A guide to QR codes in eLearning


On demand learning is something that is often talked about in eLearning and L&D. The idea is that we want to give people an opportunity to learn something at the point they need to, rather than days, weeks, or even months before like we often see with planned formal learning.

With on demand learning, one critical consideration is accessibility to the learning material. We need to provide the learner with a quick and intuitive way to access the information they need, otherwise they may instead resort to the trial and error method of learning.

Obviously part of the puzzle is a mobile device that the learning can be displayed and completed on, but given the earner quick and easy access is more than just technology. We can expect them reach the point of need, then start typing URLs to LMS systems or browsing intranets in the hope they will find something relevant to their need.

We need to have something that will allow them to instantly access the relevant information.

So how do we do this?

Well, depending on the environment, one option is to use QR codes.

What are QR codes?

QR codes or Quick Response Codes are effectively an evolution of the barcode. They are a way to store data in an image. The key difference between is that while a traditional barcode can only store up 30 numbers, a QR code is able to 7,089 characters!

To put that in perspective, this entire post is a touch over 8,000 characters including spaces. This means that with a bit of clever editing I could fit this entire post into a QR code image.

You’ve probably seen QR codes out in the wild, on business cards or brochures or the sides of buses.They look like black and white squares that are filled with a mess of random, tiny little squares.

Here are two examples. One contains a URL, the other a secret message!

qr code with url
qr code with secret message

And here are some examples of QR codes in the wild being used in advertising.

qr code pepsi advertisement
mini cooper qr code
ebay mobile qr code

How do QR codes work?

To use a QR code, all you need it a QR generator and a QR code scanner app on a mobile phone or tablet that has a camera and an internet connection.

Both the generators and the apps are free to use, which means today you can start using this technology around your organisation for no extra additional cost! Well, maybe just the cost of a piece of paper and the toner needed to print a QR code on it.

Let’s say that you want to put a QR code on your business card that will take people to your website. All that you need to do is find a free QR code generator online, and generate a QR code image using your website URL.

You can then take this image and include it in your business card design.

From there, anyone who has a QR code scanner on their mobile phone will be able to easily visit your website without having to manually type the URL.

How can QR codes be used in eLearning?

As I mentioned earlier, with on demand learning it’s all about ease of access at the time of need. We want to provide a person the information they needs, as they are doing the thing they need the information for, and we want to provide it to them quickly and easily.

We can use QR codes to make this happen by assuming when and where people will need to learn something, then putting a QR code in that location that will take them to the relevant learning once they scan it.

As an example, let’s imagine we work in a corporate building with share meeting rooms and resources. One of common challenges we can all relate to is trying to work out how to get rather impressive monitor on the wall to connect and co-operate with the laptop or tablet the required presentation is on.

Now imagine that right next to the TV there was a sign that said “Need Help? Scan this!” and had a QR code under it. Then after scanning this code I was taken to a piece of eLearning that allowed me to select what I was trying to do, and then provided me a short explainer video demonstrating the process.

Five minutes of thumbling around with cables and the remote could instead become five seconds to scan the QR code, 30 seconds to watch the demonstration video, another 30 seconds to connect everything I needed and a spare four off minutes for light conversation.

And this is just a very basic example, for some more creative ideas, check out this post we published on “5 creative ways to use QR codes in eLearning”.

Ultimately, the answer to the question “How can QR codes be used in eLearning?” is “By providing an easy method of access for eLearning to your learners”.

What are other similar technologies?

QR codes have been around for some time now, which means that there are now a few different technologies that provide similar benefits. A few of these are things like:

Proximity Beacons (iBeacons)

The best way to think of proximity beacons is like an electronic QR code. Similarly to the QR codes, you would put these beacons in locations that a learner may want to access some sort of information. Then, provided the learner has the appropriate device and app, the learners device will detect this beacon and will perform a predefined action such as launching eLearning.Pros of Proximity Beacons over QR codes:

  • They don’t have to be visible
  • The system can be set up to trigger more complex actions on the device

Cons of Proximity Beacons compared to QR codes:

  • More costly
  • Require more specialised app
  • Compatible with less devices

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is definitely one of the current trends in the eLearning space. Basically it’s a technology that allows a device to use display information over the real world, based on certain visual and geo-locational inputs. This is probably one of those things that easier to show than explain, so here are a few examples of AR and explanations why they are awesome.

Hyundai AR Owners Manual

As you can see, Hyundai has developed an app for their customers that helps them understand the workings of their car better. The app uses the camera to detect what it’s being pointed at, then it shows the footage from the camera and superimposed information to the user.

This is awesome, as it uses the complex shapes of the car itself as reference to display information in a really clean way and easy to understand way.

Google Translate App

This is a great app for people traveling to foreign countries. Basically it’s able to read text in almost any language and translate it into your native language. The thing that makes this awesome, is that it then overlays the translation over the the foreign text! This is a free app and you can jump into the app store right now, download it and use it. Download it and then do a Google image search for “foreign signs” and have fun!

Pros of AR over QR codes:

  • It really is limitless in application
  • It provides an immersive real time environment

Cons of AR compared to QR codes:

  • More costly
  • Require more specialised app
  • The end eLearning solution has to be developed specifically for the technology.

But doesn’t this mean QR codes are obsolete?

As far as I am concerned, absolutely not. I know that there will be any people who will argue that QR codes are old technology now and are outdated, but as far as I am concerned it’s a system that can very much be used in innovative ways even today.

Most of the negative feelings towards QR codes stem from a period where there was a push in the marketing industry to adopt them. This wasn’t largely successful as their use in most cases didn’t actually add value to the consumers experience engaging with a brand.

My belief is that technology does not become obsolete when a new technology is better, but only when it no longer delivers value to its user. Cars did not make bicycles obsolete.

The biggest advantage to using QR codes is the simplicity of adopting them. If you wanted to you could implement QR codes for tomorrow and all it would take is the cost of some paper (and laminating if you want to be fancy) to print the QR codes and blu-tack. Once you have a URL to the eLearning, PDF, intranet page, website page, YouTube page, etc you want people to access at a certain location, you’re good to go.

Often the simplest solution is the best, and QR codes are simple and very cost effective to implement.