What Does a Winning eLearning Strategy Look Like?

Shauna Carson

How is eLearning development approached in your organization? Do you react to each demand as it arises, charting a new course for each program? Or do you have documented objectives and decision-making guidelines for eLearning development?

A winning eLearning strategy is one that states your goals and clearly describes the path you will take to meet them. It provides a deliberate and consistent framework for decision-making. Your organization's eLearning strategy should be documented and available to everyone involved; From learners, to learning developers, to the highest level of management.

Successful strategies may look very different at different organizations, but they should all include the same elements:

  • Goals
  • Audience description
  • Technology
  • Personnel list
  • Content development plan
  • Financial Analysis

Let's take a closer look at these features.

Six Elements of a Winning eLearning Strategy

1. State your goals

A strategy is "a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim". Before you can have a strategy, you must know what you're aiming for. The goals in your eLearning strategy are business goals: global organizational objectives, not learning objectives, the learner-focused aims of specific learning events.

What is the purpose of eLearning in your organization? Are you trying to:

  • Comply with regulatory requirements?
  • Increase customer satisfaction?
  • Improve understanding of an issue in the general population?
  • Facilitate career development among employees?
  • Reduce training costs?
  • Reduce time to productivity in new hires?

You won't be surprised to hear that eLearning strategy goals, like other strategic goals, should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Finally, your strategy document should identify your organization's current position with respect to your goals so progress can be measured accurately.

2. Describe your audience

Audience characteristics are a key factor in determining appropriate eLearning formats. Effective learning material for post-secondary graduates -who have several hours a week to dedicate to training- will not look like effective material for people -who are trying to complete their training during quiet moments at work- with a high school education. When you describe your audience (or audiences, if eLearning will be developed for distinct groups), consider factors such as:

  • Education and literacy levels
  • Fluency in the language of instruction
  • Availability:
    • How much time can learners reasonably devote to a learning item or program?
    • Will learners have a few minutes here and there or longer periods for learning?
    • Are synchronous options possible, or is it necessary for all learning to be asynchronous?
  • Familiarity with any software used for eLearning
  • Device usage: Will learners be using desktop computers, mobile devices, or both? Do they have the devices they need to access material, or will they be provided?
  • Accessibility: A basic level of accessibility is expected today. Do you know how to provide it? Does your audience include people with other needs?

3. List available technology

Your eLearning strategy should list the technologies your organization has chosen to develop and deliver eLearning. The list might include any of the following items:

  • Learning Management System (LMS): supports learning in an organization and provides features like eLearning delivery, progress tracking, reporting and eCommerce
  • Learning Content Management System (LCMS): used to develop, store and manage online courseware
  • Authoring tool: used to create and edit online courseware

4. List personnel

Who can you call on to develop and deliver eLearning? Your personnel roster should include these roles:

  • eLearning sponsor
  • eLearning developers:
    • content developers
    • IT support
  • IT support for learners
  • Instructors/learning support personnel
  • Learning and learning management system administrators

5. Create a content development plan

The content plan is one of the more complex pieces of a good eLearning Strategy, describing:

a. Outsourcing

Will your organization outsource content development, complete it in-house, or use a combination of approaches? If you combine approaches, will you outsource certain aspects of development? For example online development or the writing of learning material? Or will you decide on a project-by-project basis? The eLearning strategy should outline if and when you will use outsourcing and how decisions for each project should be made.

b. Format

eLearning encompasses a variety of formats, ranging from small bites of micolearning to full online modules to blended learning with seminars, modules, webinars, forums and more. Most organizations use multiple formats for various purposes. The eLearning strategy should provide guidelines for selecting appropriate formats for each project. Consider these factors:

  • Audience characteristics: What formats will be most effective in helping the audience you described earlier meet your eLearning goals?
  • Content: What is the best way to convey the learning you're developing? Your audience might prefer microlearning, but if the topic is long and complex it's probably not the best way to deliver it.
  • Updateability: How often will the content need to be updated? An online course might be the best choice from an instructional point of view, but if your content changes monthly and it takes three months to put a full course online, you'll want to consider job aids or short microsegments.
  • Cost: Virtual reality and game-based learning can keep your learners fully engaged, not to mentioned entertained, while they learn. What's not to love about it? The price tag! All organizations have to balance interactivity and other features with budgetary constraints. As always, look to your goals when making these decisions.

c. Information Sourcing

What resources do you have for learning content development, and which ones are preferred? For example, is it more consistent with your goals to reduce development costs by reusing material whenever possible, or will you consult with the latest experts whenever there's a chance to develop something new? Explain the role these sources should play:

  • Existing course material
  • Existing job aids or cheat sheets
  • Manuals
  • Subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Research resources

6. Financial Analysis

There are two parts to an eLearning strategy financial analysis:

a. Budget

If the Learning and Development budget is established up front, it should be included in the eLearning strategy document. The budget section should make clear how each step of the strategy will be funded; Making it possible to achieve the goals listed in the beginning.

b. ROI Calculation

The final step of an effective strategy is measuring success. Did you achieve your goals? And if so, was it worth the cost? This is the time for a Training Program Analysis, as described in our eBook, A Complete Guide to Training Analysis.


A winning eLearning Strategy is centered on the goals specific to your organization. It outlines your aims, resources, situation, and provides a framework for using what you have to get where you want to go. What route is best for you?

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Shauna Carson

Shauna graduated from the University of Toronto in 2002 with a Master of Arts in English before moving home to Calgary to work in the fast-paced, detail-oriented oil and gas industry. Now certified as a technical writer, Shauna is comfortable writing in a variety of styles, and for a variety of audiences.