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Ralph La Fontaine


Managing Director, People & Talent

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Elearning isn’t as good as face-to-face – it’s better


In times of change, people cling to the past.

Take the UK’s Victorian education system, for example. By and large, learning today is still carried out the way it always was - an authority figure at the front of a room, delivering a monologue to students, with time for Q&A if you’re lucky.

That is why, despite the emergence of electronic learning techniques, many still wonder if elearning is “as good as” the supposed exemplar of classroom learning.

Well, it is time to say elearning is not “as good as” classroom learning - it is far better.

Even in professional learning and development, people typically still see electronic delivery as a poor cousin to face-to-face, and it is often mainly used to deliver uninspiring content, like simply clicking through a series of slides on compliance training.

But things are changing.

1. Technology has been proven to work

During the financial crisis, businesses began to see what elearning really has to offer. Out of necessity, many started cutting back on business travel expenses, instead beginning to choose remote, digitally-delivered learning courses online, rather than on-site or at training centres. We have since seen a huge uplift  in the numbers of businesses moving in the same direction.

And why not? Whilst earlier elearning tools were stilted and awkward, modern platforms have found the knack to making the technology blend into the background, letting the content take centre-stage. Now it’s all just learning. In fact, freed from the tyranny of too much technology, people have found a way to learn multi-modally, moving in and out of the “real” and “digital” worlds.

2. Remoteness powers individual preferences

In recent years, a lot has been written on how  individual  learners each have different “learning styles” that must be catered to. Much of this theory has now been debunked - but that doesn’t mean students don’t still have distinct characteristics, and even physiologies, that can hinder or help their learning.

For instance, neuroscience research has shown that blood sugar levels present in the body can impact workers’ decision-making. Learners  who are less energetic may be automatically disadvantaged, performing worse in workplace group training or tests at times of the day that are incompatible with their sugar digestion.

But remote learning at a time of their choosing allows learners to match the mode and context of learning to their own unique pattern, giving them the best chance of comprehension.

3. Accessible to all

It is easy to over-estimate the challenge, for many, of simply making it to a classroom or an office training room. These days, more and more workers are home-based, while others may live in a different part of the country, or a group of colleagues from satellite offices may be situated in other countries altogether.

The challenge of accessibility can be acute for many local users, too. If you are deaf, blind or have mobility issues, attending a class can be a logistical nightmare. That was made real for me once, when I delivered an online English language course. On my screen, one Japanese lady told me she found it almost impossible to attend a local session - and, when she did, fellow students treated her differently.

Online, none of these issues are prohibitive. You are able to learn at your own pace, in an environment that poses no barriers to entry and which does not judge. There is a good argument for saying that elearning is more liberating than a classroom could ever be.

4. Tutors on-tap

If, for example, you wanted your staff trained in management techniques by Dave Ulrich (rated by BusinessWeek as the number-one management guru) you could have a trainer parrot his theories - or you could hire in Ulrich himself.

But consultants like Ulrich don’t come cheap. Consider the cost of a return business-class flight, hotel, venue plus costs. It could easily climb to thousands.

That’s why more and more companies are buying in digital access to trainers, providing access to the latest techniques and practices - whilst tutors stay at home and employees stay at their desks. It’s a time saver, a cost saver and the combination of the two can add up to regular learning on-tap.

It’s not just gurus that are delivered to workplaces’ doors by remote learning. Do you really need to send Sally from Swindon to that conference in South-East Asia, if the web broadcast will suffice? Do you need to spend a day with a Microsoft technical trainer when they could deliver the same training to your staff online?

For these reasons, no longer is elearning playing catch-up to “the real thing”. Digital learning is not just as real and as impactful as classroom learning ever has been - it’s more than that.

By powering learners, using technology, to learn at their own time, at their own pace, with none of the physical barriers of proximity education, and by offering access to a world of experts, elearning is shaping up to be even better than classroom learning.

One Response

  1. First learning today is not
    First learning today is not the same as i has always been – adult learning (andragogy) has involved participation for decades. ATD insists at their conferences that the audience participates.

    Good learning is about process more than content. It involves using the learners as resources. Methodology matches to concepts such as Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain with higher order levels requiring deep thought as is provided by discussion.

    Deciding which method to use requires this and needs to ensure learning effectiveness and efficiency where efficiency is not lowest cost.

Author Profile Picture
Ralph La Fontaine

Managing Director, People & Talent

Read more from Ralph La Fontaine

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