AbstractThis paper attempts a fundamental analysis of the nature of research into e-learning. It starts by considering the phenomenon of e-learning, arguing that e-learning is an artificial, designed phenomenon, and that research approaches need to consider how the e-learning environment works and how it can be improved, before we can consider how effective it is. We also establish that e-learning inquiry involves a mixture of evaluation and research, and we discuss this in the context of different disciplinary and interdisciplinary research approaches, arguing that e-learning evaluation research involves a varying mixture of a 18search for fundamental understanding 19 and 18consideration of use 19. We apply the preceding arguments to the e-learning lifecycle, identifying five different forms of evaluation research which are appropriate at various stages: Baseline Analysis, Design Evaluation, Formative Evaluation, Effectiveness Research, and Project-management Evaluation. These forms can be used to guide the design of an e-learning evaluation-research study, in a cyclical research approach. We recognize the strength of design-based research in this context, without claiming that it is appropriate in all circumstances. The paper then unpacks the process of conducting evaluation research, through the use of divide-and-conquer techniques to break down the complexity of an e-learning evaluation-research study. The five forms of evaluation research allow us to conceptualise specific research questions at a particular position in the e-learning lifecycle, and evaluation-research matrices assist us to identify sources of evidence to address these questions.