In this article I will explain in simple terms what eLearning is and the basics of how it is created. With 20 years in IT and Education I will bring you up to speed with the basics.
eLearning is simply the providing of learning material in a electronic format. First shortened to E-Learning and now more popularly known as eLearning by google trends. It is a combination of text, audio, video and interactive content for self-paced learning online.
The main topics you need to understand to create eLearning are:
- Course Structure
- Hosting Content
- Creating Content
- Packaging Content
- Tracking & Reporting
- Securing Content
- Making Money
Expanding on these topics will give you a simple understanding of what eLearning is and how you might go about creating and using it.
The structure of your eLearning follows the same structure as the content you make for your classroom. A course is broken down into subjects, and each of those subjects is broken down into lessons. These lessons are made up of different types of content that the the students will interact with. The only difference is that now you are creating this content to be uploaded to a website instead.
When you create your eLearning content you have to have some way to deliver the content to your students. This is typically done by using a website but you could still send the content to them on DVD or USB sticks via snail mail if you wanted too. If the training was of a sensitive nature you might do that via secure mail but for most people a website is what you will use.
The website choices for hosting your content are:
- Third Party
- CMS / LMS
- Custom Website
You can host your content on a Third Party website like Udemy, Skillshare and many others. These websites charge a commission on each course you sell through them depending on whether you market your own courses or whether they market the courses for you. It is worth checking their websites for commission rates prior to committing to using the website. This is the least effort way to host your content though and it means all you need to do is make the course content and upload it. You won’t need to manage a website at all.
Content Management Systems (CMS) and Learning Management Systems(LMS) are the most used for publishing your eLearning on the internet. This way you get 100% of the sale of each course. You have control of the website and can configure it how you want within the constraints of the theme and plugins you use. You don’t have to be a web developer to use a CMS or LMS but you will spend time on setup and maintenance of the website.
For more on CMS and LMS features look at this article What are the Features of a Learning Management System
Finally you can make your own website completely from scratch. This means you are not constrained to an LMS theme or module and can create the website exactly as you want it. Keep in mind though this gives you the best flexibility it means each change will take more time as it is a custom build. You will need a website developer or to develop those skills yourself for this option.
When you create content for eLearning you are creating the building blocks like text, audio, video, exercises, exams and more. Just like a lesson plan for a real live classroom you are breaking the subject you are teaching down into smaller parts as lessons. These lessons can be made up of many content types. Once you have build the lessons for the subject or course you can upload them to your website. There are also software packages that you can package this content together before you load it to your website. We will talk about this in the next section.
For a full list of content types you can use to create your course and lessons look at this article The Ultimate Guide to eLearning Content Types.
We can either upload individual items to our LMS as a video, link or by typing in some text or we can package it into lessons using a third party tool like Articulate Storyline. These eLearning bundling tools allow you to create a how lesson or course in the offline software package and then upload it to the website as a SCORM or TINCAN eLearning package.
This package can then be loaded to any website that is compliant with either Application Programming Interface (API). An API is just a fancy way of saying that the website can run some code to load your training into it automatically. This is done by making your eLearning into a single zipped file in a special format known to the API’s meaning it can load your content in the right way to the website. It also makes it easy to create the eLearning package once and upload it to multiple websites as long as they allow for either API. These course packaging types also tells provides the website with some administration options like when to mark a course and lesson complete and how to grade the package.
For more information on SCORM go to their website here:
For more information on TINCAN go to the website here:
Tracking & Reporting
If you are wanting to track your student progress and have decided to use a CMS or LMS then this happens in two ways. Firstly when you load up your SCORM compliant package you will have the options in the package turned on to tell you LMS how to track progress for each student. You can mark packages as complete when they pass an exam or if they have completed a percentage of the course material. These marks or pass/fail will then be passed back to the LMS to record in the students grade book.
The second option if you are not using SCORM is to set these settings up in the LMS itself for all courses by default. Then on each course you can change away from the default settings if needed. They have the same options that you can mark a course complete with a passing grade from exams or when a certain amount of the content has been reviewed.
If you are using a third party website they will handle all of this for you and will have a predefined mark as completed once you have viewed a percentage of the content. If you are using a custom website you have to build this in yourself.
Reporting on your eLearning package is critical to find out how effectively it is being used. Course completion rate, time to complete, mark breakdowns and more are common metrics for LMS systems for each course. They can also show where students are having problems with the content and if it needs updating or replacing.
On a LMS like Moodle has these built in and if your generally educational plugins for CMS websites do as well. Moodle being the most well know open source Learning Management System it has reports for your courses built in.
For an example of Moodle Reports look at this link:
Moodle Course Reporting
This is vital to any eLearning package that you create as you need to protect your content and only let those who you wish to see it to have access. This means we need some sort of User Level Security and basic Content Security.
User Level Security
No matter where you host your content you need user level security controlled by you. You need to say who has access to your training at any time and be able to manage those students, teachers and administrators. With a Third Party website you only get teacher permissions to manage your own students. With all other hosting options you have full user security.
Can people steal your intellectual property? Once enrolled how is your content protected to stop people downloading the videos, text and audio for instance and reusing it? Most people are not worried about their text content but do build in security on their video and audio content. While there are always ways around such protections like taking a video or picture with a mobile phone of the monitor. You are just trying to make it a little more difficult then right click and download.
If you are using an LMS like Moodle there are plugins that allow for you to protect your embeded videos for instance and the same with audio.
There are heaps of ways of monetizing your eLearning and the first decision you need to make is whether you are going to charge for the course or not.
If you charge for the course then you can use user level security to allow access either automatically or on approval by you after payment. While this is the most commonly used method there are other options as well. Typically you will show some of your content to tease the student to buy so they can see the quality of the training. Because you charged for the training there is a general assumption that they will get support and tutoring with the course as well. Make sure to factor this into your course fee.
If you give the course away for free you can put ads on the website and use affiliate marketing as a way of making money every time someone visits your course. Depending on the audience type this is a great way to make money from your training in a crowded market place. When you don’t charge for the training you also don’t have to provide support of the training so once it is up you don’t have any other work to do.
TIP : Don’t just think putting up a quick website and loading the training will make you money straight away. You will need to create an audience to sell too first. Google does not send you website traffic for at least 6 months from website creation so do some Local Marketing or Google Ads in conjunction with your eLearning launch.