As an instructional curriculum designer for Gift of Life Institute, many people, some friends, my kids often, sometimes, once-in-a-blue-moon ask me what it is that I do. Scurrying for my job description I tell them (in my best announcer’s voice), “For the most part, I’m responsible for developing technology-based learning through the retooling of existing curriculum.”

Translation – I take many of our existing donation/transplantation courses and turn them into eLearning programs.

I’m sure that all of you have come across the term “eLearning,” but perhaps don’t know exactly what it entails. If you fit into this category, then you’ve come to the right place. Hopefully, after reading this blog you won’t have the same glazed look that my kids exhibit after I tell them what I do for a living.

So, What Exactly Is eLearning?

Simple answer: (e)lectronic learning. If you’re over the age of 40, you might also know it as distance learning, or web-based training, or online learning; or, for those of us on the north side of 50, computer-based training. Semantics (and age admittance) aside, a good, general way to think of eLearning is the use of electronic media (computers, tablets, phones, etc.) to educate or train learners.

Most people would recognize a basic eLearning course as a slide-based online activity that contains simple navigation buttons (e.g., Next and Back) and incorporates quizzes with true-false or multiple choice questions.


But not all eLearning courses share the same DNA. For example, an eLearning course could be a software simulation that demonstrates the navigational path through an application, such as an online tutorial on TurboTax. Or, it could be an interactive course that features role-playing and decision-making (e.g., Gift of Life Institute’s “Conducting the Donor Risk Assessment Interview” and “The Donor Physical Assessment”).

How Has eLearning Evolved?

Changes in technology have impacted the types of hardware tools we use. We’ve gone from the exclusive use of desktop computers to a mix of desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Naturally, eLearning has followed suit to span the array of devices we use.

The learner’s way of accessing eLearning has also evolved. It wasn’t too long ago that learners had to add custom applications or download players before they could view course content. This often took time and was beset with challenges for the learner—even before the course started.


In the late nineties, Adobe Flash became the standard for eLearning, which made it easier to view eLearning content. A majority of browsers (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox) come with Flash, so learners can access courses through the Flash player in their browser. However, most mobile devices and tablets are not Flash compatible, so developers are shifting to HTML5 to publish and share eLearning courses.

And Speaking of Sharing

Once you’ve created an eLearning course, you need to distribute it to learners. There are basically two ways to do this:

Informal distribution
Informal distribution of eLearning content typically means users are not tracked for course completion or scored for assessments. One way to informally share an eLearning course is to put it on a web server, then send participants the link and have them view the course.

Formal distribution
Sharing an eLearning course formally means there’s a need to track and record learner participation and assessment results. As we know, AATB, AOPO, CMS, and other donation/transplantation governing bodies require that participation in training (including electronic programs) be documented.

Most organizations that have a need for formal distribution of eLearning have specific systems and standards in place. Tracking is usually done in what’s called a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS refers to software used to administer, track, report, and document the delivery of eLearning courses.

What’s the Value of eLearning?

Although eLearning can’t, and won’t, totally replace traditional classroom training, it does offer a number of benefits:

Real-time access. Live learning events require that those who participate align their schedules to the training calendar. eLearning eliminates this because the course can be accessed anytime, anywhere – well, at least where there’s an online connection.

Freedom to fail. Let’s face it, real learning requires some failure. But no one likes to fail in a classroom full of other people, especially their peers. eLearning lets the learner fail without fear. This facilitates the exploration and testing of ideas. Worst case, the learner can always start over.

Improved retention. The use of multimedia, including text, graphics, audio, video, and animation can produce a very powerful learning experience. According to Richard E. Mayer, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), “An active part of our memory system is working memory, which is where learning occurs. When graphics, text, video and audio are placed contiguously within an electronic platform, the learner doesn’t have to work as hard to retain the material and is a more efficient learner.” For more information on Mayer’s work, click here.

Ongoing access. If you take a class in the real world and need a refresher, you better hope that you took good notes. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. That’s not the case with eLearning. Ideally, you continue to have access to the online content and resources to brush up on what you learned.

Global reach. eLearning can be placed online and be easily accessed by people around the world. There’s no need for expensive travel or meetings across multiple time zones.

Multiple devices/mobile. Many online courses can work on computers as well as on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. This means eLearning courses can literally be in the hands of the people who need them, at all times.

Some Final eThoughts

As the world becomes more connected and globalized, more people have consistent access to the Internet, computers, smartphones, and other technological devices. When we provide people with learning opportunities on these devices, they can use them to access timely resources and training while on the job. And because eLearning is not bound by geography or time, you can offer on demand opportunities to your employees, constituents, and partners.

Bob Norden is an Instructional Curriculum Designer at Gift of Life Institute in Philadelphia, PA

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