Basic Principles of E-Learning

The term “e-learning” refers to a very broad range of educational opportunities within the electronic world – from “live” classrooms online to self-paced study through a website or a computer program, to courses delivered via email. The various delivery methods serve different purposes for the learner, and learners may do better using a particular method over another. For example, someone who has a high level of self-discipline, coupled with a strong desire to learn may do well in a self-paced study program. Other learners may do better with live interaction through chat groups, message boards, or regular instructor communication to maintain motivation and provide a “real world” feel to e-learning.

Since the term e-Learning is used inconsistently, let’s start with a basic definition. For the purposes of
this discussion, e-Learning is content and instructional methods delivered on a computer (whether on CD-ROM, the Internet, or an intranet), and designed to build knowledge and skills related to individual or organizational goals.

Unlike classroom training, e-Learning is very visible. While much of the classroom experience is packaged in the instructor, and in fact varies from class to class, you can easily see and hear all elements of e-Learning. Everything from screen color to content accuracy to the types of practices is readily available for scrutiny.

With the advancement of technology and increasing availability of high-speed Internet access, it is now possible to earn a degree entirely online or for businesses to provide company-wide training through e-learning. Here are some of the basic questions to ask yourself when designing an e-learning course.

Keep the User Interface Simple

Obviously, e-learning requires an interface between the learner and the technology to facilitate learning. The usability of any e learning initiative can be determined by the ease with which learners can learn their chosen subject without being lost in the confusion of how to use the technology. This is determined by the interface design of the e learning process. The usability and interface design of an e-learning course, therefore, can make or break its success.

Make Learning Interactive

Because e-learning often takes place alone rather than in a classroom, learners will do best if there is some type of interaction. Not only does this make the instruction more interesting, it also promotes learning. Interaction can occur many ways, such as through scheduled chats or interactive lessons. If participants are asked to simply read or listen and regurgitate, the learning experience will not be as successful. Furthermore, because e-learning provides unique interactive experiences, quality programs will take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible.

When you are in a conversation with someone you are expected to listen and respond in a meaningful
way. This requires you to invest attention in what the person is saying, to process it and to generate a
meaningful response. A similar model seems to apply when learners see the e-learning as an engagement
with a social partner – even an inanimate one.

Provide Feedback to the Learner

Learners need to know how they are progressing, and regular feedback informs participants on both their areas of weakness and areas of strength. This allows participants to focus on those areas that need improvement or practice. Again, the delivery method of feedback can vary greatly, from self-testing at regular intervals or direct feedback from an instructor. The key is that feedback needs to be ongoing and consistent. Limiting feedback to a final test or review does not provide the learner with opportunities to individualize learning throughout the program.

Make it Learner-Based

The very nature of e-learning is that it is flexible and is geared toward the needs of the learner – when it is done well, that is. E-learning opportunities need to be flexible in that the learner can access and use the technology at his or her convenience. While interaction with the instructor or other participants may need to be scheduled, the majority of the learning experience should be available at any time.

The technology used also needs to be appropriate for the targeted audience and not too difficult to use. If learners are spending more time trying to learn the delivery method rather that the subject, it is not time well spent. If possible, find a program that allows users to review a demonstration of the delivery prior to signing up for the course.

Learning is based on engagement of the learner with the content of the instruction. Even though learners
know that computers are inanimate, the use of conversational language in the program seems to stimulate very ingrained unconscious social conventions that lead to deeper learning.

Use Audio and Graphics To Engage the Learner

A human being’s working memory has two sub-storage areas — one for visual information and one for phonetic information. One way to stretch the capacity of working memory is to utilize both of these storage

By graphics, I refer to a variety of illustrations including still graphics such as screenshots, line drawings, charts and photographs, and motion graphics such as animation and video. Research has shown that graphics can improve learning. The trick is to use illustrations that are congruent with the instructional message. Images added for entertainment or dramatic can actually depress the learning process!

Audio should be used in situations where overload is likely. For example, if you are watching an animated
demonstration of maybe five or six steps to use a software application, you need to focus your visual resources on the animation. If you have to read text and at the same time watch the animation, overload is
more likely than when you can hear the animation being narrated.

This does not mean that text should never be used. Any words that are needed as reference should be presented in text. Providing a possibility for the learner to print handouts (or read them online) for later reference is a great bonus.


Instructional Design for E-Learning


Today, technology has invaded almost all aspects of our life, for better or for worse. Though technology’s role in our life is debatable to some extent, its happy union with education is definitely something to cheer for. The enhancement of education through proper application of technology is termed as e-learning. Having come of age over the years with drastic leapfrogs in technology, e-learning has today evolved into a great learning platform that is radically different from that of the conventional learning techniques, conceivably in a better way.

Just as there are numerous approaches to conventional teaching, e-learning too has varied approaches to it. Instead of dwelling upon the various approaches to e-learning, I will discuss here one of the most popular one. Widely known as Instructional Systems Design (ISD), it is also known by other names such as Instructional Systems Design & Development (ISDD), the Systems Approach to Training (SAT), or just Instructional Design (ID). Starting with the assessment of a student’s expectations from the courseware, it leads the student through a step by step guide involving the design and development of the training material, and finally allowing the instructor to gauge the efficacy of the program through student assessment.


A combination of some of the most popular definitions of instructional design or systematic design for e-learning gives a crystal clear idea about what it exactly is, and an insight into its core process of learning. At the nucleus of an instructional design approach is the importance it gives to learning instead of technology. Learning requirements and objectives are first analysed, and in conjunction with these needs, a delivery system is developed. The instructional design methodology was first put to use in World War II and became immensely popular in the years thereafter. It found place in corporate training, military training, textbook authoring, and web/computer based learning. A systematic design for e learning entails continuous assessment and response. Instructional Design is based on theoretical and practical research in the areas of cognition, educational psychology, and problem solving. All in all, instructional design is essentially a learning framework that simply organises learning resources to enhance the learning process to reach defined goals.

Advantages of Systematic Approach to E-learning

Unlike a classroom setting for learning, a systematic approach to e-learning benefits the overall training process in more ways than one.

  • It allows individuals other than the instructors, such as other learners, or students wishing to take up the course, to view and weigh up the content, discussions, interactions, etc.
  • It makes objective assessment of e learning quality possible.
  • It guarantees the examination of vital theories through apposite presentation and pertinent learning.
  • It makes e learning process more transparent, thereby bequeathing quality upon it.
  • It immensely helps the students of online programs through good content presentation and interactive sessions.
  • It renders distance learning more effective due to its interactive characteristic and transparency compared to conventional distance learning programs.
  • It provides students with the liberty of picking the instructional framework instead of the instructional framework governing student’s choice of course.
  • It builds a comfortable link between pedagogy and technology, thereby allowing a change in the plan of instruction depending upon the student response, which cannot be achieved by technology alone.
  • It to e learning is enhanced by well organized subject content and well thought out strategies for teaching.
  • It helps in blending the material offered by different instructors and different courseware.
  • It begins and ends with the learner and his experience.

The development of instructional material is a time consuming process and, hence, a major concern. Systematic approach to e learning accelerates the development process to come up with the most effective way of content presentation, and a structure to navigate through the courseware.

Various Models of Systematic Approach to E-learning

A model of any process is a representation of standard occurrences, thus restricting its blind replication in a real life situation. The review of various models of the systematic approach only reiterates the fact that different ones are effective in designing different courses, ranging from a science course to a people management course.

ADDIE – This is an ellipsis of Analyze, Design, Development, Implement, and Evaluate. One of the most popular models of instructional design, it is frequently used by instructors for academic courses.

Dick and Carey Model – It is based on the concept of breaking instructions into modules. The instruction material targets the skills and knowledge that is intended to be taught.

Minimalism – Developed by J.M. Carroll, this model is useful for computer based learning. It emphasizes the importance of meaningful and self contained learning activities, execution of realistic projects by students, error recognition and recovery of training material and a tangible link between training and actual system.

Algo Heuristic Model – It is based on the assumption that all pedagogical activities can be categorized into algorithmic, semi algorithmic, heuristic or semi heuristic. Once a cognitive activity can be put under a certain head, its specific systems act as the foundation of the systematic approach.

Robert Gagne’s Model – This model is considered to be the pioneer, in which many other models find their genesis. It subscribes to the belief that events and categories of learning form a framework that can be used to account the learning conditions.

Epathic Model – A five step design model, it includes – observation, capturing data, reflection and analysis, brainstorming for solutions, and developing prototypes.

Rapid Prototyping Model – Here, learners, and subject matter experts constantly communicate with instructional designers and prototypes in a cyclic manner.


E-learning is plagued with a number of difficulties including high dropout rates, learner resistance, poor learner performance, etc. These glitches can be taken care of through the systematic approach. Its various other benefits make it a unanimous choice for organisations and institutions alike.