Let’s Stop Asking These 3 Questions About eLearning

As I’ve been working within the eLearning industry over the last 10 years or so, I’ve realized there are some questions about eLearning we should stop asking. And I’m serious! We should take them out back and bury them never to be found again!

What are these “questions about eLearning” I’m talking about? Well, they’re questions that, when asked and answered, usually results in lousy learning experiences and undesirable performance outcomes.

So, here are three questions about eLearning you should stop asking, along with what you should be asking instead. 

Should we build an eLearning course or instructor-led training?

Let's Stop Ask These 3 Questions About eLearning | eLearning Blog | Tim Slade

Whenever I’m working on any learning project, regardless of the topic, the following question is inevitably asked: “Should we create an eLearning course, or do you think this should be an instructor-led training?” 

To be 100% honest, I used to ask this question all the time! Nowadays, when I hear this question, it’s like hearing nails on a chalkboard. You see, I’ve since realized that learning isn’t one thing or another—it’s not a binary choice between eLearning or ILT, a job aid or how-to video. The truth is, learning is a process of experiences, which can and should be as diverse as possible.

So, what questions should you ask instead?

Instead of asking whether the training you’re designing should be an eLearning course or instructor-led training, try asking these questions: 

  • What would be the best modality for teaching these skills?
  • How can we create a blended learning experience for this topic?
  • What considerations (i.e., number of learners, location of learners, etc.) might affect the learning experience we might want to create?

What is the recommended length of an eLearning course?

Let's Stop Ask These 3 Questions About eLearning | eLearning Blog | Tim Slade

Have you ever wondered or asked (or been asked) how long an eLearning should or shouldn’t be? The simple answer is: yes! This is actually a pervasive question that gets asked all the time. In fact, I remember when the general rule was that an eLearning course should be no more than one hour long! This eventually turned into 30 minutes, then 15 minutes, and now it hovers between five and 10 minutes. 

The problem with this question is that it assumes there’s an ideal length for how long learning takes. The truth is, learning takes as long as it needs to take. And as much as it would be convenient to make a one-size-fits-all guideline for eLearning, it always depends on the complexity of the content, the level of masterly you’re looking to achieve through the learning, and how much time your learners can dedicate to the training experience you create.

So, what questions should you ask instead?

Instead of asking how long an eLearning course should or shouldn’t be, try asking these questions:

  • What level of effort will it take for learners to reach the desired level of performance?
  • How much time can learners dedicate to formal training in a single sitting?
  • How can we chunk and structure the information to be as effective as possible?

How long should it take to build one hour of eLearning content?

Let's Stop Ask These 3 Questions About eLearning | eLearning Blog | Tim Slade

This is another question that is regularly asked and debated within our industry. Usually, you see this question asked by corporate learning executives, desperately trying to timebox and budget for the amount of time it takes their teams to build a course and get on to the next one. And, yes, if you do some Googling, you’ll find all sorts of interesting studies, research, and articles on the topic. 

And you want to know what I think? I think most of it is B.S.! Here’s the thing: how long it takes to develop an eLearning course (or any learning) depends on the unique variables you’re currently facing. How complex is the content, and how much of it are you including? How much interactivity are you building into your course? Are you using stock graphics or custom graphics? Will there be audio narration, or will it be a text-based course? What tools are you using to develop the course, and what’s your expertise with these tools? How many people need to review the course, how long will it take them to provide feedback, and how much feedback will they provide? 

As you can see, there are a boatload of variables that can affect how long it takes to develop any course of any duration. 

So, what questions should you ask instead?

Instead of asking how long it will take to build an hour of eLearning content, try asking these questions:

  • What resources will be required to develop the course by the desired delivery date?
  • What constraints (i.e., other projects, vacations, etc.) might affect the delivery of the course?
  • How can we adjust the scope of the project (i.e., the amount of content, the complexity of the design, etc.) to help us meet the desired delivery date?

The Bottom Line

The next time you’re tasked with designing and developing any type of learning experience, whether it be eLearning or something else, avoid asking questions that don’t help really help you make informed decisions and good eLearning.

What are some other questions about eLearning we should stop asking? Share them by commenting below!

Tim Slade
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, and award-winning freelance eLearning designer. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, Tim has been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for his creative and innovative design aesthetics. Tim is a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, is a recognized Articulate Super Hero, author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook and creator of The eLearning Designer's Academy.

17 Responses to “Let’s Stop Asking These 3 Questions About eLearning

  • Sylvia
    1 year ago

    This was a great article, Tim! Thanks!

  • Mike Schwind
    1 year ago

    That’s perfect, Tim! I’ve struggled getting these questions for the past 20 years. And they just won’t go away…. 🙂

    • Thanks, Mike! I’m glad you liked the post! And I’m not sure if these questions will ever go away…but we can keep trying! 🙂

      • Great article Tim, really helpful for a newbie in e-learning development.

        Just finished your ‘E-learning Designers Handbook’ – a really helpful guide and one I am sure I will return to many times in future. Cheers

  • Excellent topic and thank you for addressing it head-on with viable alternative points… great job Tim!

  • Great post, Tim. Your first question resonates with me most. When folks are asking this question it seems like there is a reason to dig in to why they ask it. eLearning is great and often more affordable than ILT, but it isn’t a silver bullet and there are other solutions that can combine to make a great program. Makeing sure you understand why an approach is taken is paramount.

  • Divya Prasad
    1 year ago

    Great Article… Thanks

  • Andy Blake
    1 year ago

    At last, sensible answers to these most common questions. My particular favourite is number 3… Thanks Tim!

  • Mgoods
    1 year ago

    Other questions I hear: Is e-learning as effective as in-person? Can we really expect that they’ll be able to actually do anything after just taking a class?

  • Matt Saavedra
    1 year ago

    For those of us managing training teams with limited resources and competing priorities (which is probably every training team), we have to estimate development time. The point being it is an estimate. Of course variables change from project to project but that doesn’t mean we should not plan and project out development hours to account for time and budget constraints. And for free lance designers the client wants to know how many billable hours they are in for. You just can’t not provide this information.

    • Hey Matt! Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. I completely agree with you! I’m not suggesting that we don’t provide estimates on how long it will take to build an eLearning course. Having worked both positions of leading an instructional design team and working as a freelance eLearning designer, of course I always have to provide my clients estimated development times.

      What I am not a proponent of is providing blanket estimates for how long it takes to develop an hour of eLearning content. What I am suggesting, like you mentioned, is that we should be aiming to provide estimates based on the variables of each unique project. In other words, we should one-sized-fits all estimates are usually unreliable.

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