William Horton's E-Learning by Design is meant to be read cover-to-cover. It outlines the e-learning design process "according to Horton" in Chapter 1, and then proceeds to fill in the details throughout the rest of the book.

How to use the book

Horton's website lists many examples from the book. These examples are arranged by chapter with reference to their location in the book. Horton's website allows access to client-designed materials through a portal-type webpage.

Each chapter of E-learning by Design is assembled to showcase best practices of a teaching strategy, when to use the strategy, different flavors of the strategy if applicable, and, how this strategy might work if used. For example, if you are new to instructional design, the first chapter summarizes the concept of instructional objectives, how to write them, and the reason for needing them and using them.

A subject matter expert can easily use this book to get a bird's eye view of the instructional design process. Horton refers to using the ADDIE method while writing this book. However, he states, "If you are familiar with the ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate) process, you may think we left out one of the phases. Not true. We just consolidated Develop and Implement into Build. Two reasons: One, since e-learning is delivered over networks, the implementation is a natural part of development. And two, since the process is iterative, as opposed to sequential, implementation does not lag development but goes on at the same time."

Because the book concentrates on e-learning course delivery rather than live classroom delivery. The content, examples, and references are geared to the uses of technology in interpreting instructional design principles.

In addition, Horton devotes a good percentage of content, in this case 70 pages, to the area of testing. This is 12 percent of the book, versus 6 percent to 8 percent coverage of other topics.

The only topic to receive more coverage is synchronous learning in Chapter 9, Design for the Virtual Classroom, with 13 percent or 80 pages focused on the topic. Because webinars, which are live, online meetings using the Internet are increasingly popular, decisions must be made whether to host course content via synchronous delivery or on-demand, which many refer to as asynchronous delivery. Determining the method of training course delivery is a very important decision because the design of the course materials is driven by delivery method as well as by content. Horton provides a decision table to illustrate this process.

Should you conduct an online meeting?
No Yes
Teaching explicit knowledge. Teaching unstructured, implicit knowledge.
Content requires detailed study. Learners have many questions.
Learners lack language skills. Isolated learners prefer learning with others.
Learners have unpredictable schedules. No time to develop standalone materials.

While there are other criteria that you may wish to add to the above table, it's another example of the type of job aids available in E-learning by Design.


Horton differentiates between design and development in the very beginning of his book. "Design is decision. Development is doing. Design governs what we do; development governs how we carry out those decisions. Design involves judgment, compromise, tradeoff, and creativity. Design is the 1001 decisions, big and small, that affect the outcome this book is about design."

Horton states that there is no reference to particular software or hardware vendors. In my opinion, this is a good thing because the industry moves so quickly that a particular vendor could possibly merge with another or simply disappear within a year or two. In the computer industry hardware drives software development, then software drives hardware development. Moore's law is that computer chip computing technology doubles every 18 months. This means that the computers get faster and smarter very quickly.

Technology updatesMy only criticism of Horton's earlier book (Designing Web-Based Training, 2000) was that although it is still a great reference tool, there is some dated material. In this sequel to that book, Horton has updated material. As stated, this is the "Successor book to Designing Web-Based Training. This book is about design not development. It includes aspects of media design, software engineering, and economics, as well as instructional design." In fact, on page 60 of Chapter 2 Horton speaks of using podcasting as part of absorb-type activities. Newer technology delivery methods are incorporated along with recent teaching strategies such as storytelling.

Unfortunately the printed word, as in hardcopy books, cannot be easily or expeditiously updated to parallel the rapidly changing workplace learning and development industry or any other industry for that matter. For example, websites like Horton's will most likely replace the CD-ROM included in the back of this book.

However, I still love my books. I love being able to reach up on the shelf to pull down one or more when grasping for that particular grain of wisdom that I seek from the experts. But I love the Internet too. And, to have both forms of references available in one book is a good thing.


William Horton has done another great job in translating the technicalities of instructional design for the pedestrian user. I may have a graduate degree in human performance and training but I still enjoy a refresher course in layman's language. If the Dick & Carey textbook that I used in college had been written by Horton perhaps I would not have had to read it twice for comprehension!