What is eLearning?

What is eLearning?

After coming to work for HSI, I was asked in social situations about my new job: “So what do you do?”

At first, I would answer: “I work for HSI Learning Systems…we’re an eLearning provider.”

And each time I was asked the same follow up question: “What’s eLearning?”

When you can’t explain your business in one succinct sentence, it’s time to radio Houston and notify them about a problem.

Here’s Google’s definition:

noun: elearning

  1. learning conducted via electronic media, typically on the Internet.

"successful e-learning depends on the self-motivation of individuals to study effectively"

Back then, it was a question I struggled to respond to because I wasn’t sure how to explain the industry, and had an unsteady grasp on the lexicon of eLearning, computer-based training, online training, etc., etc.

Today, it’s still a good question because eLearning is commonly used by companies that do what we do—safety training online—to describe or explain what they sell.

As a company, “eLearning” was, for years, the word we had used to classify our products and services, just like the rest of the industry. Many experienced Environmental Health and Safety professionals are familiar with the term because they’ve seen the world of occupational health and safety move from analogue to digital. Same goes for instructional design professionals who’ve gone from creating paper assets and PowerPoints for occupational health and safety training, to wielding eLearning authoring tools for development of online, computer-based training. And eLearning is intimately familiar for the dozens of companies and veteran salespeople who’ve been collectively expanding the marketplace over the past two decades.

Where did this word come from?

While, I’m still unsure about its exact etymology, it is reasonable to make a few assumptions about eLearning and where it came from. My best guess, is that eLearning was created by a marketing professional with one of the early online training providers, between 1990—2000, when adding the lowercase letter ‘e’ to almost any word was a common practice for businesses in the tech sector, a signifier of the digital age. Apple has famously used this same device—the one letter prefix—by applying the lowercase letter “i” to product offerings.

To me, coming from the outside of the industry and looking in, the world of online training remains rather small, and eLearning is another relic of the prevailing “inside baseball” mentality. And the only people who understand the term and all that it has come to encompass, are the ones who make or sell eLearning. There are many organizations, such as The eLearning Guild and eLearning Industry, that continue to speak to industry insiders and help the word remain at the forefront of the industry. And there is where I think about the audience, the customer, the people we’re trying to connect all of the wondrous benefits of online training with—what do they think when they read eLearning? What do they find when they search? Does it complicate their journey or simplify it? Is the term connecting with the expressed need of the customer?

My answer, as you may’ve guessed, is no. It is an antiquated term from another age, a small, hybrid word, used to describe what I know to be a much larger product offer. eLearning is a woefully inadequate description for what we do at HSI. Not a fit. Because we market a two-part solution: occupation health and safety courses and safety training management software, alongside of service, training alignment, customer training development, etc.

So rather than learning to love eLearning as a descriptor, I’ve worked to leave it behind, and find a new crystal clear answer for that old dinner party social question: “So what do you do?”

“Online safety training.”

That’s my answer. And it works because that specific phrasing connects everyone I talk to with the industry I work in, the products and services we market, and the market itself.

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