Is e-Learning similar to Teaching?

Teaching and e-Learning require thinking

I have been a teacher of ICT and then Computer Games Development for the last seven years.  Having recently made a career change and become an e-Learning Developer, a number of people have asked me why I made such a big change. I have reasoned that developing e-Learning material is not that different to developing lessons as a teacher. So what are the similarities and differences between the roles?

Similarities between e-Learning development and teaching

Already I have noticed a number of similarities between being a teacher and an e-Learning developer.

When developing lessons or an e-Learning module, you have to take into account that there will be a large range of abilities and learning styles. Some pupils/learners will understand all of the material straight away, some will be confident in the use of IT, some will be keen to know more, these are all easy to cater for. The challenge comes with trying to cater for those at the opposite end. Standing in front of a class means you can adapt on the fly and support those that don’t understand. There isn’t that luxury for an e-Learning module. Instead, you have to put in as much help as possible while keeping the level of learning high enough to appeal to your audience. Getting the balance right is a big challenge.

In both cases, there has to be some form of testing the knowledge learnt. As a teacher, you need to know your pupils’ level of understanding before moving on. In e-Learning, a client has requested a learning module to teach their staff new information, they’ll want to make sure they’ve learnt it. e-Learning software has the facility to add quizzes and testing questions during a module, a feature that teachers build into a lot of their lessons.

Then there’s the structure of learning. A lesson and an e-Learning module generally follow the same pattern: Introduce a topic, dispense new information, test that the pupil/learner has learnt it. There’s more to it than that, but on the surface, they both follow a similar structure.

Finally, it goes without saying that both roles require excellence. A school, students, parents, fellow teachers all invest their time and/or money in you as a teacher and they all expect outstanding teaching. The same goes for e-Learning, a client is paying for my time and the outcome, they will expect nothing less than an excellent learning module.

Differences between e-Learning development and teaching

As an e-Learning Developer you will more than likely never meet your learners, those that use the modules. The biggest challenge, as explained above, is not knowing how engaged they will be. You can’t change your lessons, once they’re published, to support those that don’t understand or to engage more learners.

As a teacher stood in front of 20+ students, teaching, you can use different techniques on-the-fly to engage pupils. Some use humour and banter to keep lessons interesting, some will change tactics in the way they teach, in all cases there is a high chance that you can answer any questions and provide support there and then.

There is no governing body whose rules must be followed as an e-Learning Developer. The needs of each client will be different and they will have their own set of criteria. As a teacher, most lived in fear of the “dreaded call” that Ofsted were coming to observe you all and grade the entire school. As an e-Learning Developer there will be a quality assurance process to check and approve work but there are no government bodies dictating day-to-day operations. Teaching changes a lot, with new guidelines from the government and Ofsted appearing on a regular basis.

How many teachers do you know? How many of them work most evenings and weekends? As an e-Learning Developer, there’s none of that. As a project comes close to the deadline, you may well need to put in extra hours to complete, but they won’t be anywhere near the amount a teacher does, every week. The trade-off is the 13 weeks holiday, but what about the flexibility to take them when you want to? Bring on the cheaper trips away!


Seven years of teaching and leading a course had its challenges. Helping students achieve their grades, planning engaging lessons, adapting to new technologies and new guidelines but the rewards were there. My first few weeks has already uncovered a number of challenges too. I’ve touched on the pressures of developing excellent learning materials for paying customers. I’ve had to make subject matter that I know nothing about into interesting learning modules. In some cases I’ve had to ensure that the information I’ve put into a module is factually correct, to comply with laws. But I’ve already been rewarded in seeing my first few learning modules published and in use by a client. I’ve also rid myself of a lot of the stresses I previously experienced. I’ve made the right move but I was lucky enough that it’s not all that different in so many ways to my previous career.

Have you made a big career change? What differences and similarities have you discovered?

Is e-Learning similar to Teaching?
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