What is eLearning?


Raf answers one of the biggest questions in eLearning... What exactly is it?

Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to talk to a number of Human Resources, People & Culture and Learning & Development professionals at various organisations about their eLearning.

With each interaction, what becomes more and more apparent is that I’ve been rather assumptive about what people under understand ‘eLearning’ to mean. Having worked in the industry for some time, I have found myself expecting that people's understanding of what eLearning is to be fairly consistent. This is ironic given I know how different people's expectations of what ‘effective eLearning’ is.

Even more so on when I reflect on the blank looks I generally get from people at social events when I answer the question "So what do you do for a crust?"

So I thought it was time to address a fundamental question:

"What is eLearning?"

For some organisations ‘eLearning’ is a system which they use to serve up policy documents and powerpoints to their staff, for others, it’s the digital versions of their facilitated content and for those organisations who haven’t had a positive experience with it in the past, ‘eLearning’ is a waste of time.

I have to admit that the eLearning industry itself is largely responsible for this, through offers such as this one that just popped up on my email:

"The eLearning gives you our direct-to-eLearning conversion tool so you can convert your own PowerPoint/Word documents into eLearning courses instantly."

This statement essentially says to someone that ‘eLearning’ is a process of taking word documents and putting them online. Anyone can do it! With that single statement, this email author has devalued the expertise and experience of anyone who designs eLearning.

By far the most common understanding of ‘eLearning’ is that it’s an online training course or module with the goal of transferring new knowledge to a learner. While this is possibly the most accurate understanding of ‘eLearning’, it’s both the tip of the iceberg and fundamentally wrong.

Though to think of ‘eLearning’ in this way is the equivalent of considering ‘building’ as just a hammer or a nail gun. It’s also focusing too much on it being a thing, rather than an action.

Even when I type ‘What is eLearning’ into Google, the definition is:

e-learning noun

learning conducted via electronic media, typically on the Internet.

"successful e-learning depends on the self-motivation of individuals to study effectively"

I feel that if you want to answer the question "What is eLearning?" more accurately, you need to starting thinking of ‘eLearning’ as a verb rather than a noun.

Just as with building a house you need to have a plan, the materials to achieve the planned outcome and tools to put those materials together, you need to consider your wider strategy, goals and tools when embarking on your organisation's eLearning journey.

We have a diverse set of tools we can use to create ‘eLearning’. Some of these are:

    • The LMS (Learning Management System). This is the technological platform for delivering material to your audience, tracking data about how your audience has performed and finally being able to act on the results of this data (something commonly forgotten).
    • The online module. This is still the most fundamental tool in our eLearning tool bag. Highly versatile in structure, the format of content and interactivity, it’s able to be immediately responsive to the learner’s specific needs. From simple linear modules with basic interactions through to multi-pathway and branching modules, these are the still the cornerstone of eLearning.
    • Communications videos. These blur the line between learning and marketing and are often overlooked as eLearning They are fantastic for delivering ‘awareness’ messages within organisations and to external audiences. Short and punchy, they are great at complementing the rollout of new systems, new processes, and helping the ‘why’ behind organisational decisions and building excitement.
    • Learning bites. The best way to think of these is short and sweet online modules. Ideal for delivering on demand learning to your audience through concise messaging.
    • Job aids. These are usually downloadable resources that are provided to learners so they are able to quickly access the information they need to perform a task. These should be used in to support the learning delivered through modules, communications videos or learning bites.

And that’s just a starting point. The eLearning industry encapsulates everything from augmented reality, virtual classrooms, games to ‘how-to’ videos and podcasts.

It is also important to understand the goal of eLearning. The goal is not for an organisation's staff to simply to know more about something, but rather to know enough to behave in the way that is expected of them.

So here is my answer to "What is eLearning?":

Organisations use eLearning to support them in achieving their goals. Through the strategic use of technology and online training solutions, staff are empowered to act with confidence, and as is expected of them by the organisation.

If you have any questions about eLearning and how it can help your organisation achieve its goals, contact me at raf@purelearning.com.au