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The Whole Picture of Elearning

July 22, 2003


Elearning projects fail because the characteristics that need to be addressed aren't...and other characteristics are given too much emphasis. Elearning itself isn’t really a unique field. It’s a combination/extension of many other existing fields. As such, what happens in technology/learning theory/web design/network analysis, etc. impacts and shapes elearning. Want to know where elearning is going? Look at the fields that create it.

This article explores and presents the "Whole Picture of Elearning". The model is intended to be an educational/resource model for individuals involved in planning, managing and developing elearning. The notion of "follow steps 1 - 5 to a successful elearning project" is ridiculous. The best way to succeed with elearning is to understand the landscape, and to make choices based on the unique environment and concerns in the organization where elearning is being implemented. Elearning implementation should be holistic.

The elearnspace website has been designed to allow for greater exploration of the details of the model.

The Whole Picture Model

Successful elearning requires a "whole picture" approach. The diagram below lists the "critical success factors" for elearning within an organization:

  • Starting
  • Doing
  • Enabling
  • Evaluating
  • Managing
  • Resources

It is unreasonable to expect a project to incorporate all aspects presented here, but at minimum, an awareness of how pieces fit together is needed.


Elearning can be initiated program wide in a corporation or institution...or at an individual level with a trainer or instructor. At the enterprise level, the primary needs are determining the value and impact of elearning – strategic assessment, viability and readiness assessment. This is represented by the Starting resource page on the elearnspace website. Categories include: overview (benefits/negatives, what is elearning), beginning (converting to online, integrating technology with teaching), and readiness (organizational, learner, and instructor).


The Enabling stage refers to the teaching and learning technologies used to make any aspect of the learning design, development, and delivery process more efficient. Wikis, blogs, authoring tools, collaboration/groupware tools, social software, are considerations at this level. Technology, in the context of elearning, should enable and provide support for the learning (and resource development) components of the whole picture. Technology is used primarily to increase the effectiveness of learning...or to increase access to learning. Various groupware tools allow people to connect with each other in spite of geographical distances. Authoring tools improve the effectiveness of learning by providing engaging, interactive content.


The third stage of elearning (and where a company spends the bulk of its time after successfully initiating a program) is focused on Doing elearning - designing, developing, delivering, and assessing the learning. At this level, the content is being created, delivered and learning is being assessed. An intense focus on the learner is critical for success. Components of this stage include instructional design, content management, usability, accessibility, learning objects, selection of media, assessment, adoption/promotion, and plagiarism/ethics.


The next stage is Evaluating. Evaluation, in this model, refers to the actual elearning program, not the learners. The elearning initiative is evaluated against the standards defined as important during strategic planning stage. Most corporations will use a variety of techniques (analytics) in evaluating the success of a program. It might be compliance training, ROI, improved business performance, or any other predefined target.


The Managing stage represents the challenges in managing, organizing, and sustaining an elearning initiative. For example, at this level, standards might be a consideration - Which standards to pursue? Or finding a way to stay current on developments in the field. Other categories include: change management, knowledge management, communities, and copyright.


The final category of the elearning model is focused on Resources. Developing technologies (in general – for example EAI) may impact elearning, and awareness of these is important. As well, research and resource sites, are valuable in exploring the full depth of learning. These are also represented in this stage of the model. Resources are divided into two areas: technology and general. This aspect of the model is largely used for reference.

Final Thoughts

The whole picture view of elearning is dynamic - it changes in response to trends in technology and practices. This model will continue to evolve and expand. I would appreciate any feedback.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License