Evolving Search Terms For eLearning, Online Learning, Distance Learning

I was doing some research into recent developments in eLearning — particularly writing scripts for online learning which is my specialty — and I realized I didn’t know what the most current terms might be for what it is we do.

Yes, I know, I should know. But it’s an evolving industry, and things change rapidly. Especially since Covid, when more and more people were using their time in isolation to reconsider their careers and prepare for new opportunities and employers were looking for safe ways to upskill their newly distributed teams. That’s a whole new audience looking for resources, with perhaps little experience or preconceptions about what to ask for.

So what is it people are looking for? What is it that they think we do?

Elearning? E-learning? E learning? Online learning? Distance learning? Online training?


I went to Google Trends (trends.google.com) and did some quick research.

I looked at the trailing twelve months, worldwide, to find the most popular phrases for web-delivered learning.

I was not entirely surprised to see that “elearning” was far and away the most widely searched term, given that it’s easiest to type. No hyphen, no spaces. People are lazy, after all.

It’s followed by “e learning” which is searched about 60% as often. Spaces are easy to type because you can do it with either thumb.

Then “e-learning” which I like to think is because hyphens are harder to type than spaces.

The others track a lot lower, with “distance learning” — a phrase I’ve actually liked because it feels somehow more sophisticated LOL — coming in dead last. So much for my sense of fancy.


In the US, Australia, India, and Pakistan it’s “online learning” by as much as a 25% margin over “elearning.”

Germany sees an almost even split between “elearning” and “e learning,” with “online learning” coming in fourth behind “e-learning.”

Obviously, reaching a specific geographic market might mean a more specific keyword.


Back in 2009 when I first started working in eLearning at Market Motive, we optimized for “online courses” — which today performs on par with “e learning” — and “online training” which is tied for last with “e-learning.”

By 2016 when we were purchased by Simplilearn and I became US Brand Manager, we were optimizing for “web-based training” — a term that doesn’t even register on Google Trends today. That sure worked out for the long haul… if you’re still using that one, it’s time for a change.

Oh, and “upskilling”? Not even a blip. And we loved that word hard for a long time. *sigh*


This is by no means a scientifically rigorous investigation. There may be other terms I’m missing.

But I find it fun and interesting to see how the industry has changed.

If you’re in the eLearning space, what have you found to be the biggest change in the past few years? How have your market and audience evolved? What specific value are they looking for? Has the vocabulary for features and benefits changed?

Published by Chip Street

Content specialist || Founder/Principal, William Street Creative || Former U.S. Brand Manager, Simplilearn || Former Marketing Manager, Market Motive || Former Founder/President, Group Of People

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