In recent years, advances in technology and changes in the market place for education and learning have resulted in a rapid growth of interest in e-learning. Early experiments in the area have indicated that e-learning may not be the apparent panacea to issues of cost effectiveness and widening participation that was initially mooted. Undoubtedly, e-learning provides the opportunity for wider access to learning at all levels, however, such promise is not always fulfilled. E-learning is often construed as simply putting existing teaching materials ‘on the Web’. A shift towards learner-oriented developments requires a major paradigm shift for learning providers, both at the institutional and individual level. Institutions need to be aware of the commitment required to make e-learning effective, while individuals need to accommodate a shift towards greater learner control and responsiveness to the flexibility requirements. Many of the issues surrounding the effectiveness of e-learning initiatives stem from inadequate consideration of whether e-learning is an appropriate solution to a learning need and insufficient consideration of the design and implementation of the resulting product. This paper proposes a set of criteria for those new to e-learning design to consider when exploring whether and how to implement e-learning. These criteria relate to the appropriateness of an e-learning strategy, the interaction between the proposed market and the design of an e-learning product, the nature of student–faculty interaction within the e-learning environment and issues of evaluation. The relationships between these criteria at a generic level are outlined and guiding principles for the development of e-learning proposed.