What Is eLearning? Everything You Need To Know

eLearning is the delivery of training materials through electronic (and digital) resources that has grown in popularity as a means of facilitating learning experiences.

eLearning programs come in a variety of formats that fall under one of three main types:

  • Synchronous
  • Asynchronous
  • Blended Learning

Think about the last time you learned something new; whether it was a new computer program, onboarding at a new organization, or taking a new class. More likely than not, you used some kind of eLearning tool to facilitate your learning experience.

eLearning training is not only a growing trend, but it has quickly become a staple in the learning and development space whether it’s used on its own or in conjunction with traditional learning practices.

In this article, we will cover the basics of eLearning, including what eLearning is, the top tools to use, and the advantages and disadvantages of eLearning training programs.

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What is eLearning and Why is it Popular?

Electronic Learning, more commonly referred to as eLearning, is a broad term used to describe the delivery of training materials through electronic (and digital) resources.

As you can imagine, the idea of eLearning started in the early 2000s with the introduction of consumers using the internet and electronic devices. The definition has grown with technological advances, from dial-up internet, DVDs, and AOL chat rooms to web conferencing, self-paced modules, and virtual reality.

In today’s day and age, eLearning can be hosted online or through a local network and commonly uses a Learning Management System (LMS). The content can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including interactive modules, videos, podcasts, slideshows, documents, webinars, and more. As our technology grows and changes, so do our options to share information.

eLearning has grown in popularity because it expands the possibilities to create interesting and engaging educational content. In 2017, approximately 77% of US corporations used online learning and 98% plan to incorporate it into their program by 2020. 

There are many reasons that eLearning is so popular:

  • You can build automation to reduce the number of man-hours needed from an instructor
  • Digital platforms allow the creation of more engaging content that will keep the learner interested
  • Online platforms give the instructor and the learners more flexibility to participate at different locations and times
  • Using digital platforms is actually considered eco-friendly because learners don’t need to travel to attend the lessons

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Types of Tools to Consider

There are three main types of learning: Synchronous, Asynchronous, and Blended, each of these have their own set of tools and practices. While some eLearning tools may lend themselves better for training topics, it really comes down to knowing your subject matter and audience.

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous Learning refers to teaching a group of people at the same time. Think of a group of learners sitting in a classroom together. With eLearning training, you may have a virtual classroom of learners or have learners participate on a message board.

Popular tools for Synchronous eLearning include:

  • Virtual Classrooms
  • Online Chats
  • Video conferencing
  • Live Session/Webinar
  • Live Whiteboards
  • Online Collaboration Tools
  • Audio Conferencing

Synchronous eLearning is a great choice for your learning and development program to encourage interaction between learners and provide quick feedback from the instructor. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get a group of people to commit to attending a training session at the same time. This is where Asynchronous eLearning can help!

Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous Learning refers to teaching a group of people at their own pace and on their own schedules. Think of a department of employees watching an educational video on their own when they have a break between meetings. With eLearning, you can program self-paced learning modules or download a podcast to listen while you drive.

Popular tools for Asynchronous eLearning include:

  • Self-Paced Modules
  • Discussion Groups
  • Message Boards/Forums
  • Prerecorded Video and Audio

Asynchronous eLearning is a great choice for your learning and development program to allow learners to work at their own pace and around their own schedules. Unfortunately, some people may have a difficult time using the technology or they may find it isolating when they don’t have instant feedback from an instructor. Lucky enough, Blended Learning can fix these inconveniences. 

Blended Learning

Blended Learning is the best of both worlds as it combines both synchronous and asynchronous styles and tools to create a training program that works for everyone. An example of a blended learning program includes starting with an instructor-led session, then assigning homework that includes completing self-paced modules.

Read More: How Narrative Theory Can Be Used for Learning


Custom-Built or Off-the-Shelf Programs: Which is Best?

With the growing popularity and heavy demand for eLearning training programs, there are two routes you can take to develop your own program: a custom-built program or an off-the-shelf solution. Both have their place in the market, as well as problems to solve. As a program builder and provider, you need to decide which solution is right for you.

Custom Built eLearning

A custom-built platform may be necessary for training programs that are unique to an organization’s planning or processes. An organization may want a custom program to have more control over the branding, content, look, and functions of the platform.

While a custom-built eLearning platform may involve a higher implementation cost, the ROI can be higher with more functionality, employee retention, and use over time. The key to success with a custom-built eLearning platform is to find the right partner.

Off-The-Shelf eLearning

An off-the-shelf platform may be a good option for organizations that have a shorter deadline and need to train on common topics, such as team building, management skills, or Microsoft Office.

While the cost may be lower, when choosing an off-the-shelf product, you lose some customization abilities and must stay within the capabilities of the platform.


Pros and Cons of eLearning

We touched on why eLearning is growing in popularity, but now let’s dive into some of the most popular advantages and disadvantages.


  • Cost-Effective – Many eLearning programs need an initial start-up cost, but you can increase your ROI rather quickly when you run more learners through an eLearning program.
  • Time Efficient – Employees can take part in eLearning when it’s convenient for them, including after hours, weekends, or even between meetings. In addition, instructors can create content on their own schedule and post it to your eLearning platform.
  • Facilitated From Anywhere – Whether you are utilizing a synchronous or asynchronous style, the best advantage to eLearning is that you can utilize eLearning platforms from anywhere


  • Isolation – Not everyone learns best in front of a screen as some learners thrive on face-to-face interactions with their peers and instructor. Some learners can find online learning to be isolating and lonely.
  • Self-Pacing Requires Self-Discipline – When you have a self-paced eLearning platform, it may be difficult to motivate your learners to log in and finish their program. This can be helped by instituting deadlines, offering rewards, adding gamification, and using engaging content.
  • Technology Troubleshooting – Whether it’s remembering your password or just getting to the right place, some people are not comfortable using technology. 

Read More: How To Make eLearning More Learner-Centric


Is eLearning Training Right for You?

We covered everything you need to know to get started with eLearning, including what eLearning is, types of eLearning, and what the advantages and disadvantages of eLearning are. So now it’s time to ask, “Is eLearning right for you?”