eLearning’s Four Scoping Dimensions

Every situation and course requirement is unique. These four levels encourage us to be concrete and specific about course goals and scope. While seat time is an essential scope driver, level of learning, assessment strategy, level of interactivity, and design elements also affect the scope. During the scoping process, we discuss the options in each dimension, and the implications, pros, and cons. Let’s look briefly at the levels:

Level of Learning

This dimension focuses on the learning outcome and is closely related to the desired business goal and performance outcome. The graphic below summarizes the concept fairly well.

Levels of Learning.png

eLearning for performance is typically more challenging and involved to build than awareness-level content.

Assessment Strategy

Linked closely with the level of learning, the assessment strategy may take many forms. The upside is that all commercially available eLearning authoring platforms pass course completion and assessment/evaluation data to the Learning Management System and most come with at least rudimentary capabilities for learning evaluation. The out of the box capabilities of the authoring platforms generally support most assessment strategies. At the high end though, custom code can be used to create unique and more sophisticated strategies.

Additional considerations:

  • Whether evaluation is required within the course itself (e.g., microlearning may not require knowledge-check evaluation).

  • Whether evaluation methods such as performance assessments, instructor or manager observations, or case-based assessments completed outside the eLearning environment can be used.

Level of Interactivity

The level of interactivity is an important dimension that describes how much control the learner will have over their own learning experience. Cognitive science and experience tell us that the more learner is in control, the more engaged with the content the learner is, and the better the learning outcome becomes. Some types of interactivity are included in commercially available eLearning development software while other, often more sophisticated types, require the use of custom code.


Learners are mainly information receivers and watch, read, and navigate the content, but do not interact with eLearning resources. The eLearning process is linear. 


Learners have some control over their eLearning experience as they are required to make simple interactions with the eLearning material. The eLearning process is most often linear.


Learners are in greater control over the eLearning experience, which is more customized and complex. This level may include complex interactions, basic simulations where the learners “try it” (often in software simulation where the learner completes tasks), simple branching stories, branches with dead-ends, and scenarios.


Learners have substantial control over their eLearning experience, as they are required to fully interact with the eLearning content, make choices to direct their learning, and give feedback. This level may include interactive games, simulated integrative job performance exercises, as well as all the elements of levels 1, 2, and 3 plus enhanced interactivity and levels of sophistication. 

Design Elements

The design element dimension draws attention to the intended look, feel, and emotional engagement with the content. There are many elements to consider. Lower-end design elements take advantage of the authoring platform’s available stock imagery, sounds, etc. Those libraries of images, videos, and graphics are improving all the time. Additionally, there are low-cost, royalty-free options from sites such as iStockphoto. On the higher end, unique, custom elements such as images, sounds, backgrounds, characters, etc. are more expensive, more complex, and more time-consuming to develop and implement.

A word of caution. These design elements can actually create an unwanted cognitive load, limiting the learner’s ability to absorb and learn the content, working against the value of the training. We’ll provide our insights based on learning research to ensure you end up with an effective, engaging learning experience.


Animations can be a valuable eLearning attribute to make your eLearning course more interactive, engaging, and emotionally-centered. 

At the low end, a wide variety of animations are included in most authoring platforms. This type of animation may include content entering, moving around on, or leaving the screen. These serve the vast majority of needs.

Animation of custom actors/characters is more complex and may include an “expert character” (an avatar that serves as an expert “teacher” on the material can act as a touchstone for learning), a visual example (an animated example can help ensure your learners literally see how it would work), or a fully custom animated “cartoon movie” experience (including articulation of limbs and changing facial expressions).

Audio Sound Effects

Providing sound effects is another way to make training realistic, boosting learner engagement. 

Most authoring platforms include a library of stock sounds, e.g., the sound of a computer mouse click or keyboard click. STicking with the out-of-the-box options keeps a lid on

Depending on the situation, sound effects could leverage royalty-free stock sounds, purchased sounds, or custom sounds. A blend of sounds (stock, semi-custom, and custom) can be selected. Additionally, the pervasiveness of sound effects is a consideration.

Audio Voice Over

Giving your eLearning course a voice offers a wide range of advantages, including a boost in user engagement and knowledge retention.

Depending on the situation, voice-over can be used to highlight critical points or to narrate the course. In either event, developing a natural script is essential. Voice talent could one of your subject matter experts or professional talent. Recent improvements in ‘text to voice’ capabilities make it a more and more viable choice.

Background Imagery

The visual appearance of an e-Learning course influences how (or whether) learners engage with it. And since the background image is often the largest image or asset in a course, it’s important to choose one that drives home the content without creating unnecessary distractions and cognitive load.

Authoring platforms often have robust libraries of royalty-free photos, graphics or other art, short videos, graphics, or other artwork. Using these options speeds up development and keeps costs down. Commissioned works such as ‘on location’ photography or custom artwork tend to drive up costs and add time.

Graphic Imagery

When used well, instructional graphics, illustrations, diagrams, infographics, and figures influence the effectiveness of eLearning courses. Organizing or summarizing complex information into digestible graphics often has a positive effect on learning outcomes.

Depending on the need, graphics can range from low-end options from the authoring platform, royalty-free clip art, basic or common illustrations, to the high end, with fully custom graphics and imagery. Additionally, the pervasiveness of graphical imagery is a consideration.

Instructional Flow

The instructional flow of eLearning may be linear or non-linear. Linear flows organize the content with a clear beginning, middle, and end. There may be limited branching in a linear flow. Linear is often at the low end of complexity. Beyond linear is branching. Multiple options are available to the learner and particular paths are followed based on learner decisions. 

Non-linearity refers to learners’ freedom of choice with respect to the order in which eLearning course topics, information, or activities are presented. In this case, the learning path is determined by the learner by selecting an entry point and moving at will throughout the content.

Emerging adaptive learning platforms are adding artificial intelligence-like attributes to non-linear instruction as well.

Photo Imagery

Like graphics, incorporating photos when designing eLearning content can boost learner engagement while making the eLearning course more aesthetically appealing. 

Authoring platforms have libraries of royalty-free stock photos, images, and graphics. Commissioned works such as ‘on location’ photography or custom artwork tend to drive up costs and add time. Additionally, the pervasiveness of photo imagery is a consideration.


Templates refer to the design layouts and repeatable interaction patterns used during the course development process. In large-scale efforts, a library of templates is often created and re-used. Authoring platforms have – and are regularly adding to – a library of templates and interactions available. Often these can be customized to fit unique needs or situations. In high-end situations, where the level of interactivity is very high for example, custom-built templates may be needed.


When produced well and used strategically in eLearning, videos can be great for learner engagement. Research and market evidence continues to support the use of short, show-me videos that efficiently guide learners to a particular outcome. Videos can stand alone or be integrated within a larger eLearning product.

Videos can be used to highlight important points, or as a pervasive element of the training. Video production can range from DIY YouTube-like videos to professionally produced ones. In any case, it’s important that videos are created with high-quality graphics, a concise script, and clear audio narration.