eLearning Key Terms

Key Terms

Courseware Structure

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are at the heart of instructional design. Learning Objectives are commonly expressed as questions that the learner should be able to answer or a task that the learner should be able to perform. The learner’s ability to demonstrate mastery of the task or correctly answer the question is evidence that the desired learning has occurred and the organization’s learning objective for that participant has been reached. An initial set of exam questions should be written before training materials are developed. Instructional designers then work with subject matter experts to develop training around these questions/objectives.


A course is a collection of instructional materials and activities such as audio/video lessons, interactivities, reading materials, chat sessions, online group forums, quizzes, and other content that share a common theme as well as learning objectives.


A SCO is an industry standard term for “shareable content object” and is defined by a widely accepted eLearning development standard called SCORM. Just like a traditional textbook, an eLearning course may be made up of multiple content chapters.


A topic is a sub-grouping or labeling of content items within a course, module, chapter, or SCO that share a common theme or tie to a common learning objective. Traditional textbooks have chapters that are broken down into sub-components, and in eLearning we call these topics.


Learners navigate pages of eLearning by clicking the Next and Back buttons, or clicking a page title in the Table of Contents. In multimedia-based content, a page usually consists of an audio file that plays from start to end, and text, photos, and other digital assets are synchronized with that audio.


A short, media-rich, text/audio page that sets the tone for the course.


Intro and Conclusion pages may appear at the module and topic levels. They tell the learner the purpose of the content that follows or summarizes what was just discussed. This follows the time-tested adage, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell then what you told them”.


Lectures are page items that generally deliver the theoretical content and include audio narration synchronized with supporting bullet point text, on-screen text, images/labels, and other visual elements.

eLearning Interactivity

Interactivities are page items that users can interact with such as drag-and-drop games, fill-in-the-blank, concentration games, and other items that require the user to perform a series of mouse or keyboard clicks to successfully complete.

eLearning Games

A game can be thought of as a multipart interactivity. It is a set of more complex interactivities in a game-style that is more challenging and/or takes more time for a learner to complete.

Instructional Design Process

Table of Contents
Once the learning objectives have been identified, the course can be organized into a table of contents that clearly list the modules, topics, pages, interactivity points, quiz points, etc.
Style Guide
The style guide defines the course content player look and feel as well as the overall design for the content screens. Items such as font, bullet styles, headers, image treatments, special effects, audio queues, and other items are defined in this guide. Generally two rounds of design revisions are permitted.
A storyboard is the master script and is a collection of and blueprint for all of the elements that make up an eLearning course such as narration, images notes, on-screen text notes, directions to the multimedia developers, etc. Frequently the storyboard contains mock screen shots of the approved style guide elements.
A script is the text narration script from which a paid voice talent will read while in a professional sound studio. The audio will be recorded and delivered to the multimedia developers to synchronize with pictures, on-screen text, and other visual elements that will make up the course.
Obtaining client sign-off is the ultimate objective of the instructional design process. Clients must periodically review and approve (sign-off) storyboards and scripts. Once a script has been recorded and the multimedia process begins, additional client change requests result in increased costs/charges to the client, as well as put at risk project deadlines.


A JPEG (Jay-Peg) is a photographic image file format. Media developers generally refer to digital pictures as JPEGs.
Digital Asset
A digital asset is any electronic form of content such as photographs, illustrations, audio files, video files, and any other electronic media that will be inserted into the course.
Pronounced “swif”, SWF files are Adobe/Macromedia Flash files. Frequently the term “page” is interchangeable with SWF.
Audio files are generally outputted by the sound studio as either MP3 or WAVE files. WAVE files are preferred as they are of higher quality. Flash compresses and outputs/converts WAVE files to MP3 format anyway, so it is better to start with the WAVE format.
Run Time Hour (RTH)
A way to measure the length or duration of an eLearning course. Since narration is often recorded, the time it takes to play audio from start-to-finish is measured in run time.
Seat Time Hour (STH)
One seat time hour refers to how much content a learner can get through in one hour.


Client Side

Subject Matter Expert (SME)
This is a person or persons on the client-side who is the most knowledgeable. Think of the SME (pronounced s-me) as someone who works with a ghost writer to create the course narration and guide the instructional design process.
Project Manager
This person works with the PM on the Production Team side to ensure that everyone on the client-side is updated as to progress toward deadlines, changes to the project schedule, and other “critical path” items. This person also facilitates the client review and sign-off process.
Beta Tester
This person(s) reviews scripts, storyboards, and finished media to ensure accuracy and total quality.

Production Team Side

Instructional Designer (ID)
This person is on the Production Team and is classically trained and experienced in developing outcomes-based instructional materials.
This person actually writes the training material based upon the instructional design model. Oftentimes the ID and Writer is one and the same. For larger more complex projects this role may be split.
Design Director
This person works with the SME and the ID/writer to add visual direction to the course such as recommendations for photographic or illustrated imagery, adding/removing of elements from the “content stage” in synch with the audio narration, etc.
Media Developer
A Media Developer takes the master storyboard (as approved by the client) and builds the eLearning courseware by combining the audio and visual elements as directed by the storyboard. This person works with the Design Director and the SME to ensure that the course meets client expectations.
Project Manager
The PM orchestrates all of the key players and digital elements to ensure that the instructional design process is flowing properly. This person calls for teleconference meetings, establishes and tracks tasks for everyone, etc.
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