E-learning design UK — what commercial training providers should consider when starting out in online learning

E-learning design UK

In recent months we’ve been having lots of conversations about e-learning design principles with a variety of commercial training providers. Conversations have focused around what they should do to ‘get online’ or ‘get into e-learning’. By e-learning design we mean the entire training content, technologies, systems and processes that would be needed for your organisation to become a fully fledged e-learning training provider. 

This e-learning design article includes the following topics:

Introduction — understanding the needs of commercial training providers

We focus on e-learning design UK because we love to meet the teams we work with and get to know the intricacies of their businesses and goals. We’ve found that the main reasons for commercial training providers wanting to tackle the ‘murky waters’ of e-learning design and getting online has been to:

  • Keep pace with their competitors
  • Reduce the delivery and fulfilment costs of their traditional training solutions
  • Expand into overseas markets
  • (And my personal favourite…) ‘Make money while they sleep’ through automated online purchases and online delivery of their courses.
Many of the training organisations we’ve been talking to have a well-established training business of some kind, whether it’s face-to-face training, management consultancy or distance learning. But the underlying challenge they face is they have little or no experience of online training or many e-learning design principles. Sound familiar?

These commercial training providers have a sense they will need to do some e-learning design and development work to adapt their training materials to make them suitable for e-learning — but they’re not sure how to do it, what tools to use and what is ‘fit for purpose’ in the online world of e-learning. They know they need a learning platform of some kind in order to organise, sell, deliver and provide a full audit trail for their training materials — but they don’t necessarily know where to start because ‘they’re not technical’. They know they’re going to need to invest capital in e-learning design and development, as well as some blood, sweat and tears in order to get to where they want to be — but they genuinely don’t know where to begin. 

This article is an introduction to what you’ll need to consider when starting out in the e-learning design process and creating your commercial online training or e-learning business.

Just like building any other type of business it takes careful thought, planning, execution and effort! We’re not pretending we have all the answers because there is no magic wand we can wave. But we are here to guide you through e-learning design principles that are based on a whole lot of experience working with other commercial training providers who have successfully expanded into the online world of e-learning and grown their businesses.

E-learning design UK — where do you want to take your training business and why?

If you’re considering taking your training online and entering the world of e-learning design, the first question that you should be asking yourself is why? Is it to:

  • Capitalise on your thought and industry leadership via online monetisation?
  • Capitalise on your existing resources via online monetisation?
  • Extend your geographical reach and open up new markets and overseas partnerships?
  • Expand into lower cost, replicable, higher volume product sales?
  • Reduce delivery costs of existing courses by enabling parts of courses to be online?
  • Adopt a blended learning approach (part classroom, part e-learning and possibly part webinar) into your products and services so that you have a number of tiered solutions on offer? (For example, your attendance courses may not necessarily be for everyone immediately. Either for personal reasons and/or cost, an individual might be inclined to try an e-learning programme instead. If the person finds the ‘taster’ e-learning programme useful then they might consider your attendance courses or other services)
  • Offer ‘free’ resources to attract interest in order to subsequently signpost that audience to your higher value services?
  • Transition your current business into an entirely online business model?
  • Is it to ‘make money while you sleep’?
  • All of the above and more?

Having a clear picture of ‘why’ you’re doing something, will help you focus on what you need to do. This includes, the must do’s, the should do’s and the could do’s.

11 considerations for your e-learning design journey

You probably already have some existing training resources. These might include PowerPoint files, videos, brochures, quiz sheets, survey feedback forms and more — but how are you going to package them into online courses? What platform are you going to use to deliver the courses and who's going to buy them?

It can be so easy to underestimate what needs to go into e-learning design and development, and the amount of effort that’s required in order to deliver a successful online training service. Perhaps the three key elements we often see missing when an organisation sets out on this type of journey are:

  • Lack of a commercially focused plan (objectives, financials, resources)
  • Lack of clear lines of ‘product’ ownership
  • Underestimation of skills and tools required

The following 11 points provide a brief overview of the types of areas that you should really consider in your e-learning design and development journey.

1. E-learning design and a commercial mindset

We’ve seen online training providers try and fail for a variety of reasons, but by far the biggest reason is a lack of commercial focus. If an online training service is to succeed it needs to pay for itself ‘at some point’ and ultimately begin to contribute towards the income of your business. Hence a basic business plan is a must. What are you going to sell, how many will you sell, who will you sell them to, and what is the cost of delivery? There are other suggestions on ways to monetise that are perhaps not so immediately obvious in this article on 'how to monetise your knowledge'.

2. E-learning design and your learning platform

Once you know where you want to get to, and why you want to get there, then you’ll need to start looking at some costs for your online learning business plan. One of those costs will be your e-learning delivery and management platform. This article isn’t about choosing an LMS learning platform but here are guidance and considerations for what you may or may not need in our article, 'What is a learning platform and a template to help you choose one'. 

3. Ownership and accountability requirements in the e-learning design process

Too often we see ‘management by silo’ approaches to these types of service launches, and it does not work. Your new service needs internal ownership (The Service Manager) who is accountable to all stakeholders.

Your new online training service is likely to be comprised of multiple individual product elements. Each of these products will have someone responsible for delivering them to the overall Service Manager. For example, a Product Manager may be responsible for some or all of the following example products:

  • The actual Learning Platform (Learning Management System)
  • Blended Learning Solutions
  • Online Tutoring
  • E-Learning Programmes
  • Videos
  • CPD Accreditation and/or certification

You need somebody to own the entire online service solution because this is a new product, and possibly even a new business for your organisation. In our experience, projects of this nature are not successful without focus and clear lines of internal ownership.

4. Your online methodology and how it can impact e-learning design and development

Your requirements are likely to be extremely varied, ranging from the re-purposing of existing resources (video or Powerpoint) into online training products, to perhaps offering blended training solutions that can include online webinar tutorial sessions and also online classroom sessions as part of the course.

As a result of this you’ll likely need different skill-sets to those that you currently have because not all of your training products will follow the same authoring and/or production methodology. 

If you’re a large enough organisation you can probably employ staff or contractors to bring in those extra skills. If not, then seek out some partners, maybe even people who are prepared to commit some of their resources and skills, in return for a revenue share on future sales of the new online training products.

5. Authoring and production tools related to e-learning design

The type(s) of online training products you decide to sell will ultimately determine what production tools you will need to use for content authoring or for re-purposing your existing resources into e-learning products. For example:

  • Re-purposing existing PowerPoint slides into e-learning programmes may be possible, but will you need voice-overs? Do you have a script? Who will be the voice? What tools are available to help you achieve this?
  • If you are offering videos, are they in the correct format for delivery and tracking? Do you need to modularise the videos into bite sized chunks? What else do you need to turn the raw video into a product? (For example, images for the catalogue? Supporting PDF files? Course instructions and learning outcomes? Etc.) What tools are available to help you achieve all of this?
  • If you’re creating e-learning programmes from scratch then what tools will you use?
  • What elements of the above can or will you do ‘in house’ and what elements will need to be outsourced?
  • Do the online programmes need quizzes to check user engagement or ‘pass’ points? Do those quizzes exist or will someone need to write them? Will you be issuing certificates?
  • For accredited programmes of any kind you will need to consider the re-accreditation processes and any costs of the awarding body.

6. Payment gateways and e-learning design

If you’re going to be selling direct from the online learning platform catalogue then it will need to be connected to your payment gateway provider, such as PayPal, SagePay and numerous others available. 

If you don’t currently have a payment gateway provider then you’ll need to set up an account. The type of account you set up will be somewhat dependent upon the volume of sales that you anticipate making, so it is important to give that some thought. 

Once you have an account, your LMS learning platform provider will be able to hook up your LMS catalogue, so that the payments for all of your online sales go straight into your account — even while you're sleeping!

7. Business System Integration using API’s

In many cases where business systems such as HR management, CRM or training records systems are already in place within your organisation, it can be useful to scope in some form of ‘system integration’ into your e-learning design process. This can be done using API’s which can enhance productivity and reduce duplication of effort. This 'non-techinical guide to API’s' goes into more detail. 

8. E-learning design authoring and production expertise — internal, external or both?

External authoring and production can be costly, even if your authored content already exists in some form. However, having an existing training course does not automatically mean that you have a ready-made course that is fit for the purpose of e-learning. 

Quite often there are internal human resources available within your organisation who have the appropriate skill-sets to author and/or produce or re-purpose content. More often than not this process is a case of understanding what tools are available, and aligning the tools to the person undertaking the work, and providing any training support they need. 

Where blended learning solutions are required, this often needs more thought and expertise as to what can be delivered online, and how, and what is not suited to being delivered online.  

If you need to bring in external assistance at the beginning of your journey then seek out the type of assistance that will transfer their skills and knowledge to your own internal teams over time. 

9. Administration support for your learning platform

The e-learning design process is not complete without considering the administrative elements of your LMS. Once you learning platform is ‘up and running’ it will still need someone within your organisation to administer things on a day to day basis. The LMS Administrator won’t need to have programming skills, but they will need to be reasonably competent in administering an online system in order to set up new customer accounts, create new user profiles, add and remove training courses, etc.

If you’re a small organisation, then ask your LMS supplier if they can help you with that type of support, either on a regular basis or ad-hoc. We offer that service here at In2itive and other suppliers may offer that service too.

10. Walk before you can run

Another mistake that we encounter in the e-learning start-up design process is that organisations often try to do everything at once. We always recommend starting simple. Begin with training products that can perhaps generate immediate online sales revenue through their wider appeal. Do not try and create all of your courses before launching your service. You will learn as you go along and if you make errors in judgement at the start it’s far better just to have to correct those errors on one or two courses instead of a whole batch of courses.

11. Marketing and sales are key factors in successful e-learning design

Contrary to a lot of assumptions we hear, just because your training is going online as e-learning products doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for users to find them. There are over 1 billion websites in the world so if you’re hoping you can, “build it then they will come” then you’re heading for disappointment.

People will still need to find your online training or to be told it’s there. The benefits of your training will still need to be explained clearly. Afterall it’s a product just like any other, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking it will ‘sell itself’. Like all things good, it will take effort.

If your training products are going online then it’s likely that your marketing efforts need to be predominantly digital too. So investigate what options are likely to work for your products. Get yourself up to speed on the basics so that you can at least have a conversation with digital marketers about what you’re planning to do. We did exactly the same thing here at In2itive a couple of years ago with our marketing partner and have never looked back.

What’s next in your e-learning design journey?

Having considered all the above factors, we recommend you spend some time looking at what you have right now in terms of training assets, digital resources, in-house skills and expertise. Also spend time with your leadership team in order to understand your business objectives and where you want to be in 1, 3 and 5 years from now.
  • What are the strategic objectives
  • What’s the budget for the online training service?
  • What income do you want or need back from the service?

If you’re strapped for time (but not money) then think about bringing in an external consultant for a day or two. This could be an integral part of your e-learning design process as a consultant can look at what already exists within your own organisation and what you might need to bring in (or outsource) in order to achieve your plans to take your training online.  

If you are looking for external help and guidance then look for an individual or an organisation that has actually built and operated successful commercial services because they will tell things ‘as they are’. They will know what capital, resources, blood, sweat and tears are needed to make things work. They will already have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. They’ll be able to advise you what parts you should look to do ‘in-house’ and be able to recommend the right tools and methodologies to help you to turn your existing digital resources and knowledge into commercially viable e-learning and online training products.

How we can help with your e-learning design

The purpose of this article isn’t to put you off getting into e-learning and online training! At In2itive we love helping companies get online and expand their training businesses so putting you off is far from our goal. This article should be treated as a sanity check. Ask yourself, “Is my business prepared for all the detail and intricacies of the e-learning design journey”?

Whether you are prepared, or whether you’re in investigation and fact finding mode, we’d love to have a chat about your aspirations. give us a call to see if we can help.