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CCF/SCF Tools Effective E-learning

Published: September 10, 2012
Strengthening Communities Fund (SCF), Compassion Capital Fund (CCF)
Guidance, Policies, Procedures, Tools


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:

  • Increased capacity to instruct more students while maintaining learning outcome quality equal to comparable forms of face-to-face instruction
  • Increased cost-effectiveness of assembling and disseminating instructional content
  • Enhanced quality and consistency of learning experiences and outcomes

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

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

  • Identify the different types of e-learning, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each
  • Recall strategies for designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating e-learning
  • Make informed judgments about the appropriateness of e-learning based on your organization’s needs


1. What is E-learning?

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:

  • Multicast webinars
  • Tele-video conferencing
  • Chat


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:

  • E-mail and listservs
  • Public electronic bulletin boards like Blackboard and Moodle that allow collaborative forums for discussion
  • Downloadable learning materials
  • Company intranets that distribute training to employees
  • Interactive tutorials posted on the Internet



2. Is E-learning the Right Choice?

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.
Click below to open interactivity E-Learning for every learner

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

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

  • It is extremely cost-effective.
  • It can tailor lessons and allow self-pacing to create a more personalized learning experience.
  • It can be accessed by innumerable users at their individual convenience via the Internet.

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

  • Your organization and its learning participants must have access to requisite technologies.
  • E-learning will not allow the same level of collaboration among participants, and between participants and their instructors.


3. Blended Learning

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.
Click below to open interactivity Against isolation

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.



4. Developing Effective E-learning

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.
Click below to open interactivity Remember the user’s experience

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.


5. Implementing Effective E-learning

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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:

  • Participants
  • The facilitator
  • The course design
  • Technology supports

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:

  • How tech-savvy are participants?
  • Are they experienced e-learners? 
  • Where are participants?  In what environment are they receiving the e-learning?
  • Have they collaborated in the organization’s decision to implement e-learning?

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.



6. Evaluating Effective E-learning

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:

  • Reaction - How participants like the training
  • Learning - How much participants learned from the training
  • Behavior - How actual performance changed as a result of the training
  • Results - How well the training program overall met your organization’s needs

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.



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