October 12, 2023

What is eLearning? A Comprehensive Guide for Business

Written by
Why is TechnologyAdvice Free?
Tags: HR

Key takeaways

  • Electronic learning, or eLearning, uses technology to teach or train individuals.
  • Organizations can leverage eLearning to facilitate employee training initiatives, such as onboarding, upskilling, or soft skills development.
  • Learning management systems (LMS) can help you create, distribute, and manage eLearning, along with online courses, mentoring software, and skills assessment tools.

Oct. 12, 2023: Jessica Dennis reviewed and rewrote the article for freshness and accuracy. She also rearranged elements on the page and updated the formatting to improve the flow of information.

What is eLearning?

Electronic learning, or eLearning, uses technology to facilitate teaching, training, and learning. eLearning also allows instructors to create and distribute materials digitally and provides on-demand learner access from a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Some of the first eLearning occurred in the 1960s, when universities used intranets for students to access recorded lectures and course materials. Nowadays, technology has transformed and expanded eLearning into a variety of forms, including:

  • Webinars.
  • Online courses.
  • Podcasts.
  • eBooks.
  • Electronic skills assessments.
  • Virtual classrooms.

eLearning is especially attractive to businesses with distributed teams or complicated training requirements because they can update, send, and manage training online. Compared to on-the-job (OTJ) training, in-person classroom lectures, or sessions with consultants, eLearning ensures training consistency and reduces the time trainers and trainees are away from productive work.

eLearning should not be confused with distance learning. While eLearning supports remote employee training, it can also augment in-person training sessions. For instance, you may play a podcast, show a video, or access a website while teaching in front of a class.

In contrast, distance learning uses technology to connect teachers and students in different locations. An example is a student in the U.S. attending a virtual class offered by a U.K.-based university.

Asynchronous eLearning happens when learners engage with training materials — namely eBooks, online courses, blogs, and discussion forums — in their own time. This type of eLearning caters to learners who favor independent, self-paced learning.

Meanwhile, synchronous eLearning interactions occur in real-time. For distributed teams, this happens with the help of video conferencing tools like Zoom and instant messaging platforms like Slack. It also includes in-person classes that use eLearning materials. Because of this, synchronous eLearning tends to be less isolating for learners.

Fixed eLearning refers to eLearning training materials that do not change according to learner preferences or paths. All learners receive the same educational content. For example, your online ladder safety course may be a fixed course that all employees receive to ensure consistency and compliance with OSHA industry training requirements

Meanwhile, adaptive eLearning is dynamic: a course’s learning path and materials change according to the learner. For example, a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training participant can choose to learn more about abstract concepts like unconscious bias or access the training in their primary language. Adaptive eLearning can even use artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend focus areas as students progress.

Examples of eLearning in the workplace

Businesses can use eLearning in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Onboarding training.
  • Professional development.
  • Compliance training.
  • Soft skills training.

Onboarding training

Onboarding is a complicated process that covers preboarding, company orientation, and training. eLearning allows you to simplify this process by adding it as part of your company’s onboarding workflow. Onboarding software, like Kallidus’ Sapling, can automatically issue training to new hires and monitor completion, ensuring employees get the training they need with little oversight from you.

Check out an overview of Kallidus’ onboarding capabilities below:

Professional development

If you’re looking to upskill or reskill employees, eLearning allows employees to develop these skills independently without affecting their day-to-day priorities. For example, SAP SuccessFactors’ LMS module links learning materials to employee goals and development plans.

SAP displays a learning dashboard with an overview of assignments, goals, and development milestones.
Employees can access eLearning courses and materials from SAP SuccessFactors and connect them to individual goals to optimize their professional development. Source: SAP SuccessFactors

Compliance training

Depending on your industry and where your employees live, you may be required to provide training on specific laws or safety practices. eLearning can automatically deliver necessary materials to employees and standardize the training in line with compliance requirements. Plus, most learning management systems, like EdApp, offer pre-built compliance training courses, so you don’t have to develop the materials yourself.

EdApp displays a gallery of compliance training courses for forklift operation, ASSP risk management, electrical safety, and HACCP compliance.
EdApp offers over 1,000 pre-made eLearning courses, including compliance training developed by industry experts. Source: EdApp

Soft skills training

Soft skills are the qualities or abilities that allow you to collaborate with others and complete your work more efficiently or effectively. They include things like communication, teamwork, adaptability, and time management.

Because soft skills take time to become part of someone’s working style, the convenience of eLearning makes it easier to access, learn, and practice these skills. iSpring LMS, for example, lets you create microcourses for your trainees. Employees can engage with these bite-sized lessons daily to build the soft skills needed to succeed in their roles

iSpring's mobile app displays a bank training simulation that tests the learner's communication skills.
iSpring LMS delivers eLearning microlessons, like communication training, to employees via their mobile devices so they can practice their soft skills every day. Source: iSpring

You don’t have to be an enterprise to access an LMS. Explore our Best Learning Management Systems for Small Business to find a solution that can help optimize your smaller team’s learning and development (L&D) efforts.

Benefits of eLearning

Since eLearning takes place in a digital environment, tracking the effectiveness of your eLearning, like course materials and deliverable methods, is significantly easier. For example, an LMS hosting eLearning content monitors employee training engagement, documents completion rates, and reports when to update the content for freshness.

eLearning tools often come with built-in features for assessing employees’ skills and knowledge. For instance, online courses frequently include short quiz checkpoints to evaluate comprehension throughout larger training modules. Then, automatic grading and tracking capabilities allow trainers to spend more time creating effective training content and engaging with learners.

eLearning can also make assessments fun by incorporating gamified elements. Interactive videos, badges, leaderboards, and other effective techniques keep learners engaged and invested in their learning.

With eLearning, you avoid the costs associated with traditional, in-person methods, like hiring teachers or consultants, designating training areas in your workplace, developing content, or printing materials. Instead, with eLearning, you can send pre-made content to employees that they can access on their devices.

If you purchase an LMS to manage your eLearning content, you may have to buy a subscription on a per-user, per-month basis. However, many LMSs include free plans to start. Even without an LMS, you can still access a lot of eLearning content online for free, including videos, podcasts, and courses.

Because eLearning content is entirely digital, distributing and managing training content does not change much as you add on new employees or grow into other regions. 

With traditional, in-person training, you will have to consider the physical materials and the space you need to conduct training as your headcount increases. Training scheduling also becomes more complicated as your company segments into different locations and departments, each with its own training timetables and priorities.

This problem is almost nonexistent with eLearning, since training is delivered directly to employees to access at will. Even if you hire international employees, you can easily adapt your eLearning materials into multiple languages, either with pre-built courses in various languages or automatic translations.

Trainees can access eLearning materials anytime from almost any device with an internet connection. This flexibility gives employees the control to learn on their own schedule and at a pace that works best for them compared to the more rigid schedules and pacing of in-person learning.

Drawbacks of eLearning

Because most eLearning material is shared online, it is quite easy for learners to use the internet to complete assignments, quizzes, and other assessments. As a result, eLearning may worsen knowledge retention or create skills gaps without the proper guardrails in place.

Creating, distributing, and maintaining eLearning content requires specialized hardware and software. Purchasing this equipment can be a significant upfront cost if your company does not already have the right technology to support eLearning.

Likewise, expecting staff to use their personal devices and/or internet connections for eLearning training may be impractical. Employee-owned technology may be less reliable and pose greater security threats, so it’s important to weigh these risks against the cost of investing in company-owned equipment.

eLearning lacks the face-to-face interaction of OTJ and other in-person training methods. Often, this human touch is what makes it easier for us to remember what we learn; social learning is an instrumental part of developing soft skills in particular. Isolation from peers and a lack of in-person instruction can create room for distractions during eLearning courses.

Popular eLearning tools

  • Learning management systems.
  • Mentoring software.
  • Authoring tools.
  • Assessment and tracking tools.
  • Communication tools.

Learning management systems

Learning management systems help you create, distribute, and track employee training. Most solutions allow you to build lessons from scratch using text elements, multimedia, quizzes, assessments, and games, but many also offer libraries of pre-made courses. The most advanced systems also offer automations for tasks like course enrollment as well as analytics to monitor course completion or training effectiveness.

Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of LMS software — innovative blended learning tools, like live virtual classrooms, make it easy to adapt your training programs as your business’s needs change. Plus, LMS developers continue to improve accessibility through multilingual support, SCORM standard lesson sharing, and mobile device compatibility.

Depending on your needs, it may be more valuable to adopt a standalone LMS that integrates with your current HR software. TalentLMS, for example, integrates with platforms like BambooHR to support training throughout the employee life cycle.

See what TalentLMS can do:

Mentoring software

Mentoring software supports coaching and skills development through mentoring relationships. Unlike an LMS, mentoring software does not host, send, or track learning content. Rather, it focuses on pairing employees with internal or external mentors to foster growth in their roles and share resources.

Despite this, mentoring software often works with other organizational eLearning programs by upskilling employees to prepare them for career advancement. MentorcliQ is one example that allows mentors and mentees to meet on any device while tracking development goals.

Check out MentorcliQ’s features:

Authoring tools

eLearning authoring tools are any application or program that helps you develop eLearning courses or other materials. Authoring tools can range from full-scale LMS platforms to simpler tools like Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Docs.

One example of a popular authoring tool is Adobe Captivate. Here, you can create lessons, modify pre-existing templates, and award certificates to employees upon course completion. However, it lacks the tracking and automations of many LMS suites.

Learn more about Adobe Captivate’s authoring tools:

Visit Adobe Captivate

Assessment and tracking tools

Assessments and other learning tools use quizzes, tests, assignments, and projects to test a learner’s knowledge, skills, or competencies in a particular subject. While many LMSs, HR software, online courses, and course authoring tools offer them, standalone assessment tools typically feature more advanced functions like anti-cheating capabilities.

You can use assessment tools for pre-employment skills tests or post-training evaluations. iMocha’s skills test library, for example, allows you to measure an employee’s proficiency in more than 2,500 assessment areas.

Check out an overview of iMocha’s skills proficiency assessments:

Communication tools

One of the most essential aspects of eLearning is the electronic communication platforms that make it possible to connect, collaborate, and share knowledge with instructors, trainees, and peers both synchronously and asynchronously. Chat applications like Slack and Microsoft Teams allow users to create dedicated channels or forums for learners to ask questions and discuss the topics they learn.

Meanwhile, modern video conferencing tools like Google Meet and Zoom enable instructors to host virtual sessions so learners can join and learn from anywhere in the world, instantly.

Find out why Zoom is such a popular LMS integration:

How to choose the right eLearning software

Whether you’re just developing your L&D strategy or looking to scale up an existing training program, eLearning software can help you:

  • Create or adapt lessons from existing company materials.
  • Jumpstart courses using pre-made templates.
  • Sell self-authored SCORM lessons.
  • Distribute and track learning for consistency and compliance.
  • Empower employees to take an active role in their learning and development.

However, no two eLearning solutions are built exactly the same. It’s important to invest in a tool that includes all of the right features, matches your team’s technical expertise, and works with your budget.

Visit our LMS Software Guide to find our expert recommendations and browse a full list of options.

Jessica Dennis Avatar

About the author

Featured LMS partners

1 The Learning Center

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We offer an industry leading performance and learning management experience. Our content is inclusive of soft skill courses and strategic leadership development courses designed to upskill your talent from front line to senior leadership. We provide metrics that drive learning content assignments as well as industry leading analytics to provide solutions to your top HR priorities.

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2 TalentLMS

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Launch training faster than ever before. TalentLMS is easy to use, and even easier to set up. And with training that happens sooner, achieving real ROI won’t be a pipe dream. Engage your learners on a fully-featured LMS that caters to every learning style and helps learning stick. Start training now on the LMS trusted by 70,000+ teams in the US and worldwide. Discover the platform free, no credit card needed.

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3 Absorb LMS

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Empower organizations to provide employees, customers, partners, or members with the knowledge they need to effectively do their job with Absorb LMS. Absorb’s best-in-class interface creates an easy-to-use and dynamic learner and admin LMS experience. Make learning and development your competitive advantage by integrating an award-winning learning management system that combines the power of traditional LMS features with a core focus on user experience.

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