What is eLearning?

Nicole Boswell
May 13, 2020

- What is eLearning?

- eLearning components

- Who provides eLearning?

- What’s next for eLearning?

Put most simply, eLearning means “electronic learning”. It’s any learning or training done using digital resources. When eLearning first started, those digital resources were really limited. These days online learning happens in more ways than anyone could have imagined.

eLearning can include:

- Self-paced online courses or training

- Online knowledge bases/resources

- Videos

- Online quizzing/testing practices

- Virtual presentations

- Virtual teaching

- Mobile learning

- Mobile/PC learning games

- Virtual reality

- Podcast

Even over the past 10 years that list has grown, and it will continue to grow as technologies continue to emerge and change. 

eLearning Components

eLearning is more than just the learning itself. There are necessary teams, platforms, and strategies that make these learning experiences possible. It is impossible to separate eLearning from the following components:

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Instructional Design

Instructional design is the method of designing, developing, and delivering learning products. 

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Instructional Designer

Someone, somewhere, is tasked with putting eLearning materials together in a way that is compelling over an electronic platform. Instructional designers are responsible for the entire eLearning development process. They often learn the content, prepare a design to deliver it electronically, develop that design, and deliver it. Instructional designers are typically well versed in business strategy, needs assessment, writing, visual/web design, and instructional technology.

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Authoring Tools

There are tools that make eLearning development a lot easier. Authoring tools are instructional technologies that allow the creation of eLearning using software. There are many available in the industry, but the long-standing leader is Articulate. 

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Learning Management System (LMS)

After eLearning content is built, how is it accessed? A learning management system is a software application that administers online learning. It’s capable of launching eLearning for learners, but also handles administration and reporting for providers. For some types of eLearning, the content is made available using some other type of content platform. Content platforms you may have heard of include YouTube and Spotify.

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Blended Learning

Just because part of the learning may be electronic, it doesn’t mean the entire learning process will be. Blended learning is a learning approach that combines different delivery methods, such as electronic and in-person learning. The pro here is that you can expand in-person learning inexpensively, and to scale. The cons can be the learning curve to expanding to eLearning technologies, and the lack of personal connection to the learning. It’s widely accepted that if you’re going to do a blended learning approach, you need to offer ways for the students to still connect to each other, and their instructor. (Heinze & Procter, 2006)

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Gamification is the use of game elements to make online learning more engaging. These elements could include scoring, leader boards, and a rewards system. (Erenli, 2013) For example, perhaps a leaderboard is added to a weight loss program. Or perhaps your latest running app has you running from zombies rather than training for a 5k. Gamification has been incorporated aggressively into a lot of eLearning to increase engagement. Even many LMS platforms now come with gamification features to incorporate gaming elements into the learning experience.

Who Provides eLearning?

One commonly misunderstood component of eLearning is who is offering it. Often these different groups are siloed from each other. These groups may disagree about what eLearning is, how best to use it, and approach it completely differently. While many continue to debate, we argue that all electronic learning IS eLearning. Here’s the top eLearning providers.


Businesses are hugely invested into eLearning and have been for a while. They realized long ago that eLearning allows them to reach a larger audience at a margin of the cost. eLearning is often self-paced as well, giving flexibility for many different employees, hired at many different times.

Many businesses use eLearning primarily for onboarding, change management, and compliance/legal requirements. Some have continued to invest into eLearning for ongoing employee development as well. 

When a business uses eLearning, most often they are using self-paced online courses, videos, and virtual resources (such as knowledge bases).

Primary/Post-Secondary Formal Education

In the past, formal education relied almost solely on in-person instruction for learning. Over the past decade eLearning has slowly been introduced as a blended offering to support in-person instruction. The recent pandemic rapidly increased the amount of eLearning used by formal education. Almost instantly schools were required to move all instruction completely remote. Many eLearning resources were added or more widely utilized. Instructors and schools scrambled to find solutions to create a completely remote solution using eLearning technology. This experience left a sour taste in the mouth of some educators, and many have been able to transition back to in-person instruction. However, these changes have likely permanently affected eLearning in formal education. 

More than ever, formal education is relying on eLearning for blended learning support. Many supporting eLearning tools have become standard practice including virtual field trips, educational games for children, and e-textbooks. In addition, there has been a sharp increase in the number of formal schools offering education completely online.

When primary/post-secondary education uses eLearning, most often they are using virtual presentations and teaching, online quizzing/testing, and videos.


An infopreneur is “an entrepreneur who makes money selling information.” (Lahm & Stowe, 2011) Think about a PhD who specializes in a particular topic and wants to sell their knowledge to the wider audience using different mediums. This may include physical goods such as books, reports, and manuals. It may also include eLearning materials such as videos, online courses, and podcasts. 

More informally, you may consider content creators on social media platforms who specialize in a particular subject. There are many examples of YouTube channels devoted entirely to teaching you about almost any subject.

Infopreneurs often face the challenge of knowing a topic well, but not specializing in the distribution of those different mediums. Infopreneurs may hire instructional designers to help create and distribute information into eLearning materials. They may also work with producers to create videos for social media, or audio for podcasts.

When infopreneurs use eLearning most often they are using methods designed for a wide audience of personal users such as videos, mobile learning, and podcasts.


Business conferences specialize in connecting like-minded businesses to each other to network, sell goods, learn, and exchange best practices. Recently, the pandemic interrupted this industry massively. Unable to meet in-person at exotic hotels, conferences were required to rapidly consider a way to continue their business from a distance. 

Conference providers shifted their entire meeting platform online, and now virtual conferences have become a new standard practice in the business environment. While some conferences have started to meet in-person, we expect that virtual conferences are here to stay.

When conferences use eLearning, most often they have used virtual speakers and video.

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What’s Next for eLearning

eLearning and educational technology are growing industries that are not expected to stop. Continually learners are relying more and more on accessibility of information through formal and informal education. We expect to see these changes in the future:

More Mobile

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Mobile learning apps were immediately available when smartphones emerged, but we anticipate that more businesses will investigate ways to provide mobile learning specific to a company’s internal policies and procedures. Giving employees the accessibility of learning how to do a specific job on their phone is still evolving but expected to grow.

More Video

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Social media platforms (such as TikTok and YouTube) have created a culture of short and engaging videos. Attention spans of learners are trending down, with an expectation of quick results and not wasting time. Business and formal educational eLearning has lagged behind social media in producing videos due to high production costs, but the accessibility of creating videos more easily will likely change this. It’s expected that video will be the ongoing standard of expectation for learners, and eLearning producers will need to catch up.

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More Reading

You read that right. In the past, eLearning producers veered away from putting too much text in a digital format. A belief was that it was harder to read, and learners were too distracted. Now we have grown increasingly used to reading online and using devices. Rather than clicking “Next” 30 times through an online course, perhaps in the future our online training will be a quick 10 minute read on our phones.


eLearning, or electronic learning, is here to stay. It also entails more than you may initially think! It’s not just online courses, but also videos, podcasts, online quizzing/testing, mobile learning, virtual reality, and more.

The accessibility of eLearning technologies has made it easier for eLearning providers to produce it. Businesses, formal education, infopreneurs, and conferences are just some of the providers that will continue to leverage technology going forward. 

For the future of eLearning, it’s best to look at social media. Social media is organic in nature, and reveals that currently we love short valuable videos, a good read, and using our phones. These are all trends we expect to shape the future of eLearning.


Erenli, K. (2013). The Impact of Gamification - Recommending Education Scenarios. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (ijet), 8(2013), 15-21. Retrieved 7 8, 2021, from https://online-journals.org/index.php/i-jet/article/view/2320

Heinze, A., & Procter, C. (2006). Online Communication and. Journal of Information Technology Education, 1.

Lahm, R. J., & Stowe, C. R. (2011). "Infopreneurship": Roots, Evolution, and Revolution. The Entrepreneurial Executive, 16, 107. Retrieved 7 8, 2021, from https://questia.com/library/journal/1g1-263157525/infopreneurship-roots-evolution-and-revolution

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Nicole Boswell

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