What Makes eLearning Content Indeed Learning?

What Makes eLearning Content Indeed Learning?
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Summary: After seeing a dramatic rise in launching eLearning initiatives over the past two years, we need a reality check. Are our online courses or training programs really brimming with helpful knowledge, valuable insights, and interactivity? Let’s do a little checkup with this article.

Making Truly Educational eLearning Content

What makes eLearning content truly educational? You might consider this question to be simplistic, but don’t we need to check our understanding of what exactly can be proudly called eLearning?

We recently spoke with two training managers about their experience of launching eLearning at an educational center. They were in charge of employee onboarding and shared what their first attempts in the field were like. One thing they said is that their eLearning courses lacked the “learning” part.  They used to include a lot of compliance and procedural materials (who didn’t?), but, as they said, it was just “tick-box” content.

Hearing this was striking. It was incredible how courageously and mindfully those managers accepted the fact that their onboarding course was not sufficient from the learner’s perspective. Yes, their organization sent the training out online, but it was superficial. So, what should have been added?

7 Signs That Your Course Is Truly eLearning (A Partial List)

Here are a few essential indicators that you haven’t missed the learning part while preparing your online training content. Here we go!

It’s Well Structured

If you want to future-proof your online course, make sure to prepare an Instructional Design storyboard and structure materials. A clear outline as the backbone of your course, together with layouts of what will be on the slides, is a must-have. If you have such a map of your course in advance, this will make it easier to communicate knowledge more precisely and connect with the learner better. And it’s so much easier for the brain to learn if information is structured.

Relax, your storyboard doesn’t have to be polished; just make it clear for yourself and your team how you see the content and plan the way it all will look in the end.

It Drives Learner Intention

Here’s the thing about online content in general: we all expect it to be entertaining. Your potential learners see so much fun, colorful, and distracting content daily that it challenges you as an Instructional Designer (ID) to make online courses that will keep up. Capturing and directing the learner’s attention is of paramount importance, and various ID theories address this in great detail.

For the sake of brevity, let’s list the things that help you draw and focus learners’ attention:

  • Appropriate goals and expected results
  • Practical solutions to people’s problems
  • Readable texts, short paragraphs, and headings
  • Questions that ignite thought
  • Images and illustrations
  • Different fonts and contrast to emphasize important information

The key is to create a sense of purpose and show how your course will help learners and the entire organization while not overwhelming or deterring them. The practical value, good structure, and right accents will help you create purposeful eLearning content.

It Fosters Interactivity

Interactive elements in the course make it less of a one-way street and get learners involved in the process. They make it all more immersive and invite learners on a true learning journey.

Remember the four levels of interactivity upon which you can build your course:

  • Passive. This is a more content-based approach interspersed with simple clickable buttons, like navigation buttons, etc.
  • Limited. This may include basic animations, transitions, audio recordings, and links.
  • Moderate. Rich media content with interactive audio, video, triggers, stories, branched scenarios, etc.
  • Full immersion. This type of content grants learners full control over their learning process and the freedom to navigate the content through virtual tours, role-plays, and simulated experiences.

You can choose any level of interactivity that suits your situation and your learners’ needs the most. In this collection of eLearning examples made with iSpring Suite, you can find a bunch of references on how to use interactions in your course.

At the very least, your course should contain clickable and movable objects, like interactive buttons, timelines, guided images, hotspots, etc. It’s also wise to add characters that your learners can interact with. Characters will immerse your learners in the context of learning and facilitate their acquaintance with the topic.

For truly educational eLearning content, it's wise to add characters that your learners can interact with.

You can place them in stylized backgrounds, such as a reception or a work desk, just the way we did in the course made with iSpring Suite. Branching scenarios with characters entice learners into an interactive role-play with different outcomes, depending on the reply. By interacting with a fictional customer, patient, etc., learners make their own choices in a safe-to-fail environment and practice their soft skills.

It Checks Knowledge

It’s essential to assess how learners acquire the knowledge you’ve just covered, so a true eLearning course is inconceivable without some knowledge checks. Make sure you spice your course up with quizzes and mini-games, even when the topic is “serious.” Your course can only benefit if you leave room for engaging true/false, matching, hotspot, or drag-and-drop quizzes. They will ignite your learners’ thinking and make them reflect, which is the lion’s share of learning.

It Engenders A Sense Of Control

eLearning now needs to provide learners with a seamless journey to knowledge, rather than only allowing them to pass through a rigid linear sequence. Ideally, a course should let learners choose their path within the material, thereby personalizing their experience. It’s a win-win situation when your learners can comfortably navigate the course, manipulate playback, adjust lightness, or find a needed piece of knowledge with ease.

A true eLearning course allows learners to work things out for themselves. Action buttons like “Previous” or “Home” and interactive tables of contents and course outlines will make navigation user-friendly and easy to follow. And, of course, don’t forget about branching, which will give learners control over their training process. The freedom to navigate and the self-paced nature of learning can drastically improve the entire learning experience.

It’s Clearly Designed

The message of your course can be truly groundbreaking. But if the course itself is poorly designed, learners will hardly find it thrilling and won’t recall it later. So, bear in mind the importance of the right color, composition, and spacing, as it all adds up to the overall impression of your work.

Good design tends to be simple and clear, and it often manifests in seemingly small details like indents and buttons. As mentioned earlier, the content shouldn’t be overwhelming, and design has a lot to do with it. Avoid cognitive overload by keeping unity in style, using a fixed number of colors, and staying with the same fonts throughout the course.

Good eLearning design tends to be simple and clear.

It may be helpful to do a little checkup. See if your course is balanced in terms of:

  • Color
  • Composition
  • Spacing

“Less is more” seems to be a good operational principle in this regard and will help you avoid cluttered slides. Christopher Pappas said it all in his recent piece about unappealing eLearning design—check it out.

It Facilitates Feedback

You certainly expect buy-in from your learners, don’t you? Ask for their impressions and make them feel seen and heard. Do they feel more aware after completing a certain course? Did they get accustomed to the online learning format? You can include an online survey or a free-form questionnaire at the end of the course so learners can leave feedback.

Another point is to provide timely feedback in the learning process, and it’s great if you can set up instant automated feedback in quizzes so the learner can get some explanation for one answer or another.  It’s helpful to use encouraging notes like “Well done!”, “Not quite, but you’ll nail it next time!” that will prevent learners from feeling isolated. This will also contribute to engagement.


The list above is pretty exhaustive, yet incomplete. The eLearning field is constantly in motion, and so are people’s learning needs. Perhaps this is what makes eLearning special and makes it learning indeed. It requires your constant searching in an endeavor to keep it resilient and vibrant. As those two training managers said, the ultimate goal is to create courses that go beyond compliance but generate real engagement and value. This is definitely learning.

eBook Release: iSpring Suite
iSpring Suite
An all-in-one software solution for creating versatile learning content and teamwork on eLearning projects. Super easy to use; no coding or design skills are required.