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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

eLearning and Virtual Learning Environments

eLearning platforms are for when you want to deliver courses and training events online for learners to use at their own pace rather than delivered live.

Virtual learning environments (VLEs) are for when you want:

  • to deliver live training events as well, or
  • learners to be able to discuss and collaborate together.

What they do

eLearning is a way of running training courses so people can access them from their computer or mobile device. You control who has access. Once registered, learners can ‘self-serve’ anytime, or you can deliver the learning in paced sections

You add or upload your course content to the platform. Slides, video, audio, written content, quizzes and games are all options. Then you organise them in the order you want your learners to access.

You advertise your course and learners register. The software allows learners to work through the content at their own pace. They can pause and return anytime. It also lets them send you completed work and recognises when they complete the course. You can see each learner’s progression on an administrator's dashboard.

Virtual learning environments are eLearning platforms that offer more ways to collaborate with learners. You can add:

  • Online classrooms where you teach content over a live video stream sent from your computer and learners can discuss it together
  • Forums and groups where learners can discuss and collaborate as an online community when you are not there
  • Ways for learners to see their progress against that of other learners

Within the industry eLearning platforms are called Learning Management Systems, or LMS for short.

Popular platforms

There are hundreds of eLearning platforms designed for different contexts. Few are designed for charities but many are suitable. Most offer scaled pricing based on features or number of learners.

  • Thinkific
  • Moodle
  • LearnDash (for Wordpress websites)
  • Teachable

You can also deliver learning content through email automation platforms like Mailchimp and through community building platforms. You can also groups posts into learning units in Facebook groups, to create a course with topic folders.

Things to consider

Thinking through what you and your learners need will help you choose an eLearning platform.

Creating a course

Weigh up the cost-benefits of the time it will take to create a course. Content creation and set up will take time. Try and create a minimal version first, launch, learn, then iterate.

Enabling collaboration

Think if your course will need online classrooms or another way for learners to collaborate or connect with one another. If it’s a short and simple course you may not need this.

Number of users and courses

More learners and more courses usually cost more. Think about the minimum you need to get started and check how much flexibility your platform would offer as you grow.

Consider if you need an eLearning platform or if your course could be delivered in another way, e.g. by webinar, video call or video streaming.


It’s important to choose a platform that is intuitive and friendly for your learners. Try out some sample courses before you commit. Even better, test a small course with your learners.

Interactivity and content variation

Variable content is important with eLearning because it’s easy for learners to leave if they aren’t enjoying the course. Only watching someone speaking or only reading text is not enjoyable. Research suggests offering an interactive activity every eight minutes.

Also always encourage your learners to take notes, just as they would in a physical learning environment. This will help them learn better and stay engaged.

Registration process

Easy registration is important. Think about the process from your user’s perspective, as if they were on a journey. How can you make it easy? What are the potential blocks on their journey? Give extra attention to payment processes if your course is not free.

Send them a confirmation email with a link to the course to make sure they know where to go to login every time thereafter.

Charities using this tool

Good Things Foundation have developed the Learn My Way platform to deliver digital skills courses

Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support Sunday use Zoom to run antenatal workshops.

CAST’s Design Hops use Thinkific to deliver training in designing digital services to charities

Last modified on 26 July 2022
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