Learning & Development

Dec 01, 2021 10 min read

The eLearning series: A practitioner’s take

The author has an experience of 20 years in IT and HR. His work straddles across Competency based HR and Data driven HR. He is a passionate ultra-cyclist and a wannabe IRONMAN and can be often found cycling on the dusty highways of north India.

eLearning doesn't just "happen"! It requires careful planning and implementation.

In the last couple of years since the onset of the pandemic, more and more organizations have looked at eLearning to rapidly upskill and reskill their workforce. While prima facie, eLearning may tick all the proverbial check boxes, execution of a successful eLearning project is equally challenging. This article is an attempt to give the readers a hand on view of the various nuances that an executing team should bear in mind while executing an eLearning project.

  • History and emergence of eLearning

To better understand how eLearning benefits organizations today, it’s helpful to look at its past. The term “eLearning” was first coined by Elliott Maisie in 1999, marking the first time the phrase was used professionally. In the years since, eLearning’s reputation has gone from strength to strength. Some of the factors that have facilitated eLearning in becoming the most popular way to deliver training today include:

Rise of the Internet – In the pre-internet age, many relied on printed manuals, CD-ROMS and other restrictive methods for learning and training. The rise of the internet allowed organizations to discard one-dimensional practices and leverage the flexibility of eLearning.

Development of Multimedia - As newer and newer tools were added to the kitty of eLearning, the ability to integrate elements such as images, videos, audio and graphics became possible. This proved to be a more reliable way of keeping learners engaged compared to traditional learning.

Affordable Digital Devices – eLearning’s popularity hugely soared because of the growing affordability of digital devices. eLearning’s rise further got a shot in arm due to the falling prices of mobile devices.

Well-Built Learning Management Systems - LMS’s have become more and more

sophisticated, evolving from being locally installed to cloud-based systems. Organizations are increasingly applying them to execute many forms of training. There are many things to consider when choosing an LMS; at a minimum it should ensure the functionality and support to meet the organizational and learners’ objectives.

  • What is eLearning? Different generations of eLearning

eLearning, or electronic learning can be defined as the delivery of learning and training through digital resources. Although based on formalized learning, eLearning is provided through electronic devices such as computers, tablets and even cellular phones connected to the internet. This enables the learners to learn

anytime, anywhere without any restrictions. eLearning can be summarized as training, learning, or education delivered online through a computer or any other digital device connected to internet. The whole gamut of eLearning systems can be categorized into 3 generations:

First Generation: These systems just use internet as a medium to deliver learning content. The instructors are in control and conventional educational products and services are deliver via the internet in a new way. For e.g. Putting manuals, text and courses on-line.

Second Generation: These systems use the internet as a new educational environment where products and services have been conceived and designed to tap the learner-drive potential of the Internet. The needs of the learner are given prime importance. Unlike the “text or courses on-line” model, the educational system adapts to the learner.

Third Generation: Internet based learning systems that build on a second generation “learner in control” philosophy while incorporating high band-width learning tools and supports complex simulations, virtual classrooms and other forms of “on-line” collaboration.

  • Different terminologies associated with eLearning

Aparicio, M., Bacao, F., & Oliveira, T. (2016), also listed a host of different terminologies associated with eLearning rooted in the concept Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) (Zinn,2000) and ever evolving. The concept of CAI first appeared in 1955 as a means of teaching problem-solving (Zinn, 2000). Table 1 presents 23 concepts associated with eLearning that belong to the use of computers in learning activities.



Concept Focus


Computer- Assisted


Use of computers with a focus on programming teaching used in various fields like mathematics,engineering, psychology, physics, business administration, statistics.


Computer- Based Education

This concept focuses on the various uses of computer in education.


Computer- Assisted


Subtly different from CBE, this concept focuses on individuals rather than tasks and how computers can assist in problem-solving.


Learning Management


A platform that supports registering services, tracks and delivers content to learners. It also has rich reporting features to track learner progress and assessing results. LMS focuses on contents and teacher/learner interaction.


Computer- Managed Instruction

This concept focusses more on the teacher´s tasks.


Computer- Assisted


CAE concept refers to the use of computer for production of materials’ and the students’ use of the computer in learning.


Electronic Learning

eLearning refers to learning via

electronic sources, different from the physical instructor led trainings and providing interactive distance learning. Fundamental to it is the use of a Web System (either intranet or internet) as a way to access information available, disregarding time and space.


Artificial Learning


Artefacts’ usage as a mediator in learning within a specific environment.




Pessanelli (1993) first envisaged a futuristic way of learning underlining the concept as modular plug-in school. He considered it the first way to fight illiteracy. Drumm & Groom used the concept to conceptualize a cyber mobile library. In m-Learning is the focus is on making the learning class environment as flexible as possible with the use of various learning sources.


Self- Regulatory


Concept’s focus is on the learner’s independent assessment of self-regulatory learning ability.


Computer Support for Collaborative Learning

This concept focuses on using computers as a for facilitating, augmenting, and redefining support learning in groups.


Rich Environments for Active Learning

Concept centered around use of computer focused on student responsibility and initiative. Generative learning activities within authentic learning contexts. Providing assessment strategies and co-operative support.


Mega - University

Concept combining distance learning, higher education, size with the effective use of technology


Computer- Facilitated


As against the constructivist approach this concept focuses on the emulation of teacher driven learning episodes. Grouping applications into functional categories CFL highlights the learning processes outcomes.


Learning Content

Management Systems

Very similar to LMS, LCMS serves as a content Management launch pads for third party content that the organization would either purchase or outsource


Blended Learning

Blended learning mixes different learning environments (face-to-face and distance) with the aim to complement distance learning with face-to-face learning. It uses multimedia for learning purposes.


Connective MOOC

A version of massive open online courses leveraging the philosophy of connectivism and networking, autonomy, diversity, and openness characterized by content made by motivated and autonomous learners.




Focusing on the teaching–learning method, SDL refers to the use of individual ways of learning, leveraging self-strategies of learning. These strategies may or may not include the use of a computer, although SDL may occur even without a computer.


Internet-based Learning


ILM is focused in supporting and improving student learning by the use of internet.


Massive Open Online


Free provisioning and distribution of content courses to a global audience through the internet. It brings together the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in the field of study, and a collection of freely accessible online resources.



A variant of MOOC, it relies on content diffusion, assignments, and peer assessment. These are Learning management systems with high-quality content.


Little Open Online Course.

Focus on the directed instructions from the teacher to the students.


Small Private Online Course

Once again, a variant of MOOC, with usage as a supplement to classroom learning, not as a substitute to the traditional way of teaching.

Table 1

A timeline of the emergence of the eLearning concepts is given below:

  • Similarities and differences between eLearning and traditional training approaches

Before going for a “Big Bang” implementation of eLearning, its always good to be aware of the similarities and differences between eLearning and more traditional types of training. According to Ettinger, A., Holton, V., & Blass, E. (2006), the similarities between eLearning and traditional learning include:

  • As is the case for any training intervention, finding time for eLearning is difficult. The impact on eLearning is greater because it relies a lot on individual motivation.

  • Planning and designing of training programs is very important both in traditional learning and eLearning. However, this is much more important in eLearning since the attention and the interest of the learner once lost can be very difficult to retrieve.

  • Similar to the planning and designing point, return on investment (ROI) applies to all training interventions, however the high investment costs of eLearning may increase the focus on ROI.

According to Ettinger, A., Holton, V., & Blass, E. (2006), the differences between eLearning and traditional learning include:

  • Resistance to eLearning is higher and often very difficult to overcome. In a face-to-face training program, a minor problem can be easily rectified but in eLearning since either the human element will be absent of will be remotely present, even a minor problem is likely to put off the learners completely. Even a small issue will have a huge negative impact in eLearning.

  • In traditional training the trainer is in control and his expertise and teaching style would have a bearing on how effective the training would be however, in eLearning, the outcome is very important on the quality of the content and the user-friendliness of the technology.

  • Staff may fear technology. This may have a big bearing on the success of any eLearning implementation.

eLearning requires a cultural change about how training and learning occurs. Organizations that are mindful and conscious of this requirement are more likely to be successful in getting the desired results with their eLearning initiatives.

  • eLearning Value Chain

Wild, R. H., Griggs, K. A., & Downing, T. (2002) has elucidated an eLearning value chain that represents the eLearning planning process. The elements of the eLearning planning process include determining and preparing organizational readiness (factors pertinent before going online), determining the content appropriate for the organization (content that addresses the goals of knowledge management), determining the appropriate presentation modes (considering factors contributing to effective eLearning) and he actual implementation of eLearning (content and technology infrastructure considerations).

The 4 phases of the value chain are explained as below:

Phase I: Organizational readiness can be summarized by addressing the following issues:

  • Infrastructure: Does a knowledge management infrastructure exist or one needs to be setup afresh?

  • Knowledge Editor: Does the company have a knowledge editor or is the company willing to invest in a knowledge editor?

  • Organizational culture: Does the existing organizational culture encourage and promote knowledge sharing?

  • Employee attitude: Are the employees amenable to share their knowledge with others?

  • Knowledge needs: Have the strategic knowledge needs been identified?

  • Computer usage: What is the level of computer literacy?

  • Technology requirements: Is the company sufficiently wired (computer network wise)?

Phase II: the strategic knowledge requirements of the firm should guide the content to be created for eLearning. The appropriate content for various firms may vary. However, the type of content can be broadly classified:

Tacit knowledge

Explicit knowledge

Deep knowledge

Factual knowledge


How-to knowledge


Incremental knowledge


Source: Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995)

Phase III: The characteristics of effective traditional learning and effective online learning have to be combined to provide a rich and varied presentation environment. This rich and varied environment will satisfy the many content, application and individual needs of learners.

Characteristics of effective traditional learning

Characteristics of online learning

Engage learners fully

eLearning should be interactive

Promote the development of cognitive skills

eLearning should provide the means for repetition and practice

Use learners’ previous experience and existing knowledge

eLearning should provide a selection of presentation styles

Use problems as a stimulus for learning

eLearning content should be relevant and practical

Provide learning activities that encourage co-operation among team members

Information shared through eLearning should be accurate and appropriate

Phase IV: Implementation of online courses require the following.

  • Ready Network: The response time for users, the ability to multicast live video feeds, the mechanism for local of large content files, and the security privileges tied to sensitive content are some of the important network readiness factors to be considered in the implementation phase.

  • Content application software and tools: The right application platform and content tools are necessary to promote successful eLearning. Some of the types of tools are, software to design, develop and manage online courses, software to develop online quizzes and conduct interactive lessons, content development software and tools for integrating the various components.

Learning Map: A learning map links the aspirational knowledge goals of the organization to the knowledge acquisition requirements of its employees to meet the organization’s knowledge objectives.

This article is part of a series on e-Learning. The next article in the series would appear in the March edition of HR Vista.



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  11. https://www.learnupon.com/blog/what-is-elearning/



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