E-learning was thought to be one of the fastest growing industries on both sides of the Atlantic and has been frequently heralded as a transforming influence on global corporate training and higher education. Despite such rhetoric, the adoption, diffusion and exploitation have been slower than anticipated. In this paper we attempt to explain why this might have been the case in Europe by drawing on an increasingly influential body of management literature on the absorptive capacity (ACAP) of organizations to acquire, assimilate and use new technologies and ideas. We supplement this work on absorptive capacity with two other streams of literature on learners and on the business systems or institutionalist perspective, which focuses on the embeddedness of unique organizational forms, ideas and human resource development approaches in particular national business systems. We develop a model of absorptive capacity for e-learning in organizations (ACAP for eL), which we argue has important theoretical implications for business and management academics in developing a model of technology transfer and diffusion, key lessons for HRD practitioners and politicians associated with furthering e-learning developments in their organizations, and also for policy makers at government level wishing to spread the e-learning message.