Revisiting elearning in the Web 2.0 age

Anna Faherty
Anna Faherty is a writer, editor and lecturer in publishing.

A decade or more ago, elearning was heralded by many as the panacea to organisational training needs. The reality? It didn’t live up to the hype. Elearning was too often just a bunch of files uploaded to a website or learning management system; unhappy eye-strained learners read reams of text on screen. Today technology has moved on, and elearning can finally deliver what most learners really want: personalised, interactive, social and mobile learning experiences. So, for anyone who still thinks elearning is dull, disappointing or dead in the water, here are eight tips to debunk your views.


1. It’s learning with benefits

In higher education contexts JISC found that elearning saves lecturer time and improves student pass and retention rates. It enables increased student numbers, opens up new markets for higher education institutions and widens access to those with special educational needs.

In organisational contexts, a white paper by Epic reports that elearning not only reduces the cost of training programmes, it also improves performance and supports collaborative learning and knowledge sharing. Ultimately, Epic say, elearning can deliver competitive advantage by transforming an organisation. This is an approach being taken by one of my own publishing clients, who are using a suite of elearning courses to support their transformation to a digital organisation.


2. It tastes like Martini

Everyone’s talking about delivering information, experiences and entertainment “any time, any place, anywhere”. Elearning can do just that. Learners don’t need to sit in a soul-destroying corporate training room, travel all the way to head office or even take a day out of their busy work schedules. With elearning you can learn from your desk during your lunch hour, from your sofa when you’re working at home or from your hotel room when you’re away on business.


3. It’s personal

One of the biggest downsides of ‘traditional’ classroom learning is that not everyone learns in the same way. Some people like to closely follow detailed instructions, others like to figure things out as they go along. People go at different paces too, and enjoy pursuing their own interests and applications of what they are learning. Good elearning solutions offer a personalised experience, enabling people to learn at their own pace, choose their own paths through a course, make their own notes as they go along and focus on the learning experiences that work best for them.


4. It’s social

We’re all used to sharing thoughts, comments, photos and videos on social networks now. The best elearning solutions use Web 2.0 technology to deliver a social learning experience. You can see what other learners think, learn from how they have tackled questions and challenges and comment on your own learning experience.


5. It’s alive!

In many cases, all this social interaction doesn’t happen in real time. Just like logging onto Facebook, you can see comments that were posted by people who are no longer online. But elearning can happen in real time, making the most of instant messaging or video-conferencing to enable live interaction between learners. My favourite example of this is the National Space Centre’s Mission: Ice Moon experience, where school pupils work from their classroom to communicate with Mission Control in Leicester and handle a crisis in space. In a more grown-up market, new start-up Parliament of Owls use Skype technology to deliver live online masterclasses with creative practitioners. Learners not only hear from a ‘master’, they also get to ask questions and learn from their fellow classmates – even if they are distributed around the world.

Image: Nelson Croom

6. It’s about content as much as experience

With all this whizzy technology, it’s easy to be distracted by the ‘design’ of an elearning course, focusing too much on how to get your learners excited, interacting and socialising. Sure, having an easy to use, interactive resource, which is reliable and well-supported, is an essential ingredient in any elearning course. That’s only half the recipe for success though: research conducted by academics at the University of Ottawa highlights anticipating learner needs, developing appropriate pedagogy and researching and crafting comprehensive and authentic content to be equally important. Of course, if that content’s already out there on the web, elearning helps you make the most of it. You can direct learners to pre-existing text, video or audio material rather than having to start from scratch.


7. It’s compliant

When publishers are slapped with compulsory training orders, the ability to monitor and report on employee registrations and completions of e-learning courses comes into its own. In a less onerous (but still rather Big Brother-ish) context, I’ve found that tracking the progress and responses of students in Kingston University’s new Grammar and Effective Writing course gives useful insights into their interests, learning priorities and problem areas.


8. It’s not a catch-all panacea

Despite all the benefits, and claims that online courses are now the norm, elearning isn’t always the answer. You can learn the components of a bicycle, how it works, the rules of the road and basic cycling etiquette online, but you’d be hard pressed to learn how to actually ride a bike – without going out and doing it. Before you decide to buy or build an elearning resource think carefully about your learning objectives and the parameters your training must operate within. The answer may be elearning, it may be face-face training sessions or – more than likely – it may be a combination of the two, supported as well by on-the-job mentoring and peer-to-peer collaboration.


Anna Faherty is a writer, editor and lecturer in publishing. Her elearning courses for award-winning publisher Nelson Croom are used by a wide range of professionals including Wiley-Blackwell and Pearson Education staff. She is currently writing a suite of six elearning courses on digital publishing for a major global publisher. Anna tweets and blogs at @Mafunyane, and

Until the end of May, friends of BookMachine get 10% off Anna’s Social Media for Professionals, Introduction to Publishing and Making Money Out of Publishing courses, as well as Kingston University’s Grammar and Effective Writing course. Visit for more details.


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