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Blake Beus


Director of Learning Solutions

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5 Essential Elements in Elearning


No two elearning courses are exactly alike. Ideal elearning strategies vary between industries and between companies in those industries. Some training programs are aimed at existing employees, and some for onboarding new employees who have never worked in the company before.

However, all elearning courses have something in common: they are all trying to teach learners as effectively as possible. Here are five essential elements that every program, regardless of industry and audience, should include:

  1. eLearning should engage learners in the learning process
  2. eLearning should show learners why they should care about what they’re learning
  3. eLearning should target specific behaviors that learners need to change or learn
  4. eLearning should account for what learners already know
  5. eLearning should give learners opportunities to practice

Engage Learners

Blogger Karla Gutierrez writes that “The biggest sin you can commit as an instructional designer is to dish out dull and boring content in the name of learning!”

There’s a reason why companies prefer elearning over thick training manuals or PowerPoint. Elearning is engaging in a way that other modes of employee onboarding aren’t. Learners are far more interested in watching a three-minute video than they are in reading 60 pages of small print. They’d rather do a scenario where they can apply their skills than see a presentation on how to theoretically apply those skills.

Generally, elearning should not take a client’s content and regurgitate it in a web-based form. It should add an extra level of engagement—whether that’s through visual design, varied content presentation, media, or something else.

Show Learners Why They Should Care

It’s one thing for learners to be cognitively engaged in a course. A good elearning solution will also have its learners emotionally engaged.

The Association for Talent Development suggests that learners need “to see the benefits of taking five minutes to complete your program.” How will the content of your course help the learner? The company? Maybe even the community? The answers to those questions should be clearly stated—or, better yet, clearly shown. Stories with relatable characters can illustrate consequences, both positive and negative, in a way that is emotionally engaging. Elearning solutions built around such stories will persuade learners that training is worth their time.

Account for Knowledge Already Learned

Elearning shouldn’t talk down to the audience. Training courses aren’t always aimed at new hires; they are often geared towards existing employees with plenty of industry experience. These employees don’t want elearning solutions that cover the basics. They want elearning that starts where their current knowledge ends.

Even when an elearning solution is aimed at new hires, it doesn’t necessarily need to cover all the basics. Although they may not be as experienced as existing employees, new hires are qualified enough to work in the field and shouldn’t be completely clueless.

If an elearning course needs to review a basic concept that most learners would know, then it should acknowledge their previous knowledge.

Target Specific Behaviors

To be effective, elearning must address specific, identifiable behaviors.

For example, if a company wants employees to “be safer,” the elearning solution would need to teach learners the behaviors that lead to the desired safety results. To one company, a “safer” behavior might mean knowing the emergency exit locations. In that company’s course, there could be activities to help learners memorize the location of the exits. Another company would say “safer” behaviors include employees wearing gloves and properly labeling toxic chemicals. That course should teach learners where to find gloves and how mislabeled chemicals can cause accidents and injury in their workplace.

Allow Opportunities for Practice

No matter how engaging an elearning course is, how much it persuades the learner to care, how well it acknowledges the learner’s previous knowledge, or how precisely it targets the behaviors that the learner should know, it won’t be fully effective if it doesn’t allow the learner to practice.

Learners need “ample opportunities for learners to apply what they’ve learned,” according to the Association for Talent Development. Learners won’t remember what they’ve learned if they can’t use it immediately. Also, if learners don’t have an opportunity to get feedback, they may not know if they understood the content correctly.

When possible, practice should mirror real-life experiences. Scenarios, multiple choice questions, and realistic games that accurately represent situations that the learner may eventually face are especially effective.

Remember, although every elearning solution is different, they are more effective when they include these five essential elements.

Author Profile Picture
Blake Beus

Director of Learning Solutions

Read more from Blake Beus

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