aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

What Makes Online Learning Effective?

Posted by Ellen on September 30, 2009

Isn’t this the million-dollar question? No? A couple hundred thousand, maybe? (Okay.  Maybe the answer is only worth a few hundred dollars.)

Whatever the value, a variation of this question has generated a terrific discussion in the ASTD LinkedIn group. The original post from Donna Gilliland, President of MOSTraining, Inc. read:

“Online Live Training: what challenges do you face? Have you started delivering training live online training yet? If so, which of the following tools to you use?”

She listed:

  • GoToWebinar
  • WebEx
  • Telspan
  • Others? 

Then she asked, “What do you find to be your greatest challenge in training live online?”

Several people chimed in, all of whom seemed to be focused on two key areas:

  • Presenters’ skills
  • Tools/technology

What’s missing here?!?


Yes, I’ll keep preaching this. Yes, my face is blue from repeating it over and over. And no, I’m not tired of repeating myself quite yet.

Why is content so important?

Because if your content doesn’t match the delivery mode, it doesn’t matter how interesting, entertaining, adept, practiced, experienced or knowledgable your instructor/facilitator/trainer is, the online event will fail. Completely.

If your content doesn’t match the delivery mode, it doesn’t matter how many polls, chat and breakout rooms you use, how pretty your slides are, or whether you use phone or VOIP, the online event will fail. Utterly.

So I’ll say it again: your content needs to be presented in a way that enables your learners to learn. Sounds obvious, but failing to do this is the primary reason most online events fail.

Webinars are a great example. They’re easy to conduct and attend, relatively inexpensive, and everyone seems to be offering them. Even when they should be doing something else (see When A Webinar Is a Bad Idea).

Only after you’re sure you have decided on the best delivery mode for the content you’re training should you be thinking about how you’ll handle the technical side of things, and choose the instructor.

Period. End of discussion.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get some pink back into my face 😉

7 Responses to “What Makes Online Learning Effective?”

  1. Donna Gilliland said

    Ellen, I agree with your comment below. Content is one of the reasons why my online training is successful.

    “So I’ll say it again: your content needs to be presented in a way that enables your learners to learn. Sounds obvious, but failing to do this is the primary reason most online events fail.”

    Keep stressing “Content” Ellen because it so true. It is also true that all training is not well suited to an online delivery.

    You have written a great article and I am “online” with your thoughts.

  2. You said it Ellen, Webinars are often too easy to produce, thus quality suffers. If presenters are not careful they can replicate a very bad on-site F2F presentation. Too often the webinar is used as a marketing ploy. Where is the beef? That is too often the question.

  3. Ellen said

    Thanks, Donna and Jon! Hopefully more than the choir is tuned into this particular sermon 🙂

    Do you think part of the issue is the increased blurring of marketing and education? With so many savvy organizations and companies (present company excluded, I’m sure!) using Webinars in particular as a means of marketing their products/services, is the model of how Webinars can be used for effective education and training being lost in the morass of Webinars as marketing tools?

    What do you think?

  4. marvin said

    Having said, there are lots of benefits that you can get from elearning. Those benefits would include: convenience and portability, cost and selection, flexibility, higher retention and many more. This is why there are lots of people prefer getting online education from these e-learning solution companies nowadays.

  5. […] What Makes Online Learning Effective?- aLearning, September 29, 2009 […]

  6. Ken Allan said

    Ha ha ha Ellen!

    Well done and Kia ora!

    There has been war waged on content since last century! Sounds like a long time ago? It’s too damned long! I teach Chemistry. Try teaching THAT subject with a formula that hasn’t the appropriate content – online, elearning, or whatever – and you won’t get very far beyond the equation.

    Ha ha ha! Keep them coming like this one! I like it!

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  7. Ellen said

    Thanks for the comment and encouragement, Ken!

    Does it seem even more difficult to advocate on behalf of content with all the focus on instant communications and networking using social media? Or am I the only one who thinks so?

    If you keep tuning in, Ken, I’ll keep them coming — I promise!

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