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A Simple Guide to Four Popular Online Learning Formats

Are you wondering about which online learning format to choose for your organization? You have arrived at the right place. In this blog, you will get to explore four of the popular online learning formats and their benefits – and the good news is, you can use them simultaneously.

With the pandemic making in-person training a very remote possibility, and globalization of businesses, even organizations relying on classroom training are now looking to online avenues. And if you think online learning will be ineffective due to the absence of an instructor, well most online learning formats such as eLearning and microlearning fill this gap in creative, engaging ways. Virtual instructor-led training (VILT) and social learning offer learners the benefit of human interaction – between peers and between the learner and instructor.

Explore how instructional design strategies in eLearning make up for the absence of an instructor.

And now it’s time to catch a sneak peek of four popular online learning formats.

4 Popular Online Learning Formats

1. Evergreen ‘eLearning’

eLearning, contrary to popular misconceptions isn’t publishing a well-designed classroom PowerPoint deck with an authoring tool, nor is it digital job-aids. eLearning is learning facilitated by technology – for its design, development, deployment, and delivery.

And eLearning can be very easy to start as it can leverage existing classroom training material. Effective eLearning courses make learners active participants and not just screen gazers. They are based on instructional design and adult learning principles, and leverage authoring tools.

With eLearning, you can develop courses once and use them in multiple ways for different learner groups. Rapid eLearning – a faster, leaner form of custom eLearning – helps organizations rollout training with scale, speed, and quality. Check this guide to rapid eLearning for detailed insights on what it is, how it offers creativity in eLearning courses using new-age strategies, and more.

Some characteristics of eLearning:

  • Based on performance-based learning objectives that cascade from organizational goals
  • Needs the involvement of subject matter experts (SMEs) and facilitators
  • Can be designed as standalone courses or a curriculum of modules (on each topic)

Classroom to eLearning Conversion – A Design Plan for Training Managers

2. Maximal ‘Microlearning’

Microlearning is short eLearning courses – each covering one learning objective comprehensively. With microlearning, relevant and concise learning modules can be delivered to learners – for learning or for performance support.

Microlearning is a logical response to today’s fast-paced society and learners driven toward short learning bytes accessible easily. The average attention span of humans is not more than 8 minutes. Since microlearning assets are mobile compatible, it is an effective way to ensure your employees have access to learning whenever needed and can look up what they need without having to sift through bulky books or lengthy eLearning courses. And microlearning isn’t just video or only performance support.

Microlearning modules can be:

  • Used for standalone training
  • Used to offer reinforcement and practice opportunities
  • Components in a blended learning program
  • Designed in several formats – ensuring form follows function

Here are a few example microlearning assets:

  • Microcopy – Contextual messages, daily learning snippets
  • Microlearning videos – micro-lectures, kinetic text-based animations, user generated content
  • Micro challenges – Quizzes, game-based modules, flashcards, simulations
  • Infographics – Statistical, informative, timeline, hierarchical

Microlearning to Boost Your Gen Z Learners Training

3. Vibrant ‘VILT’

Virtual instructor-led training (VILT) is a training approach where the learner and instructor meet at the same time – online through videoconferencing software – though situated in different locations, in a virtual replica of brick-and-mortar classrooms.

If you think a webinar might well take the place of VILT – here’s some food for thought. A webinar is a one-way communication with the presenter doing much of the talking. Participants get to share their opinions, feedback, or answer questions through polls – which doesn’t leave much room for collaboration. The main essence of virtual classrooms – collaboration – is missing in webinars.

Virtual classrooms give participants the opportunity to:

  • Participate and collaborate actively
  • Engage in group activities
  • Share their learning

Popular collaboration activities that can be used in VILT:

  • Chats for textual communication
  • Polls to collect opinions, stimulate recall, or quiz learners
  • ‘Raise hand’ option to ask questions or bring something to the notice of the instructor
  • Annotations to help learners type an answer or pick favorites from a pool of alternatives
  • Breakout rooms or virtual rooms where small groups of learners can meet to discuss, share opinions, participate in group activities. Results and findings from discussions in breakout rooms can be shared in the main session.

VILT: Ways to Overcome its Limitations in Corporate Training

4. Super ‘Social Learning’

Social learning creates a collaborative environment for employees and encourages teamwork. Many organizations are now turning to social media to provide human interaction. It enables employees to collaborate and communicate without any boundaries – with peers and instructors.

Employees can share tips, tricks, and advice with their co-workers – and these can be moderated if needed. Employees can be kept posted about the latest happenings and company news. An LMS can be used to set up chat rooms and discussion forums on various topics or for different teams/functions.

Here are some ideas to use social learning effectively:

  • Create groups in social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook for learners to connect and network.
  • Post announcements about upcoming courses, including easy access links to videos on YouTube.
  • Use the “story” feature of platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook to highlight benefits of the course, key takeaways, etc.
  • Post blogs that quickly brush up information your learners must be acquainted with.
  • Have learners participate in assignments on social media platforms. For instance, ask them to create a story using Twittories or chained through their tweets.
  • Post microlearning resources such as videos, interactive PDFs, infographics in your social media platforms.

Social Learning: Useful Tips for its Application in Online Training

Parting Thoughts

As discussed in the beginning of the blog, you can use these online learning formats seamlessly in a blended learning program – they are not mutually exclusive.


eLearning can be used to provide the theoretical frameworks and learners can then come to the classroom for hands-on practice or a virtual classroom for collaboration and expert guidance. Microlearning modules can be used in spaced intervals to reinforce knowledge and quiz snippets to check recall. All along the way, learners can get updates and discuss the training topic in your designated LinkedIn group.

There are other online training formats you can try such as:

  • Videos
  • Mobile learning
  • Podcasts

And having a learning management system (LMS) will make it easy to host, deliver, and track the status of all these training pieces. If you are looking for an online format to get started with, I would recommend microlearning. Check our eBook on microlearning and get started already! Please share which format you would want to try first and why in the Comments section.