Electronic Learning
Multimedia Learning


Teaching advice focused on multimedia learning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … information
  • Knowing is … using information
  • Learner is … an information processor (individual)
  • Learning is … inputting (and associated computer-based notions, such as processing, storing, and retrieving)
  • Teaching is … transmission (of information)




E-Learning is focused on multimedia learning using digital technologies. E-Learning can be applied to a range of efforts to derive instructional design principles from Cognitive Science research. It is most often associated with Cognitive Load Theory, which is anchored to research into the limitations of working memory, and consequently advice is focused on minimizing distractions and focusing on learner-specific preferences and capacities. Associated discourses include:
  • Augmented Learning (2000s) – a dynamic and highly personalized form of E-Learning in which one’s environment is made to adapt to one’s learning by providing timely experiences (e.g., an appropriate sub-challlenge) and/or focused prompts (e.g., contextual information in a pop-up window) that support sense making and conceptual understanding
  • Interactive Learning (2010s) – a social-networking-based teaching approach, undertaken within urban settings (i.e., with populations sufficient for well-developed digital communications networks, a critical mass of others with common interests, and an accumulation of knowledge specific to the location)
  • Microlearning (Byte-Sized Learning; Episodic LearningOn-Demand Learning) (Theo Hug, 2000s) – Although subject to multiple interpretations and ideological readings, Microlearning is used most often in the context of digital learning environments to refer to strategies of parsing and presenting information in ways intended to increase attention and promote retention. Associated constructs include:
    • Nano Learning (Nano-LearningNanolearning) (2020s) – the “packaging” of a topic of interest or concept into a brief, informative, and easily accessible instructional event (e.g., a short video)
  • Offline Learning – in the context of E-Learning, Offline Learning refers to the possibility of using a course while not being online.
  • Online Learning – a phrase that is used in very many ways, sometimes conflicting, with only one clear point of agreement: learning that involves the use of electronic technologies to access information on the Internet. Beyond that point, commentators vary across such defining details as to whether Online Learning can/should be deliberate or accidental, formal or informal, individual of communal, and synchronous or asynchronous.


While there are a few critical voices associated with E-Learning, most discussions of the topic are uncritically rooted in Cognitivism and linked to the aims and structures of traditional schooling. Consequently, these discussions tend to carry forward a range of uninterrogated and problematic assumptions about what learning is and how it happens. Arguably, the most common advice (e.g., on pacing instruction and attending to learner preference) is little more than familiar practice that has been dressed up as academic insight.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Richard E. Mayer; John Sweller; Roxana Moreno

Status as a Theory of Learning

E-Learning is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

E-Learning is a perspective on teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Some evidence has been gathered to demonstrated that adhering to E-Learning principles (e.g., pacing the teaching to suit the learner and managing the amount of information presented all at once) will positively influence learning. But that should be a surprise to no-one. E-Learning thus fails to meet any of our criteria for a scientific theory.


  • Augmented Learning
  • Interactive Learning
  • Microlearning (Byte-Sized Learning; Episodic Learning; On-Demand Learning)
  • Nano Learning (Nano-Learning; Nanolearning)
  • Offline Learning
  • Online Learning

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “E-Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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