A Simple Model for Converting ILT to Engaging eLearning

If you’re an e-learning designer, chances are you’re often asked to take existing instructor-led (classroom) training and put it online. Chances are also good that no one’s ever told you how to do that. If you’re still struggling to find a simple way to make this shift, I’ve compiled a model that represents the most efficient way I have been able to complete this task over the years. Let’s walk through how it works!


For the purposes of illustrating our model, let’s use an example from a classroom course I used to teach on Sexual Harassment (in the US). There was an opening activity where we wanted learners to realize that actions and comments are perceived differently by various people in the workplace. To help illustrate that, we asked all participants to stand up. We read a brief scenario to them first usually something like, “A female employee arrives at work and is greeted by her male boss who says, “Wow. That’s a really nice dress.”  

Then we asked participants what they thought: was it sexual harassment? If they thought it was, they should move to the left corner of the room. If they thought it wasn’t, they should move to stand at the right corner of the room. If they weren’t sure, they should stand in the middle. Once everyone had stated their opinion through where they chose to stand, we asked a few people from each “opinion group” to share their thoughts about the matter. Sometimes we heard that it depended on tone or word choice. Sometimes we heard that it didn’t depend on any factors, it was just plain wrong. Everyone had something to say and insight to offer. After exploring several scenarios like this as a group, it helped to illustrate to all involved that people in the workplace definitely see things differently and since harassment is more about how an action affects another person rather than what the intent was of the offending person, we all need to be careful what we do and say.

It’s easy to see how an activity like this could seem difficult to convert to online learning. There is physical movement, discussion, and various perspectives being contributed that help to the drive the point home. How could one ever put such a thing online? This is the same line of thinking that leads some people to think that soft skills, communication, customer service, leadership, and sales courses aren’t good candidates for online learning. But it’s not true. Let the conversion model show you why!

Step 1: Review the Existing Instructor-Led Experience

How is the current experience set up? List out each key component of the experience so that none are lost in the conversion. Using our example, I would list:


With this clean, simplified list in front of me I can let go of the participant materials, PowerPoint, and facilitator guide and focus, which allows me to complete Step 2.

Step 2: Define the Goal(s)

I have no desire to get technical with you here and make life complex with this step, so when I say “goal” it could mean a learning objective, a performance objective, a business objective, or an overall message. At the highest level, you’re asking yourself, “What was the learner meant to know, do, or feel differently as a result of this learning experience?” This is where you’re starting to convert the material to something you can work with, and you’re doing that by breaking it down to its core message or takeaway.

Here’s what I would say for our example:


  • The learner needs to KNOW that harassment is about the affect, not the intent.
  • The learner needs to KNOW that everyone’s perspective, background, and opinion determines how words and actions impact them.
  • And then, this new knowledge hopefully impacts their DESIRE/FEELING to modify their own words and actions to limit the negative affect on others.

Note: Because this is an introduction activity, it is more likely to have a feeling-based or affective goal. If it was an activity around a concept or procedure, it would be more likely to have a DOING/PERFORMANCE-based goal (like a performance objective) and that’s what the hand icon in the model is meant to represent although it’s not used here in our example.

So! Now we’ve been able to totally shift our focus away from the current classroom experience and onto the actual goals. We’re now ready for Step 3.

Step 3: Define How These Goals Can Be Achieved Through an Online Experience

You no longer have to think about group activities, discussions, handouts, journals, workbooks, or any of the other things that were holding you back from seeing a clear path to online learning design victory. No. You have captured what was important about the current experience (Step 1), you have boiled it down to a set of clear goals (Step 2), and now you are completely free to start getting creative about how these simplified goals can be achieved online. Now take a look at your second column and start brainstorming!

In the case of our example, we need to think of ways that we can communicate that harassment is about the affect, not the intent. And because we’re awesome eLearning designers, there’s no way a bullet point will do. We also need to find a way to convey that everyone’s unique perspective, background, and opinion determines how words and actions impact them. If we can find an impactful way to do that, it should help the learner to feel an increased desire to modify their words and actions to avoid negatively impacting others.

Brainstormed thoughts:

  • One of the strengths of the instructor-led activity was the ability to see so many different perspectives, and to hear it in the “voice” of a unique individual. How could we keep that?
  • How can we still encourage the learner to think about their own perspective while exploring the perspectives of others (because thinking about their own allows them to see the contrast between what they assume to be true of everyone and how differently someone else might react)?
  • How will we drive home the main message at the end?

After pondering these thoughts, we can start to generate a plan. Here’s the one I chose:


My concept for an online activity would be that the learner could watch a scenario play out between two characters (for example the male manager telling the female employee that she has a great dress), but that also, onlookers would be present. After the dialogue concludes, the learner would be invited to consider their own perspective: was this harassment? Their answer would be “locked in” on the screen, and then they would be invited to click each person in the scenario to see their thoughts: the potential harasser, the potential harassed, and each of the onlookers. Each person would have a different perspective, told in a unique voice. After hearing all of those perspectives, the learner would then be asked if they’d like to change their answer. The narrator would come in to make the point that harassment is about the affect, not the intent. Then the learner would be asked to choose a more moderate/acceptable action that the potential harasser could have taken to ensure a better outcome in the workplace. You could even take it one step further to let them explore the new thoughts of the people in the scenario once they take the revised action. If you wanted to gamify this, each “corrective action” they took in a scenario in the workplace could improve the overall health or productivity of the organization on the main menu. The possibilities are endless!

As strong as the classroom version was, I think this version of the activity is stronger because it invites the learner to think of ways to take the same “intent” and act on it differently to create a better workplace environment—which is the entire point of sexual harassment training. So now, using this model, we have gone from a position of feeling like it’s impossible to take this activity and put it online to creating something that’s even stronger and more meaningful.

Many instructional designers struggle to shift their design mindset from things like group discussions and group activities to online learning interactions. It truly is a completely different way to think about learning design. So complex, in fact, that most designers give up and just create eLearning that closely resembles the PowerPoint file for the instructor-led content and call it a day. That’s how “click next” eLearning was born! But now you know a better way—a simple way—to create engaging online learning that is just as good—if not better—than its ILT ancestor.

Give the model a try and share your results in the comments below! 

Editor's note: this was originally published on our blog in November 2017, but as the coronavirus pandemic has pushed many organizations to online training we thought it would be helpful to share again!