What is e-learning?
E-learning is a type of learning that takes place through electronic media, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones. It can be accessed anywhere and anytime, making it a convenient and flexible way to learn. E-learning can be used for a variety of purposes, including training employees, providing professional development, and teaching students. In this article, we will answer all the questions you may have about what e-learning is, the types of e-learning, the tools, the process, the techniques and more. We will use the terms e-learning, electronic learning, elearning, and digital learning interchangeably, and always to include desktop and laptop-based learning and mobile learning. We will also use the terms online course, e-course, digital course, digital learning course and ecourse interchangeably. You will also encounter e-learner, elearner, digital learner and online learner.
What types of e-learning are there?
There are many different types of e-learning, depending on whether they are:
- Autonomous, educator-guided or both: Self-paced courses allow learners to progress at their own pace, without being tied to a specific schedule whereas instructor-led courses tend to have to be scheduled
- Face-to-face (as in in-person, on-site), distant or both: e-learning is often confused with distance learning. However, just as distance learning does not always use digital tools, face-to-face learning may use them, after all, using electronic tools does not mean that you have to be at a distance from your tutor
- Real-time, asynchronous or both: e-learning is often associated with asynchronous learning which means learning happens in your time at your own pace. However, learning can also happen in real time and there is no reason why one should prevent the other
- Static, interactive, immersive: Interactive ecourses allow learners to interact with the content through a variety of methods, such as quizzes, games, simulations, and virtual worlds.
The digital learning is said to be immersive when the ecourses uses immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), or 360-degree video to plunge the learner into a realistic learning experience. There are less advanced ways that immersion can be create, e.g., through the design of the digital learning environment. Interactive and more so immersive e-learning create a more engaging and realistic learning experience and make the learning experience more enjoyable. In that, they differ enormously from read-only learning content, which appear often as PDF and other static content repositories.
- Social, independent or both: Social learning platforms allow learners to connect with each other and share ideas and resources.
- Mobile or computer-based (desktop, laptop..): Mobile learning is designed to take advantage of the specificities of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets to enrich the learning experience.
What are some advantages of digital learning?
E-learning has a number of advantages over traditional classroom learning, including:
- Flexibility: Electronic learning can be accessed anywhere and at anytime, making it a convenient option for busy learners. Online courses can followed at one’s own pace.
- Cost-effectiveness: Electronic learning can be less expensive than traditional classroom learning, as it does not require the same level of infrastructure and resources. It also bring about digital opportunities that are less costly than their traditional counterpart, such as the Internet (you can listen to a foreign language right there for free) and its many apps.
- Personalization: Electronic learning can be tailored to the individual learner’s needs, styles and interests, making it a more effective learning experience.
- Opportunity for Better Engagement and Retention: Electronic learning can be more engaging than traditional classroom learning, when it harnesses the power of multimedia and other interactive and immersive elements to keep learners interested.
What are some drawbacks of digital learning?
However, e-learning also has some disadvantages, depending on the types you chose to foster, including:
- Potential Lack of social interaction:** Electronic learning can be isolating, as learners do not have the same opportunities for social interaction as they do in a traditional classroom setting.
- Technology requirements: Electronic learning requires access to technology, such as a computer or smartphone. This can be a barrier for some learners, especially those who do not have access to these resources.
- Motivation: Electronic learning can be challenging, as learners must be self-motivated to complete the course.
- Time management issues: With autonomous courses, time management is often an issue for those elearners who are used to instructor-led course delivery.
How do you create e-learning? The process
There are many ways to create e-learning. Here are some basic steps you can follow:
- Plan your e-course: What are you trying to teach? Who is your target audience? What are their learning needs?
- Design your e-course: This includes creating a storyboard, developing the content, creating the prototype, choosing your tools, and creating the visuals.
- Develop your e-course: This includes creating the modules, adding interactivity, and testing the course.
- Deliver your e-course: This includes choosing a platform, setting up the course, and marketing the course.
- Evaluate your e-course: This includes collecting feedback from learners, collecting feedback from a professional and independent e-learning consultant and making improvements to the course.
What is ADDIE?
You may use the most common e-learning and instructional design and deliver model, ADDIE. It is a five-phase process too, that includes:
- Analysis: The analysis phase involves identifying the learning needs of the target audience and the educational objectives.
- Design: The design phase involves creating a detailed plan for the instruction, including the content, activities, and assessments.
- Development: The development phase involves creating the actual instructional materials.
- Implementation: The implementation phase involves delivering the instruction to the target audience.
- Evaluation: The evaluation phase involves assessing the effectiveness of the instruction.
ADDIE is a flexible model that can be adapted to different instructional situations. It is a good starting point for developing instructional materials, but it is important to be aware of its limitations. For example, ADDIE does not take into account the social and cultural context of learning.
What tools can you use in digital learning?
There are many different e-learning tools available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The commonly used e-learning tools include:
- Learning management systems (LMS) are software applications that help organizations deliver, track, and manage e-learning, more specifically e-courses (aka digital courses or online courses). They provide a centralized platform for learners to access courses, track their progress, and communicate with instructors.
- Authoring tools aka rapid e-learning tools or e-learning authorware are software applications that help you create e-learning content. They provide a variety of features that can be used to create interactive and engaging content, such as text, images, videos, audio, and quizzes.
- Assessment tools are applications that help you assess learner progress or provide the environment for different types of such assessment. They provide a variety of features that can be used to create and deliver assessments, such as quizzes, tests, and surveys.
- Social learning platforms are online communities where learners can connect with each other and share knowledge. They provide a variety of features that can be used to facilitate collaboration, such as discussion forums, chat rooms, and wikis.
Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
A learning management system (LMS) is a software application that helps organizations deliver, track, and manage e-learning. LMSs provide a centralized platform for learners to access courses, track their progress, and communicate with instructors. They also provide administrators with tools to manage the e-learning program, such as setting up courses, assigning users, and tracking learner performance.
LMSs play an important role in e-learning because they provide a number of benefits that can help to improve the effectiveness of the program, including:
- Provides centralized course access: for learners, educators, guests, assessors and administrators: LMSs provide a single place for learners to access all of their e-learning content. This can be helpful for learners who are working on multiple courses or who need to access content from different sources. They al
- Tracking and reporting: LMSs track learner progress and provide reports that can be used by administrators and educators to measure the effectiveness of the e-learning program. This information can be used to identify areas that need improvement and to make changes to the program. It also helps learners check what gaps they need to fill and what lessons they need to revisit.
- Communication: LMSs provide a way for learners to communicate with instructors and other learners. This can be helpful for learners who need help with the content or who want to collaborate on projects.
- Course Administration: LMSs provide tools that can be used to manage the e-learning program, such as ecourse creation, ecourse set up, courses bundling into programs, user enrollment and more. This can help to save time and effort for administrators.
- User Management: LMSs user management features allow administrators and educators to create groups, learning paths, send individual messages or feedback, track learner performance and more. This can help to save time and effort for administrators.
E-learning authoring tools are software applications that provide a variety of features that allow you to:
- Create high-quality, interactive and engaging digital learning content, including text, images, videos, audio, self-tests, and other interactive elements.
Manage your content by providing features such as version control, and tracking changes. This can help you to ensure that your content is up-to-date and accurate.
Deliver / publish / convert your content into various elearning-friendly formats such as xAPI/Tin Can, SCORM (e.g., SCORM 1.2 or SCORM 2.4 making it SCORM compliant), mobile learning, and social learning. This can help you to ensure that your content is accessible to your learners, regardless of their location or device.
Be effective in meeting your learning objectives and save time and effort, as they provide a number of features that can automate the creation of e-learning content.
There are many dfferent e-learning authoring tools available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Some of the most popular e-learning authoring tools include: Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, iSpring Suite, H5P, Adapt, Lectora, eFront and WizIQ. We have dedicated a whole article on top e-learning authoring tools here.
Choosing the correct e-learning tools
When choosing e-learning tools, it is important to consider the following factors:
- Your working context: For example, you may be in a University that already uses specific ones, you may be working within a discipline that require specific features, and so on
- The technological context: Technology won’t cease to evolve. Make sure you harness the assets brought about by state-of-the-art functionalities in relationship to your subject and your learner needs
- The needs of your learners: What are your learners’ learning styles? What are their needs and goals?
- The type of content you want to create: What type of content do you want to create? What features do you need to create that content?
- Your budget: How much are you willing to spend on e-learning tools?
- Your technical expertise: How much technical expertise do you have? Do you need tools that are easy to use?
Once you have considered these factors, you can start to evaluate different e-learning tools. There are over 1000 LMSs around and a few dozens of digital learning authorware. So, check the many resources available to help you with this, such as online reviews, comparison charts, and product demos or enlist the services of a professional digital learning specialist for that work. Either way, you will need tools to create, deliver, assess, and evaluate your course as a minimum.
How long does it take to create an e-course?
The time it takes to create an e-course depends on the duration of your ecourse, whether or not you already have the content, the types of digital learning you are planning to add and their degree of complexity, the expertise at hand and the tools you use. The more complex and diverse the types, the more engaged and retained the learner is likely to be, but also the more time it will take to develop. Check your deadlines to adapt to them, knowing that, in time, you may and should always improve your course, making it increasingly more interactive, more immersive, and more responsive to learners’ feedback. Choosing a platform and tools that allow you to scale the quality of your ecourse and the quantity of your learners AND concurrent learners is best practice. Another option is to create parts of a course at a time, especially in face-to-face delivery so eventually you can have a full course. However, as a general rule, it can take anywhere from a few weeks (although I have create one mini-course in a few days) to several months to create a high-quality e-learning course.
How long does it take to convert an existing course into an e-course?
The total duration for converting an existing course to an e-course is actually quite similar to creating e-courses from scratch. It will take less time since you already have the content, however, you should not let the existence of content stop you from harnessing the full potential of your digital learning as the new environment may offer answers to the limitations of your previous environment. Always remember your overarching goals: your content and methods should remain fluid to allow your course to always be improved.
What are best practices for developing e-learning courses?
Best practice ensures learners’ engagement, motivation and retention, course manageability and maintainability, content clarity and maintainability which means:
creating courses that are learner-centered, bite-sized, and engaging. Best practice also ensures that a course is maintainable, content is reusable/optimizable and continually improved.
- elearner-centered e-courses: Keep the elearner at the center of the instructional design process. The design should be visually appealing but also may help to immerse them in the subject (through e.g., couleur locale), reflect this targeted audience, facilitate the navigation, while the content takes into account their learning styles and preferences, needs and outcomes and is optimized for their digital learning environment.
- Provide opportunities for learner interaction with the course and with other learners. Social participation should only be obligatory if it is an essential outcome of the course but should be available for the more social learners.
- Break the content into small chunks: This will make it easier for learners to digest and retain the information. Ideally, each chunk should relate and help them achieve a learning outcome. Each piece of content should be clear and concise, using simple language and only use jargon (without explanation) once it has been explained a few times and confirmed acquired.
- Give learners control over their learning: beyond interactive learning, elearners should be able to choose their learning pace of their learning as well as be guided through it.
- Use a variety of media to make the content more engaging and memorable. Consider using images, videos, audio, AR, VR, simulations, games to break up the text and make your content more visually appealing and more exciting. Use multimedia, yes but remember there is hypermedia, interactive media, and more.
- Include activities and assessments to help learners practice and assess what they have learned. This will help them retain the information and make sure they are understanding the material but also allow them to confirm which learning outcome they have achieve. I use crosswords in some of my courses!
- Illustrate: an image is worth 1000 words but it is not only graphic illustrations that this applies to. So, if you can exemplify pieces of the course through relatable storytelling, passages of a film, and as many relaxed alternatives as you can, you will create more engagement. Use humour if you can but sparingly so as not to make it distracting.
- Test your e-learning course: Before you deliver your e-learning course, be sure to test it thoroughly. This will help to ensure that the course is error-free and that it is effective in meeting your learning objectives. A pilot will also help to give you a learner’s perspective for your review.
- Evaluate your e-learning course: After you’ve delivered your e-learning course, be sure to evaluate it. This will help you to identify areas that need improvement and to make your e-learning courses even more effective in the future.
- Use mobile learning and take advantages of its very particular features such as geolocation to create content that is dynamic, responsive and exciting.
Overall, e-learning is a flexible and cost-effective way to teach/train and learn. It can be used for a variety of purposes, and it has a number of advantages over traditional classroom learning. However, it also has some disadvantages, such as the lack of social interaction and the need for technology. A great way to implement digital learning requires that you are aware of all advantages and drawbacks and put measures in place to manage (mitigate or eliminate) risks and known issues. Learners also benefit from experiencing a combination of all types of digital learning, as does the management of digital learning risks and issues. Digital learning tools should be chosen to match your learners’ needs, your business goals, your budget, your deadlines, and fit your context of delivery. They should include a delivery platform or LMS, an authorware and assessment systems. Harnessing the tools you use will allow you to chose the fitting ones and match their features to your course functionalities. A professional e-learning consultant can help you at any and all stages of your online course creation and delivery.