Abstract The successful adoption of information and communication technology to enhance learning can be very challenging, requiring a complex blend of technological, pedagogical and organizational components, which may at times require the resolution of contradictory demands and conflicting needs. The research reported in this paper investigated and analysed critical success factors (CSFs) that are required to deliver e-learning within higher education (HE) courses and programmes. The research design adopted a critical research approach, instantiated by focus group discussions with e-learning experts drawn from administrative, educational, technology and research domains. The findings revealed that staffing issues, pedagogically sound delivery models and training of both tutors and students cannot be treated as trivial issues and are critical to the success of e-learning. Furthermore, this research also shows that there is a strong relationship between these factors and inspirational institutional leadership. The findings also suggest that in order to assure the success of e-learning, this leadership should guarantee the presence of institutional enablers. It is hoped that the CSFs, described and discussed in depth in this paper, will provide a suitable theoretical foundation to underpin the successful delivery of e-learning within HE.