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Making the Business Case for an eLearning Initiative and, more critically, what can go wrong?

Building the business case for any form of learning and development initiative can be a challenge as it is often difficult to express the gains as clear and quantifiable business outcomes directly, and only, related to the learning. More often, learning is but one important component of a performance improvement initiative.

So, how about eLearning, does this add further complexity to building a solid business case, or does it make it easier? Well, I think the answer is both. It is easy to quantify the potential economic value of eLearning versus other forms of learning, but it is harder to mitigate the real and significant risks intrinsic to the calculation of economic value.

First consider the factors that need to be considered to calculate the economic value of eLearning versus face-to-face learning, as follows:

  • Design/Development and Delivery Costs – eLearning fixed costs of development are considerably higher than for face-to-face learning (typically three to five times higher) but the variable costs of delivery are zero, whereas those for face-to-face learning are considerable and include facilitators, rooms, presentation equipment, catering etc.
  • Staff Abstraction costs – these costs are much higher for face-to-face learning and need to account for both the facilitators and the learners themselves. Yes, there is still an abstraction cost for learners with eLearning but it is much easier for the learner to fit in their learning time around their operational duties in smaller chunks of time.
  • Travel costs – these costs are normally zero for eLearning as well as virtual classroom events but they can be considerable for face-to-face learning where both facilitator and learner travel costs and time need to be accounted for.
  • Logistics Management – with eLearning most of the logistics management effort is automated through the use of a Learning Management System (LMS) whereas with face-to-face learning, even with the use of an LMS, there can be a not inconsiderable amount of more manual logistics work including booking facilitators, rooms, catering etc.
  • Cost of no shows – the cost of no shows is zero for eLearning whereas it can accumulate to be a significant value for face-to-face learning, which may materialise in a higher cost per learner and/or the need to invest in additional learning interventions.

So, on the face of it, once the scale of the learning initiative reaches the tipping point such that the higher cost of eLearning development is negated by the zero cost of delivery (1) then the business case for eLearning pretty much becomes a ‘no brainer’, yes?

No, I’m afraid the true answer is not that simple!

Unfortunately, the case for eLearning cannot be considered as a purely economic assessment and there are two behavioural characteristics that need to be considered as core to the business case.

The Case for Complex Behavioural Change – eLearning alone is unlikely to achieve complex behavioural change in your learners. It is important that you assess the level of behavioural change required to achieve the business objectives of the learning initiative. Those requiring complex behavioural change are most likely to need more than pure eLearning. This is not to say that eLearning cannot play a part in such initiatives, but it is to say that you need to consider a blended learning model where eLearning can be leveraged to reduce the face-to-face contact time and cost.

Achieving Learner Engagement – this is the big challenge for eLearning initiatives and represents the major risk that can blow your well-constructed business case apart. Completion rates for eLearning are notoriously low. Unless the learning is mandated (and even if it is) you need to work hard to encourage, persuade and cajole your learners to study their eLearning, and this takes effort, time and therefore cost. To achieve full success, your eLearning initiative will require some clear, visible and credible communications with strong sponsorship from appropriate leaders in the organisation and you need to focus on the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) messages.

If you are convinced you can make a good case in your organisation then why not search our extensive content library to find the right courses for your organisation’s eLearning needs?

Remember, that we can deliver any of the courses through your internal LMS, or we can provide you with a dedicated and branded version of our Course-Source LMS, if preferred.