We looked at some of the arguments for e-learning from a cost viewpoint. You may find your stakeholders saying “We get that it’s cheaper. But is it better?” Here are some of the reasons you can use to explain why e-learning’s better than classroom – most of the time.
Freedom to go wrong – privately
Is learning always better done in a group? Not for learners who prefer a more private experience. Learners may not want to reveal their lack of understanding of a topic. They may not want to fail publicly. It’s the reason that many role plays just don’t work in facilitator-led environments – many learners are just not comfortable with demonstrating their shortcomings in front of peers. E-learning affords a private experience, enabling learners to explore mistakes and learn from them, without any fear of what others think. More willingness to explore, make mistakes and learn from them means a better and more applicable learning experience.
Better approximation of reality
E-learning is not the same as learning by doing on the job. But if it’s well designed, it can get a lot closer to approximating reality than classroom sessions do. Most knowledge workers learn, work and communicate using computers. So providing training and support via technology is more natural than moving people into a decontextualised training room. Goal-based scenarios which emulate the worker’s real environment can do a pretty good job of emulating real work tasks. If they incorporate real-world data such as emails, reports and websites and provide learners with realistic challenges, then you’re already a lot closer to reality than the more traditional ‘tell’ environments of the classroom. And if you’re looking at systems training, using technology to teach technology is a no brainer. Closer to reality means better connections and higher potential to apply learning on the job.
If you’re looking to communicate a key message, how to interpret a policy or set of guidelines, there’s the risk of inconsistency whenever a group of facilitators are delivering it. There’s the possibility that a key point will be missed, or miscommunicated. E-learning delivers the same core point to everyone, and well designed assessments and formative questions can check for understanding and more importantly ability to apply the points on the job. The more consistent the learning experience, the lower the risk of introducing errors on the job.
More learner control
Learners in classroom environments have very little control. They attend based on a centralised schedule which may not be in tune with when they actually need training. When they do get to attend, they’re locked into one speed, the one the facilitator chooses. If they’re struggling to keep up, or are bored and losing interest, there’s very little they can do. E-learning is available on demand, the learner’s in control of the pace, and sections can be revisited whenever learners need to refresh, or the learning suddenly becomes relevant, e.g. two days before performance reviews. Also, because e-learning is generally designed to be far shorter and more concise than classroom training, the likelihood of fatigue and drop-off in attention span and retention levels is reduced.
So what’s the performance evidence?
Brandon Hall (2001) did a study where they compared learner performance for two groups, one using e-learning and one in facilitator-led training. The results showed that learner performance was enhanced through e-learning compared to classroom methods in terms of:
- learners’ attitudes toward the e-learning format and training in general
- learners’ scores on tests, certifications or other evaluations
- the number of learners who achieve ‘mastery’ level and / or ‘pass’ exams
- learners’ ability to apply new knowledge or processes on the job
- long-term retention of information
There’ll be times when you need that social interaction, expert facilitation, and hands-on activity that facilitator-led training can deliver. But in times like these, when speed to performance in the most cost-effective manner, is key – you should be starting with e-learning first.