Let’s say your boss comes and asks you to convert a two-hour instructor-led training (ILT) session into an e-learning course. And since it’s already been instructionally designed, all you need to do is take the presenter’s PowerPoint files, import them into an e-learning authoring tool, and spit out a completed e-learning course—right?

If only it was that simple! Whether the course exists already or not, professional learning designers facing this task need to go through much of the same process as with any other learning project. The only difference is that when you’re working with an existing course, some of the up-front analysis and instructional design components might already be done—or not.

But before we get into the tactical steps about working with existing training, let’s take a quick look at why organizations might want to repurpose in-classroom training as e-learning in the first place.

Why Convert ILT to E-Learning? 

Organizations have a lot of good reasons for converting classroom training into e-learning, including:

  • Efficiency: develop the course once and use it over and over.
  • Accessibility: learners can access the training anytime, from anywhere in the world.
  • Cost savings: eliminate travel costs, instructor fees, etc.
  • Eco-friendly: no paper materials or emissions from travel.

Another important consideration is what’s known as the “compression ratio.” Every hour of classroom training takes about half that time to deliver when it’s converted to e-learning—a 2:1 ratio! So rather than asking employees to give up two hours of productive time to complete a classroom-based course, they only lose one hour to complete that same content online. Another win for e-learning!

It's ADDIE-As-Usual

With a myriad of reasons to turn classroom training into e-learning, now comes the tactical question: how? Here’s a secret: follow the same tried-and-true ADDIE process you do for creating new e-learning. (If you’re not familiar with ADDIE, check out this article: An Introduction to the ADDIE Model). At the end of the day, even when you’re converting an existing training course, you still need to go through all the same phases that you normally follow to create e-learning. The main difference is in the up-front analysis phase.

What's Different? 

The major difference is going to be in the first step of the ADDIE process: analysis. Why? Most of the analysis should have already been done when the classroom-based course was developed, so the analysis phase should be a lot less time consuming. A few things that should have been completed with the existing course are:

  • Audience analysis
  • Content research and gathering
  • Defining learning objectives
  • Chunking and organizing content
  • Creating activities and assessments

In reality, though, just because these things should have been completed doesn’t always mean they are complete. Sometimes they’re not done, or they’re done poorly, even when we’re working from an existing course that we’re assured has been “instructionally designed.”

All this to say that the analysis phase may or may not be easier and less time-consuming for you when you’re building e-learning from an existing classroom-based course, depending on the quality of the existing training materials.

Working with a low-quality existing course

If you’re working with a less than ideally designed course, you might have to take a step back and redo some of the tasks listed above, such as the defining of learning objectives and chunking content. When working with materials that have not been instructionally designed at all, it’s almost like you’re starting from scratch to organize and analyze the content. The only step you might save time on is the actual research and content-gathering; but even then, you might find some holes that you need to fill by doing research yourself.

Working with a high-quality existing course

If you’re lucky enough to be working with a really well-designed and solid course, the analysis might be quick and simple since you’ll be able to benefit from all the work that was already done. That said, even with high-quality training materials, you’ll probably still need to do some amount of up-front analysis.

For example, the audience analysis that was done prior to the development of the classroom training probably did not look at what kinds of devices the audience was using (desktops or tablets?) or their level of comfort with web-based training or technology in general. These are additional questions about your audience that will be specific to an e-learning course developer.

Also, even with the best materials in hand, you’ll still need to apply a certain level of instructional design to transform the content into e-learning. For example, you’ll need to convert some of the classroom activities into e-learning activities, such as drag-and-drops or matching activities, and transform the assessments into online e-learning quizzes.

In the end, converting ILT to e-learning is a straightforward process that follows the same familiar ADDIE model that you probably currently use. What is most likely to change is the amount of up-front work and analysis you have to do, which depends largely on the state of your existing training materials. If they are low quality, it’s about the same as starting from scratch and the existing course becomes just another source of material for research and content-gathering.

If you’re interested in learning more about converting classroom-based training to e-learning, take part in this community discussion: Converting ILT to E-Learning: Tips and Tricks. And if you have any experiences of your own, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

11 Comments
Brian Washburn

Great post Nicole. We have this debate from time to time at my work. I'd opine that there's a continuum when it comes to work involved in going from ILT to elearning. At one extreme, you're spot on - "And since it’s already been instructionally designed, all you need to do is take the presenter’s PowerPoint files, import them into an e-learning authoring tool, and spit out a completed e-learning course—right?" This approach simply moves people from resenting the in-person experience to the online experience, and everything else in your post helps address this. On the other side of the continuum is a well-design ILT course. Again, you hit the nail on the head when you say that you need to convert activities for the online world (ideally it goes beyond drag and drop or quizzing activities... Expand

Nicole Legault
Leona Johnson

I agree with both you Nicole! As a I am fairly new to ID, I've already had to figure this dilemma out for myself. I am creating a series of elearning courses and for the most part, I started fresh but not because the ILT wasn't created well, it just did not transfer well into an elearning environment or experience. There was one course that was so comprehensive yet woven with some amazing anecdotes that I did use the PowerPoint file. I am going to take it one step further and have the SME that created the training record it with me after I make a few adjustments and tweaks. My reasoning stems from the fact he is the main trainer of this content and he has very distinctive voice. Having the employees hear his voice will not only give the course credibility, the delivery will make it ... Expand

Lauren Franza
Scott Kaye
Nicole Legault

Hi Alison. That's actually a great question - thanks for asking that! I'm going to throw in my two cents but really this is just my thoughts and I'd love to hear what others think contributes to the compression ratio as well... I think part of why the time is reduced is probably because in e-learning, versus in ILT, there is no discussion, no questions, comments from participants, and no chance for anything unplanned or off topic to come up. The course length is not impacted by how fast or how slow the presenter is speaking, or by if they go off topic or throw in a personal story that lasts 20 minutes to make a point. With e-learning you also have the option to let learners navigate at their own pace and perhaps skip pieces of content they already know, which isn't possible in a classr... Expand

jay hoffman

My background is enterprise training, but I think there might be a few oranges thrown into your apple barrel, Nicole. If you compare one hour of platform lecture ("please hold all of your questions until the end") to an eLearning course covering the same content, the compression is considerably less. For example, I've found that simply converting a one-hour WEBEX'd recording of a product manager giving his product launch presentation results in approximately a 45-50 minute eLearning course. Now, it is true that, if you account for Q&A time and instructor-informed anecdote, you will see even more compression. However, one design consideration is that a well-constructed conversion must account for the Q&A, either by bringing the most common questions forward and rolling the answers into ... Expand

Duane Engle