate why using eLearning can be an excellent way to promote your product or service.

Benefits of eLearning

The benefits of eLearning are many, which shouldn’t be surprising given its tremendous growth.

There are business benefits that contribute to better performance as well as employee engagement and customer retention. There are also less obvious benefits, like positive environmental impacts.

Let’s get into them in more detail.

Cost-Effective

We’ve discussed that delivering eLearning cuts down on costs like travel, recurring course and conference fees, and related expenses.

Let’s consider an example:

Option 1: Deliver compliance training to 50 employees the traditional way

  • Course fees: $200/person: 50 x $200 = $10,000
  • Travel and related costs: $500/person: $25,000
  • Printed materials: $50/person: $2,500

Option 2: Deliver same training using eLearning (unlimited employees)

  • Course development fees: $10,000

While we didn’t include the cost of hosting or support above, as it wouldn’t be attributable to a single course, we only considered one training course for one group of employees.

The ability to create content for an unlimited number of employees that can be delivered an unlimited number of times is a more cost-effective way to deliver training.

Time-Saving

What is eLearning - time saving

What’s not included above is the administrative nightmare that happens in the background when companies have to track mandatory training requirements manually.

Supervisors normally record and submit training records to a central department, maintaining a manual mandatory training registry.

Contrast this with the assignment of courses in an LMS, running reports and analytics, and following up on delinquencies…

Increased Productivity

The benefit here is two-fold; using an LMS increases employees’ productivity in your training and development program.

It also allows you to deliver specific productivity training to all employees, elevating general productivity across the organization.

Lower Carbon Footprint

Eliminating the need for printed materials and travel has a meaningful environmental impact.

This means more companies are improving environmental performance as part of a broader corporate responsibility strategy.

This is important to employees as well, and seeing the organization take steps to reduce carbon footprint can bolster employee pride and engagement.

Global Access

If you have employees in different locations, time zones, and countries, it is possible to deliver high-quality training to all of them. This type of distance learning has no barriers, as long as you have a digital device and internet access.

It also ensures a consistent experience.

Single Online Learning Platform

Housing eLearning in an LMS means learning materials are stored in one place. This reduces confusion and makes it clear where employees access training resources.

Track Progress

Last but not least, using an LMS to deliver eLearning allows you to track progress and run analytics.

This is critical for mandatory training but offers major benefits in managing and improving employee performance over time.

Types of eLearning Content

What is eLearning - eLearning content

There are many types of eLearning content! You’ll recognize most of these:

  • Digital courses: Simple courses, including slides and media, audio, video, and pictures, are very popular. Remember SCORM? This helps enhance the experience with quizzes, simulations, and screencasts.
  • Video courses: Video is a fun and easy format that can be used for any topic. It can be a simple informative style or can incorporate other elements like pop-up questions.
  • Webinars: An online lecture and often recorded; this is a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning. Learners can attend live and ask questions or choose to watch the recording at a later time.
  • Quizzes: Digital quizzes can be engaging, with audio and video questions, drag-and-drop elements, and other functionality to keep learners interested.
  • eBooks and articles: Housing eLearning in an LMS offers the chance to build libraries that employees can access at any time.
  • Screencasts: These show a user how to operate a specific software by stepping through the application in a narrative video.
  • Conversation simulations: Often super awkward in a traditional setting, simulating a possible scenario and allowing a learner to work through their response in a virtual setting helps skill development.

There are countless ways to engage learners through eLearning. Using a mix of content types can help ensure learners are supported and engaged.

How to Launch eLearning Training

Implementing eLearning is a project and should have plans, budgets, teams, and resources assigned to it. Some key success factors include:

Set clear goals and prepare a plan

Why do you want to launch eLearning? The answer to this question will determine how broad and deep your scope is. For example, upskilling a sales team is a fairly narrow but deep undertaking. It’s important to create clear, measurable learning objectives before creating your content.

Improving productivity organization-wide is broader but more general.

Get your tech in order

For a simple, short-term project, you may not need any tools.

If you’re creating a learning and development environment, you should launch your eLearning strategy with the support of an LMS.

You’ll also need to decide if you’ll create content with an authoring tool, outsource this creation to a partner or purchase canned content on common topics.

Create your eLearning content

Start simple with your content development, and remember that one of the key benefits to eLearning is that you can easily tweak and update your training content over time.

Consider what type of content will meet your goals and objectives, and don’t overkill it!

[Editor’s Note: Check out our awesome post on how to create an online course!]

Take your eLearning course for a test drive

What is eLearning - test drive

It’s important to invite a small group to pilot the learning before launch. This allows working out technical issues and refine the materials based on feedback.

Track your eLearning progress

How can you judge if your training’s been successful?

Data!!

Completion rates, satisfaction scores, and other statistics gauge the success of eLearning and allow adjustments as required.

How Will You Use eLearning?

What goals and objectives can be supported with an investment in eLearning?

The answer offers so much possibility.

Higher employee engagement and retention. Happier customers. Partners who require less support and can knock the sale of your product or service out of the park.

The benefits are compelling. Start small with a priority goal and reap the rewards!