The Complete Guide to eLearning


What is elearning and does it really work? Learn about different types of elearning, the process for creating it and terminology behind it.


In the early days of elearning, many people saw the potential to change the world of workplace learning forever. Its promise was to scale employee training effectively and efficiently across large and geographically dispersed teams. But for too long now, elearning courses have dramatically under delivered on their vision. Users have been repeatedly underwhelmed by substandard online training experiences.

Change is finally happening – the digital learning revolution is underway. We’re developing new ways of thinking about digital learning methods, content and platforms. Elearning is now starting to deliver the vision of effectively and efficiently scaling learning and development.

Effective elearning has a number of benefits for businesses and L&D teams and employees.


Effective elearning has a number of benefits for businesses and L&D teams and employees.

"LEARNING is the #1 top reason why people want to join your organisations… OR LEAVE IT… "

Fosway Group


It can help businesses and L&D teams to:

Have a better informed workforce, equipped for future success.

Become more efficient.

Make an impact on business strategy.

Prepare for succession planning.


it can help employees to:

Enjoy greater success in their role.

Drive their own growth and development opportunities.

eLearning has to adapt to the needs of the modern learner. Bersin described the modern learner as: untethered, on-demand, collaborative and empowered.

Meet the modern learner



Is elearning effective?

The aim of any corporate elearning course should be to effect change and deliver on business needs. Traditionally, the perceived success of elearning was based on completion rates and ‘smiley face’ surveys. But finishing or enjoying a course is not the same as having learned and retained the critical information. LinkedLearning’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report highlights eight different methods that L&D teams are using to more effectively measure the impact of learning.


The success of elearning is dependent on individuals having the motivation to study independently. We can greatly increase the motivation by having meaningful, relevant and engaging content.

This blog offers more advice on how to make eLearning deliver for your business.


An elearning course is an online alternative to; or addition to; a traditional classroom training course.

Menu screen from our ‘De-fear the Defib’ course. Click the image to see more.

The Instructional Designer (ID) will use a variety of techniques to construct the course flow, its interactions and completion criteria. The completion criteria can include the number of pages visited and usually contains a mandatory graded quiz. Good Instructional Designers ensure a great user experience (UX) for the end user.

Learn more about UX Design for eLearning.

The eLearning Course Design Process

An Instructional Designer or Learning Experience Designer (LXD) as they’re sometimes called, transforms complex source material into an online educational experience.

The Instructional Designer (ID) works with the client and Subject Matter Expert (SME) to determine an appropriate structure, flow and design for the course. The design decisions are based on the course and business objectives, but also on time, budget and technical considerations. Regardless of the constraints, a good Instructional Designer will ensure a great learning experience for the end user.

Once written (or storyboarded), the elearning course is developed (built). Most custom content is developed using eLearning authoring tools, then reviewed and edited before publishing.


The largest market shares are held by Articulate Storyline, Lectora and Adobe Captivate. However, new authoring tools enable designers to publish HTML5, device independent, mobile ready, responsive content. Evolve by Appitierre, LearningMaker by Netex, Gomo, DominKnow and Teach on Mars are just some of these tools.

Finally, the course is normally published using the SCORM output. The course is uploaded to the learning management system where further configuration takes place.

What is SCORM?

SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model, although you’re unlikely to ever need to remember the long form of this acronym. SCORM is a set of agreed standards that allow elearning courses to share information with the LMS.


Between them, the SCORM based elearning course and the LMS can record: user information, attendance, time, learner progress and completion criteria. A major benefit of SCORM is that published elearning courses will work on any SCORM compliant learning management systems.


New methods and standards of publishing elearning content such as xAPI are now available. xAPI allows you to collect data from a range of training activities both online and offline. This means activities like mobile learning, face-to-face mentoring sessions and social learning can be tracked and included in the learner’s record.


There are two main types of elearning: off-the-shelf and custom.

1. Pre-Packaged or Off-the-Shelf eLearning Content

Many companies choose to purchase large libraries of generic content as a service for employee training. Typically, these libraries cover personal development skills, professional development, leadership and management, IT certification, software, compliance and much more.

Most often, libraries are sold on a per-person per-year basis with multi-year discounted deals available. After signing a purchasing contract, most companies usually install the SCORM files on their LMS on a course-by-course basis. Alternatively, they can install AICC connectors that point the user to the vendor's learning content server.

There are many providers of digital learning content, with new entrants forcing positive change in this part of the industry. Skillsoft, LinkedIn Learning (previously, Grovo, Pluralsight, Wiley and Cegos have significant market share.

Enterprise MOOCs

MOOC – the massive open online course – began exploding onto the marketplace in the early 2010s. MOOCs were initially designed to make high quality academic content from leading universities available for free to everyone. Content was mainly video based lectures with quizzes and assignments. MOOC suppliers include: Coursera, Edx, Udacity, FutureLearn, Udemy, versity and the Canvas Network.

For business, most are sold at a topic level or by corporate licence model. For the L&D community, MOOCs offer a good plug-in service of ready-made and diverse topics that can complement other LMS services. Some MOOCs can lead to certified degrees or masters degree qualifications. As with everything elearning, the wise prospective buyer weighs up the costs and benefits.

2. Custom or Bespoke Course Development

Most companies need to create learning courses that are relevant to the needs of their organisation. A lot of time and effort is involved in this process. Larger organisations may have a dedicated team of internal learning consultants and instructional designers. Other organisations have much smaller teams or a single instructional designer, and may frequently use the freelance community for additional support.

More recently, outsourcing elearning content production has become popular. There are many companies around the world providing small, medium and large scale outsourcing services. India has become a major player in this area.

Outsourcing can be problematic and expensive. If the developer lacks the will, skills or experience to uncover the critical learning outcomes, you’re unlikely to get an effective solution.

Benefits of Outsourcing Custom Courses

A good elearning company will offer many benefits. They will work with you as a partner to advise and support you throughout the process. Their expertise will help create an engaging and fit-for-purpose end product that delivers on the business and learner needs.


This guide offers a more detailed analysis of the pros and cons of outsourcing your elearning content development.

Specialist eLearning


Simulation technologies, such as Virtual reality/augmented reality is one specialist area that has seen great strides ahead recently. These technologies are good for practising skills and decision-making within a close-to-real-life environment. Although expensive, they are particularly useful for training the likes of pilots and surgeons, where real-life practice is difficult.

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Gamified learning / Gamification

Gamification refers to the application of gaming elements (timed challenges, leaderboards, badges etc), to learning content. Gamification introduces fun and competition into traditional learning. If done well, the instant feedback and repetition can aid knowledge transfer and retention. It can also help deliver on L&D goals.

For more information on about gamification, see our gamification page

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"Gamification techniques strive to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure."



Microlearning, also known as 'bite-sized learning', refers to short nuggets of learning, typically no longer than 10 minutes. It aims to align learning events with our available time, attention spans and working memory capacity. It also mirrors modern behaviour patterns of skimming rather than deep-diving into information. Microlearning lends itself well to mobile learning i.e. learning delivered via an app and often consumed on the move.

Read our blog for more information on designing a microlearning solution.

Microlearning principals can also be applied to traditional learning to make online courses more digestible for learners.

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Scenario/Story-based learning

Scenario-based learning uses good old storytelling techniques to get the message across. It's a device that’s been around for millenia because nothing engages us quite like a good story. Which do you think would be more effective in a Health & Safety course: telling the learner to be careful or telling the story of someone who was injured and how it affected them?

Scenarios and stories are particularly effective for ‘human’ skills, such as topics like: communication, inclusion and customer service. Life isn’t always black and white and stories let us explore options, decisions and consequences.



Try one of our free courses to see great elearning in action.

See our Glossary below if you’re interested in reading more about these or other eLearning terms.


You can see our full glossary here.

How can you improve your organisations learning experience?


Provide them with a personalised, intuitive, in-workflow learning platform that contains relevant content.
Empower them to learn and grow. Invest in their experience as you would for your clients.

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