Effective E-learning



Welcome to the e-learning lesson on Effective E-learning. In recent years, e-learning has become an increasingly popular format for delivering instruction. Primary school systems, colleges and universities, the public and private sectors, and non-profits have all come to rely on electronic learning as a valuable instructional tool.However, many organizations still struggle to determine if e-learning is the appropriate platform to deliver training and instruction to their members. Many are unsure about costs, technologies, and the potential of e-learning to achieve learning outcomes. At the end of this lesson you will be able to: Identify the types of e-learning and the advantages and disadvantages of each, recall strategies for designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating e-learning, and make informed judgments about the appropriateness of e-learning based on your organization’s needs.

E-learning is an increasingly popular mode of instruction.

More than a million K–12 students take online courses each year, and more than 25 percent of students attending U.S. postsecondary institutions were enrolled in at least one online course in 2008. Today, technology-based methods account for 30 percent of all corporate training, a significant increase from 11.5 percent in 2001. 

E-learning’s booming popularity is most commonly attributed to the following benefits:

Organizations should carefully consider how e-learning can meet their instructional needs.

At the end of this lesson you will be able to:

CHAPTER 1: What is E-learning?

E-learning is structured learning conducted over an electronic platform. But can generally be broken down into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous e-learning occurs in real time with participants actively communicating with each other. Synchronous e-learning might be conducted by way of a webinar or a tele-video conference. Asynchronous e-learning does not occur in real time. Usually it involves an interactive learning tutorial or information database posted online and accessible at participants’ own convenience.

E-learning is learning done over an electronic platform that allows participants to learn almost anytime from anywhere.

E-learning can be done either synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous e-learning requires simultaneous participation of all learners and instructors at different locations. Asynchronous e-learning does not require simultaneous participation of learners and instructors. There are advantages and disadvantages to adopting either a synchronous or asynchronous platform.

Synchronous e-learning is any learning event delivered in real time to remote learners.

Synchronous e-learning allows real-time interaction and fosters a sense of community amongst learners.  Synchronous e-learning can take a variety of forms, such as: 

Asynchronous e-learning refers to learning situations in which the learning event does not take place in real-time.

Instruction is available on-demand and often offers participants greater control over the learning process.  Asynchronous e-learning can take many forms, including: 

CHAPTER 2: Is E-learning the Right Choice?

E-learning carries many benefits over traditional classroom-based instruction. But the decision to adopt e-learning will depend on the needs and capacities of each organization. E-learning is a powerful and cost-effective platform for delivering consistent and easily reproducible learning experiences to many participants across a wide geographic region. And even with its wide reach, new technologies are making e-learning tutorials increasingly personalized. Many asynchronous e-learning tutorials allow participants to progress at their own pace, and interactivities can incorporate instruction that appeals to all three learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Still, e-learning is often not the best means of instruction. Skill-specific knowledge delivered to a small group of localized people is probably best delivered in a traditional classroom setting. And no matter how effectively designed, no synchronous e-learning can reproduce the interactive collaboration that occurs in the classroom. Finally, even if e-learning would seem to suit instructional needs, organizations must be sure that all participants have access to the requisite technologies for online instruction.

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding if e-learning is the appropriate platform to deliver instruction.

The pros and cons of e-learning vary depending on program goals, target audience, and organizational infrastructure and culture. An e-learning program might not make sense in situations where instruction is delivered locally to a small number of participants. However, when instruction requires repeated delivery to a large number of participants across an extended area, e-learning programs can cost-effectively achieve learning objectives.

A significant instructional benefit of e-learning is its ability to accommodate individual learning styles and knowledge levels of learners.

Within a single experience, e-learning can equally engage the three distinct learning styles of auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners. The self-pacing allowed by asynchronous e-learning allows advanced learners to speed through redundant instruction, while novices progress slowly through newly encountered concepts. In addition, asynchronous e-learning, posted on the Internet, allows incredibly efficient distribution to an almost infinite pool of participants. Such is the potential of a well-designed e-learning program: it can offer increasingly individualized instruction to an ever-larger group of participants.

Each organization must evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of choosing e-learning

There are three strong arguments in favor of e-learning:


At the same time, organizations must consider the following concerns:

CHAPTER 3: Blended Learning

The decision to implement e-learning largely depends on the specific needs of each organization. However, many organizations have a variety of instructional and training objectives. E-learning might serve some of these objectives, but not others. For this reason, many organizations have chosen to adopt a blended learning approach. Blended learning combines e-learning and classroom based instruction into one learning experience. Blended learning grants greater freedom to incorporate the advantages of both e-learning and classroom based instruction. Organizations that realistically consider their instructional needs should be able to easily maximize the potential of both formats.

E-learning can improve or detract from an organization’s ability to offer instruction.

For example, a course for lifeguard trainees on how to perform CPR is probably best delivered in a classroom setting that allows ample opportunity for guided role plays. Clicking across a screen, no matter how well-designed the e-learning module, is simply not the appropriate format for teaching these types of skill-specific performance objectives. On the other hand, a lifeguard staffing agency with personnel and pool locations across the country that wants to deliver its agency’s history, mission, and professional expectations to all new recruits would probably find a well-designed e-learning program a very cost-effective way to meet its instructional needs.

Often an organization needs to achieve many different kinds of learning objectives.

Some of these learning objectives lend themselves to classroom based instruction, while others can be effectively achieved through e-learning programs. In such instances, organizations will often incorporate both methods of instruction into a “blended” learning program. Blended learning experiences combine both e-learning and classroom based methods into one instructional system. Blended learning allows organizations to strategically assign the appropriate method of instruction delivery for each learning objective.

There are no hard and fast rules on how to most effectively blend e-learning and classroom based instruction.

Individual organizations must assess their individual needs. Classroom time can be used to engage students in advanced interactive experiences, while the e-learning portion of the training offers students multimedia-rich content any time of day, anywhere they have Internet access.

CHAPTER 4: Developing Effective E-learning

E-learning’s potential is closely tied to the quality of its design. There are a number of considerations that are instrumental to designing and developing effective e-learning. First, know the needs of your learners. Every aspect of the e-learning instruction must be geared to address those specific needs. Make the e-learning experience as usable as possible. E-learning that is difficult to engage will quickly frustrate participants. Give your learners autonomy over their e-learning experience. Increased control has been shown to lead to increased motivation to engage in the learning experience. Frame the instruction within an interesting context. When learners know and appreciate why an e-learning is taking place, they are much more compelled to engage in the e-learning instruction. Finally, effective e-learning provides regular and constructive feedback. Learners want to know where they are in their learning experience. Maximize e-learning’s potential to tell them!

E-learning’s effectiveness relies heavily on the quality of its design.

The first step when designing instructional material is identifying the purpose of the instruction. What should participants take away from the learning experience? Are these outcomes knowledge- or performance-based? How can participants demonstrate mastery of the skills or information at the heart of the lessons’ learning objectives? The answers to these questions will determine the appropriate methods of instruction.

When learners are able to easily use e-learning, they are much more likely to focus on the material being instructed.

Learners typically do not tolerate extensive training before taking an online course. The usability of an e-learning program must keep learners focused on learning, rather than using the learning application. Inability to, for instance, navigate to the next screen easily disrupts flow. Because many Internet users have developed habits of skimming rather than reading material, information in an online course needs to be designed to accommodate how people read online. This means judicious use of highlighting, fonts, and formatting to increase readability. An appropriate balance is needed between boring and flashy in order to capture attention and enhance learning without creating unnecessary distractions.

Granting learners greater autonomy has been shown to increase learners’ motivation.

It is often beneficial to free up course navigation and give learners more control over their e-learning experience. Rich learning activities require learners to make choices about what to experience during an e-learning module. This keeps learners actively engaged, rather than passively advancing down a prescribed path. Just be sure that activities are designed around allowing students to practice desired learning outcomes, rather than on the complexity of the materials or tools required for the activity to take place.

An interesting context or scenario can add important meaning to a learning activity.

In situations where student motivation is known to be high, the context will require little explanation. In other contexts, however, students are encouraged and assisted by an interesting scenario that frames the activities. Scenarios are usually provided by a story, role play, or simulation, within which the activity plays a pivotal role in helping students to contextualize content. An interesting scenario will make extensive use of humor, imagination, reward, anticipation, or drama to enhance the activity. It will have topics and themes likely to be relevant and interesting to the target audience. And it will make the learning activity seem like an obvious or necessary thing to undertake.

Effective e-learning design will offer feedback that amplifies the learning and enables students to increase their level of skill and knowledge.

Available feedback strategies include reflective responses to prescribed questions, semi-automated responses by the system to student actions and work, shared comments in online forums and blogs, and personal responses via email and telephone. Effective use of feedback will enable an e-learning design to create dialogue between participants and instructors. Without appropriate use of feedback, e-learning runs the risk of becoming an ineffective broadcast of learning content.

CHAPTER 5: Implementing Effective E-learning

Implementation is the actual delivery of the e-learning experience. In synchronous e-learning, implementation will refer to the actions of the facilitator leading the online collaborative instruction. In asynchronous e-learning, implementation is the functionality of the online learning experience. Either way, implementation must coordinate four components of online instruction: participants, the facilitator, the course design, and technology supports. Strong implementation addresses all four components. The course should be designed to connect the ability of the facilitator with the needs of the participants. Everyone has knowledge of and access to the necessary technologies. And if necessary, technological support is easily available.

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Implementation is not just instruction. It is the moment at which the elements of effective instruction meet. These can be broken down into four core areas that compose an e-learning system:

The demands of each area will differ depending on the type of e-learning system being implemented. For example, an asynchronous e-learning program might not include facilitator guidance. On the other hand, an experienced classroom instructor implementing a webinar will need to make a number of adjustments in his/her teaching style.

It’s important to get a sense of the people who are actually going to use the course.

Specifically, why is this training important to them?  How will it improve their performance?  If possible, schedule some time to meet with the end users of the course. It’s always a good idea to get them involved in the course design so that courses meet their real needs.  When implementing a course, pay particular attention to: 

These questions must be answered on a case-by-case basis.  However, common to all participants engaged in e-learning are considerations of access to technologies and receptiveness to e-learning instruction.  So long as those two elements are in place, a well-designed e-learning program can be delivered to any audience. 

Facilitators implementing synchronous e-learning programs, such as webinars and teleconferencing sessions, must make adjustments to accommodate the unique demands of electronic platforms.

Facilitators with classroom-based instruction backgrounds must learn to utilize a whole new set of sensory information with participants. The cues they have grown accustomed to simply no longer exist in many e-learning contexts. It is not enough for an instructor to be an expert on the content and rely on instincts to survive its implementation.

CHAPTER 6: Evaluating Effective E-learning

E-learning is evaluated in much the same way as traditional classroom based instruction. Evaluation should be captured on four levels: reaction – how much participants liked or disliked the e-learning experience, learning – how well participants retained the new knowledge encountered in the e-learning, behavior – how well participants transferred new knowledge to specific tasks, and finally, results – how well e-learning meets the instructional needs of your organization. Electronic platforms make capturing and storing this information much easier than in classroom based instruction. By tracking reaction, learning, and behavior outcomes, organizations can easily assess the impact of online training on important organizational outcomes.

Evaluation in e-learning does not differ considerably from evaluation in other forms of instructional design.

Evaluation is the process of seeking feedback and is particularly concerned with the performance of training participants after training is completed.  Based on Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation, feedback is captured in regards to:

An evaluation plan for an e-learning program is essential to determine if the course meets the stated goals and, if not, to determine what to revise. Evaluation provides the data needed to determine the effectiveness of a program so that stakeholders can decide whether to accept, change, or eliminate any or all of its components. Good evaluation involves specifying a set of criteria to be evaluated, identifying appropriate means to measure the criteria, and analyzing the results. It looks beyond the surface to make informed decisions regarding content topics, organization of content, delivery methods, and so on.

E-learning makes each level of evaluation very easy to capture.

Level one and two evaluations can be easily captured by online surveys. Level three evaluations can be conducted by follow-up surveys to participants and the people they work with at the organization. Level four evaluations can be a bit more difficult to conduct because they require isolating a control group along with the group that participated in the e-learning program. However, because level one, two, and three evaluations can be so easily captured and stored using electronic platforms, much of the initial work for conducting level four evaluations is already complete.


Effective e-learning has the potential to make more personalized instruction accessible to more participants. However, achieving these results requires strong e-learning design. All aspects of effective e-learning must center on the instructional needs of participants, and how to optimize their online experience to meet those needs. Thank you for taking the time to learn about Effective E-learning.

Given the right circumstance, the benefits of e-learning are easy to see.

Effective e-learning allows more participants to access more personalized instruction compared to traditional classroom-based instruction. However, achieving these results requires strong e-learning design. Effective e-learning design must carefully consider first, if e-learning serves the purpose of the instruction and, second, how to effectively incorporate content in a manner that is usable and engaging. Facilitators implementing the course, whether they are a facilitator in a webinar, or the IT whiz posting an asynchronous e-learning module online, must be familiar with how participants are likely to interact with the e-learning lesson. Finally, all aspects of effective e-learning design and implementation must be carried out with a focus on how participants will be evaluated in the levels of reaction, learning, and behavior.

Thank you for completing this Effective E-learning lesson.

Please check out the additional resources on using effective e-learning to meet your organization’s needs below:

The Rapid E-learning Blog:

The E-learning Guru:

E-learning Resources on EDUCAUSE