March 10, 2020

What Is eLearning? How eLearning Can Help Your Business

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Tags: HR

You hear it all the time: to keep your edge in a fast-paced, highly competitive world, you must become a lifelong learner.

Business professors love to proclaim this axiom of 21st century workplace culture to freshman classes. They preach the virtues of cultivating a growth mindset. They pontificate about the absolute necessity of continued learning. They tell all of this to scores of young people who will soon be saddled with student loan debt, real-world bills, and all the pressures of new careers. The worst part is, they’re right.

But this truism doesn’t only apply to college students—everyone in every stage of their career should care about continued learning. And thanks to eLearning, it doesn’t have to be as hard as going back to university.

Table of contents

  1. What is eLearning?
  2. What are learning management systems (LMS) and who uses them?
  3. The benefits of using eLearning for your business
  4. Some drawbacks of eLearning
  5. Software recommendations

What is eLearning?

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Electronic learning, or eLearning, is a way for people to take classes, earn certifications, complete trainings, and more via primarily electronic communication. Whether it’s by audio and video lectures, ebooks and PDF reading packets, guided discussion forums, or some other medium, eLearning takes a variety of forms. Today, most eLearning courses utilize a mix of electronic media to deliver learning content.

Electronic learning (eLearning or distance learning)—A way for people to take classes, earn certifications, complete trainings, and more via audio and video lectures, ebooks and PDF readings, discussion forums, or some other type of electronic communication.

I won’t take you on a deep dive into the history of eLearning, but for the sake of this article, know this:

  • People have been engaging in distance learning for a long time. The argument could be made that books were some of the first tools for distance learning, and they’ve been around since at least the first century CE in the form of the Roman codex.
  • The University of Illinois made history in the early 1960s with the creation of Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO), the first computer-based learning program.
  • CALCampus began offering the world’s first proper online class in 1994 (and it looks like they haven’t updated the design of their website since 😅).

The internet has revolutionized eLearning over the past couple decades, and today, hundreds if not thousands of schools and businesses around the world use eLearning. While these programs usually started out as interactive readings administered through custom-built software applications, today’s eLearning courses are provided by learning management systems (LMS).

What are learning management systems (LMS) and who uses them?

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A learning management system (LMS) is a software application that lets users create online courses, host learning materials, administer quizzes and assessments, and award badges. Most LMS platforms can host audio and video, and they might use gamification to motivate students.

Also read: The Best Learning Management Systems of 2019

In today’s software market, LMS solutions usually come bundled within HRIS platforms, but you can also find them within employee engagement software or as standalone solutions.

Major LMS user types and use cases

The most obvious group of LMS software users are educators, but many businesses of all sizes use LMS software too. More and more companies have started to adopt LMS solutions for a number of uses, including:

  • Training employees
  • Facilitating continued learning
  • Reskilling employees

Beyond teaching employees new skills, LMS software can also help boost employee engagement, preserve institutional knowledge, and maintain corporate compliance. There may be some additional use cases outside of these, but broadly speaking, companies can use learning management systems for any situation where employers need to track and assess employees’ progress on a large amount of educational content.

The benefits of using eLearning for your business

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Now that we’ve touched on why and how you might use an LMS solution, let’s take a step back to see why eLearning in general is a good business decision.

  • Convenience. Unlike in-person trainings, workshops, and conferences, eLearning courses can be completed from anywhere with an internet connection and usually on a variety of different devices. Plus, participants can complete courses on their own time, making it much easier for employers to get full participation.
  • Current. Because eLearning courses live online, they are much easier to update. You can replace course content with new recordings and readings without having to create new courses, and quizzes and badges can be revised to reflect updated courses.
  • Cost savings. Companies should also expect to realize significant savings from adopting eLearning. In many cases, eLearning is much more affordable than in-person learning, and this is especially true if your company is providing the learning materials itself. Many eLearning programs now come with HRIS systems, so you may be able to save even more money by bundling your current HRIS with an LMS product.
  • Speed. Because eLearning courses are self-paced, participants can move through courses much faster than they could with traditional learning environments. With traditional learning, instructors must adhere to a constant pace, slowing down in certain places to help students who need extra help. However, eLearning empowers participants to move quickly through the sections they have a good handle on and take the time needed to understand more difficult concepts.

Drawbacks of eLearning

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In many ways, eLearning is a wonderful result of technological advancements, but it’s still far from perfect. Here are a few points you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re considering incorporating eLearning into your company.

  • Lack of qualitative insights. Online courses almost always include quizzes and assessments to ensure that participants retain the information they receive, but these are often limited to true/false and multiple choice questions. Many systems provide the option of asking fill in the blank, short answer, and essay questions, but if you’re taking a massive open online course (MOOC), the chances of you encountering these questions are slim. Hundreds of people can take these classes at a time, and most course administrators don’t have the resources to grade more qualitative submissions.
  • Dishonesty. Many online courses offer the option of having participants sign an honor pledge committing them to only submit original work, but even if you do use this option, it can be impossible to tell whether or not people cheat. Unless you’re an educational institution, you probably won’t have a test proctor to ensure honesty. Depending on the nature of the course, this might not be a huge concern to employers, but it is something to remember if you intend to require an online course for employees.
  • Level of engagement. Since eLearning happens online, you won’t be able to gain other important information that you could gather from meeting with someone in-person. A good software system should display analytics to show you how engaged participants are, but this won’t show you if your material is putting people to sleep or not. If this point is important to you, plan to include a course survey at the end to collect feedback.

Ready to start incorporating eLearning into your business?

Visit our learning management systems page for more information, and use our Product Selection Tool to get your free list of the best LMS software recommendations for you. We’ll ask a few questions to learn about your needs, then we’ll match you with five vendors we think you’ll love. Getting started is easy and takes five minutes or less.