Last updated: 11.07.22

What is e-learning?

E-learning. Digital training. Digital toolbox. Content curation. With so many names – so many different guises – it’s no wonder training managers are asking: what is e-learning?

Since Covid, e-learning has become more popular, with many companies beginning to explore it as an option. Or at least try to, but found it hard to know where to begin!

This article, therefore, is for those who are trying to understand it. We’ll take you back to the basics: we’ll break it down, discuss the different components that can make up e-learning, what it is best used for, and how it can help businesses’ training needs. We’ve also provided links to lots more resources that will help further your understanding.

What is e-learning?

A simple question, with a not-so-simple answer.

E-learning has changed a lot over the years with the development of technology. But in simple terms, any training that is accessed online could be described as e-learning or digital training. It is usually thought to be made up of online courses (or e-learning courses) that the learners access through a learning management system. And though that is still an option, it has changed a lot.  It’s become a lot more flexible and focused on the needs of the learner – it is now both convenient and effective. Instead of just numerous slides of text, it may include video, scenarios, games, or downloadable resources, even AR/VR or social learning. Whatever works best for the topic.

And though most e-learning will include a digital course, it doesn’t have to. Training programmes are now being made up lots of different resources (such as videos, downloadable resources, website links etc) without an online course in sight. That’s most commonly known as ‘content curation’, and comes down to the business having a suitable platform to host a library of resources. There is also the rise in blended programmes, which use both social or face-to-face elements alongside digital elements.

But it’s important to realise that e-learning is a constantly moving picture – as long as technology develops, e-learning will develop too.

To find out more about the components that are used in e-learning, have a read of our Effective Learning Design Guide, in which our Learning Design Experts share their top tips. From using interactive elements in your learning programme to a game to lighten up your content, this guide will help you understand the benefits of each and when best to use them.

Curious to know how technology can be used to enhance complex training needs? Read our article “How digital technology can transform your complex training needs”

You can learn more about blended learning in our article “Let’s blow their socks off: a look at blended training”.

What are the benefits to e-learning?

Thanks to its flexibility, e-learning has many benefits. A significant one is the volume of learners it can reach – it’s perfect for all sizes of groups. This is what a lot of our customers rave about, especially if they are used to holding face-to-face training. One customer, Mission to Seafarers, went from reaching 6,000 in their face-to-face training in a year, to 50,000 in a few months through their digital training!

It’s also cheaper, as there are no costs such as hiring spaces for full days of training. It’s incredibly convenient as well. It not only saves on factors such as travel, but it allows the learner to learn as and when it suits them, and research we carried out in 2021, shows that this is extremely important to the learner. They can dip in and out of it and easily refer back to the content to refresh their memory. No need to lose a day’s work to a training session!

Blockquote Icon
It’s important to realise that e-learning is a constantly moving picture – as long as technology develops, e-learning will develop too.
Blockquote Icon

In what topics is e-learning most effective?

When we think of e-learning, we are likely to automatically think of compliance training. And that is an incredibly effective use of e-learning, but it doesn’t stop there. It is also effectively used for food hygiene, safeguarding, health and safety, leadership and management or personal and professional development.

You could say they’re the most common topics, but we’ve also helped customers create training on climate change, child development, and growth mindset. We’ve even helped develop training to support face-to-face customer service training, and training that taught learners how to use complex pieces of equipment! So, the topics it can support is endless, but it’s important to remember that the effectiveness always comes down to the quality of the design.

What are the downsides to digital learning?

It’s definitely not perfect. There isn’t a tutor you can talk to, and learners lose out on the benefits of learning alongside their peers, such as sharing ideas and asking questions. For these reasons, it’s probably not the best approach to types of training which benefit from discussions, such as workshops, though it can certainly be used to support them. This valuable support is why a blended approach is becoming more popular, especially for larger or complex training programmes.

How can it help your business’s training needs?

If used well, it can help in many ways.

It simplifies training

It helps simplify the training administration. First, it’s easy for the learners as you can easily allocate the courses and away they go! But if the courses are paired up with a suitable learning management system (LMS), you can also easily manage and track the progress of your team.

It’s innovative

It gets the job done. As with any training – digital or face-to-face – it all comes down to the quality, and e-learning that is designed well, that has the learner at the centre of the programme, will help build and embed valuable skills – skills your business can benefit from. Yes, you want training that is flexible and convenient, but it needs to engage and resonate with the learner too – that is vital for its success.

And it’s constantly evolving. The L&D industry is constantly responding to new technology and educational research or insights – the understanding of the forgetting curve, the positive impact of bitesize courses, the importance of choosing the right media type – making e-learning a powerful tool in any training programme.

It’s ‘ready to go’

It can easily be purchased. With many websites (such as our own) offering a wide range of topics, it can be bought as easily as anything else online, which means you can order and allocate your training in the blink of an eye. You can even build your own package too, making sure your training programme covers exactly what you need.

It can be tailored to your needs

Though e-learning can be easily bought ready to go, some businesses want a tailored approach in their training. They want the training to reflect their values, policies, brand and culture, and e-learning can be designed to do that too. Again – it’s all down to its flexibility!


Need a summary of the different training options available? Download our infographic.

Interested to see how we approach e-learning? Check out our guide.