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elearning vs traditional methods?


Is e-learning an effective subsitute for traditional corporate training methods? How can you justify the elimination of social interaction? Can e-learning be used in isolation or is a more blended approach more effective? Has elearning really made a big difference? if so in what way? How do the supposed benefits outweigh the drawbacks?
Laura Bryant

17 Responses

  1. no need to think of it as an either/or situation.

    I’m a training manager. Lots of people in our organisation value “traditional courses” as one of their few opportunities to meet people from other parts of the organisation- gain insights into the rest of the organisation to help them in their work – so I’d be loathed to replace all courses with elearning.

    I’ve started making e-learning courses available to people- the most effective use has been when someone is desperate to learn something but a traditional course is not running for a while or they don’t want to attend one/cant get to the venue easily.

    In contrast- a pilot where we used e-learning instead of traditional courses had much poorer take up and more importantly most people dropped out (and felt embarrased by their “failure”)which could be counterproductive for the future.

    I reckon it helps to think of e-learning as like reading a book- people can learn a lot from a book but they’ve got to want to read it! – no one can really read a book for you/no one can “make” you get learning from an e-learning course…

    So my strategy is.. have e-learning courses available and make use of them where there is an interest or gap. But don’t change everything to e-learning just because people (suppliers/goverment etc) say it is the way to go. You can be more strategic to meet the organisation’s and people’s needs!


  2. e-learning
    Research shows that there is a 30% higher retention rate of information delivered by e-learning.

    if you like to know more email me

    [email protected] I have some papers and info on a Masters Degree in e-learning.

  3. E learning must be used in conjunction with social learning
    I am an Open University tutor on their course (code T171) which is taught entirely online. It was the OU’s first online course introduced three years ago. Tutors have discovered that you can teach an academic subject online, but social interaction is vital if students are to get the most out of the course. So we have a couple of face to face tutorials in the year and encourage student self help groups to form as well.
    I am also a psychologist and there is no doubt we are social animals. Hence, e-learning may sound fine in theory, but it will not work if course developers fail to take into account the social needs of their students.

  4. Is elearning the elimination of social inter-action?
    No, no, no and no again. Or only if you want it to fail.

    Mary is so so right. elearning without a blended solution will only work with strongly self-motivated learners. Research estimates all of 4% of us like to elarn this way.

    To get elearning working more generally: make it part of a blended solution.

    Example: Manchester Health Authority introduced elearning, by getting its people to commit to 20 weekly two hour classroom sessions – using online materials, and using them in between classes.

    Ths combined the structure and support of the classroom with the flexibility of elearning.

    The result: 89% completion, 92% exam pass rates (ECDL), 8% productivity gain, 160% return on investment and massive boost in morale.

    Virtually nobody with elearning experience now advocates using it in isolation. Use it where it works – as part of a blended solution.

    Henry Stewart
    Happy Computers

  5. elearning
    e-learning in isolation is not the answer – blended learning is! We are social beings and like to interact, plus we get vital insights in this way which e-learning just cannot replicate.
    E-learning has its benefits, and some people love it.
    But a word or warning. These aleged 33percent better learning statements. Most results are based on US college students – I’ve yet to see any evidence produced across a whole organisation in a busy – and noisy – workplace!

  6. e-coaching
    the whole point about e-learning….is that it isn’t about teaching, it’s about learning.
    Of course you need people to be motivated about learning online, otherwise it will fail.
    Those who want to teach online, need to understand the difference between coaching and e-coaching, and believe me, there is a world of difference in how you facilitate the learning process. What the e-learning system does is allow a greater control over major oranisational training needs. It isn’t about putting a power point presentation online and getting people to sit and watch, it isn’t about doing a simple question and answer session and check box form on a web site.
    True e-learning will only come when you can transfer the classroom interaction and social collaboration to an online environment.
    The learning should be directly relevant to the work place, Directly relevant to the individals role within the department or organisation. It allows the targeting of training to be more specific and then you can get a real ROI on implementation.
    The HR + Training strategy needs to be hand in hand.
    I have some more info on this area id anyone wants it.
    [email protected]

  7. E-learning can certainly replace traditional methods
    E-learning can certainly replace traditional methods but if it is only seen as a substitute it will fail. E-learning should not be approached as an adaptation of traditional methods to the web. It is a new and unique animal and needs new creative approaches and thinking. Even with traditional methods learners need to interact and engage with the learning. If learners are not engaged with elearning it is not the responsibility of the ecoach to motivate them but rather the job of the designer to offer the learner an experience that not only invites the learner to engage with it but is irresistible to them. Unfortunately much of what is offered as elearning does quite the opposite. Designers of e-commerce web sites have been engaged with this concept for some time and exploit the technology ruthlessly to that end. That elearning designers do not is testament to the fact that contrary to propaganda, the cutting edge
    of technology is on the distant horizon from where we are now.

    Blended learning solutions are not the answer. If a piece of elearning is not robust enough to stand alone then the inclusion of real world social interaction will not solve the problem. This is a cop out. We are in great danger of eventually being forced to replace elearning with traditional methods simply because elearning on it’s own simply isn’t working.

    Elements of social interaction can certainly augment the elearning experience but it doesn’t need to be real world interaction. In fact many learners who may not be comfortable contributing to a classroom-based discussion might be more keen to engage with an online discussion because of the anonimity it offers.

    Furthermore I would suggest that by considering elearners as groups is one of the things that is holding us back. The elearning experience is an individual one. An element of social interaction can contribute to that experience but by its very nature the internet delivers the elearning experience directly to one person sat at a computer.

  8. traditional works !!
    traditional methods have worked for many years, and have a proven record. I belive that a blend can compliment each other.theory can be delivered via e-learning. But teaching a person a “job” must be done practicaly, does it not state that people learn by “doing the job” ie they teach themselves, we as trainers just give them a “nudge”,we can also interact, and pass on experiences.I hope the day never comes when the social interaction and fun part of courses is taken over by a computor!!.My veiw, if it “a,int broke dont fix it”On saying this I do see that we must move forward and embrase new methods, to help the learner,but never,never must e-learning replace “OTHER METHODS” ie traditional.

  9. Not e-learning mad, either
    I am IT Training Manager at a large organisation, not too geographically diverse but with one or two remote offices. E-learning has never worked big-time for us, partly because we’ve always had a strong classroom offering, but mainly because I’ve found people just don’t like it! I’ve seen our Stateside parent company spend fortunes on failures in this field. Most business PC’s don’t have soundcards, speakers, or graphics cards, which severely restricts the e-learning experience. Even on a fully-equipped PC, I have seen very little that engages me fully for more than a few minutes. As an alternative to classroom courses, a lot of our people go for that multi-platform, touch-sensitive, instantly available, highly portable, battery-free alternative – we call them ‘books’ where I work…

  10. Whether E Learning Works ?
    I have been looking into the use of E Learning in training activities in organsations.And I have discovered that there are lots of constraints eg the restricted use of PCs , pc literacy ,slow speed internet connection, people not really keen except for a few who are self-directed learners . A blend of traditional and E Learning would make it slightly more workable.

  11. e-learning needs e-quality
    Quality online learning is about engaging learners. Quality e-learning can be very low-tech and highly personal, with participants knowing each other better than they do in a traditional training room — and with increased content retention and application. In reality, do each of your face-to-face learners engage in social interaction? Or do a few people dominate the class and others take on the role of passive participants? The goal of e-learning is to make each online participant a “front-row learner”. Online learning, on what I call a flex schedule, provides the best of both worlds: Flexibility and convenience along with the knowledge, experiences and support of other participants.

    Quality e-learning requires interaction among participants to solve problems, discuss issues, and help each other through a learning curve. It is not isolated. Nor is it an information dump or self-study. Since quality e-learning requires participation, it is most successful when companies allow learners time to work on courses during work hours, provide technical support,and have appropriate reward for those completing programs. Interaction and support are key elements.

    Sometimes e-learning is sufficient by itself and other times it needs to be blended with face-to-face meetings. It depends on the objectives and the learners. Certainly the cognitive learning can all be online. Outcomes such as teamwork, relationship building and finalizing creative projects probably need some face-to-face interaction.

  12. E-learning is Part of the Mix
    E-learning, used selectively and with a full understanding of the pros and cons of its use, can be an effective substitute for traditional methods. The most popular substitution is to replace “boring” theoretical content on otherwise interactive classroom events. That said, the e-learning has to be engaging if it’s to be a successful substitute, but my experience has shown that staff welcome this way of learning the core concepts, at their own pace.

    You can’t justify the elimination of social interaction! Over the last eight years…long before “blended” was ever coined as a phrase…I’ve been promoting technology based training as part of the mix and at every focus group I’ve run, the consistent message has been to offer a human element to the solution.

    Having promoted the use of the blended approach, my experience has also shown that e-learning can stand alone. High quality courses, on less contentious topics, with supporting resources, can be studied without the need for additional support. The blended approach works well, where there may be “shades of grey” in the content, or where practical reinforcement is deemed necessary to consolidate the learning.

    You may have heard of the “No Significant Difference” theory that reports that, having analysed numerous TBT projects over a number of years, there has been no real evidence to say that the results were any better/any worse than with other forms of education and training. But I would argue that e-learning has made a difference. For instance, in my own organisation, e-learning brought training to a population that had never really been exposed to learning, where resources had been largely commited to a small group of high potential employees. In my previous organisation, we were able to significanly increase the organisation’s capacity to deliver the training required to keep the business competitive and offer a much broader range of training than ever before. Better to have training in a new format, than no training at all. Staff want to know what’s in it for them. Giving them training that they know they need motivates them to learn and, to be honest, I’ve not seen too much opposition in these cases to the choice of delivery method.

    The benefits of being fully skilled in a role are sufficient for those staff I’ve encounted to outweigh any drawbacks. In fact, at the focus groups I’ve run, staff have been prepared to accept the “downsides”, if it means they have the chance to develop themselves in the areas that are important to them.

  13. A generation Born to e-learning
    The arguments for and against e-learning can go on forever, as could the arguments for and against using the sheep dip approach of some traditional training methods.

    Can you fail to ignore the generation of people who have been brought up on a diet of information technology and computer games. How are they going to react to a chalk and talk session where they are not able to hyperlink to some interesting fact they want to know more about or they are not able to contact their tutor/subject expert or fellow students on-line to discuss the subject in greater detail. For some people this will be a leap of faith.

    It is not a case of e-learning replacing traditional training methods, it is the case that e-learning techniques must become part of the trainers toolkit.

  14. Tutor Led Courses vs Computer Based Learning
    I have recently completed an assignment on the above subject for the Learning & Development Module of the CIPD PgDip HRM.

    If you wish a copy, please e-mail me on [email protected]

  15. ‘environment’ is the key
    I believe that the debate as to whether eLearning can replace, be a substitute for or be supplementary to traditional forms of training and education is now redundant.

    Instead the focus, for the eLearning practitioners amongst us, should be to make this mode of learning far more effective than it is at present.

    I often reference a quote from Einstein that goes along the lines of “I never try to teach my students anything… I simply create an environment in which they can learn”.

    I believe that this industry can do far, far better in terms of content production, (which will happen as the industry matures and brave, innovative and creative educationalists regain control from the purely technically focussed among us), however, content alone does not make an engaging learning experience, nor does simply bolting on a few chat rooms or noticeboards.

    I don’t believe that any of us truly know the way forward for certain, which is what makes this period in time so exciting, but that word ‘environment’, for me at least, is the key.

  16. Blended solutions work best
    Organisations tend to embrace e-learning as a vehicle for promoting the new and equipping people to work with new procedures, products or services; or because of dissatisfaction with current training and learning; or a combination of the two.

    The main drivers for investing in e-learning for organisations are about growing organisational revenue through the speedy introduction of new products or practices, whilst enabling staff to utilise their preferred style of learning.

    Converting an existing course into e-learning usually only makes sense financially if a relatively large number of staff are going to require the learning that the organisation wishes to design. A large number of staff will represent a range of learning styles, preferences and competencies. e-learning’s first benefit is to meet varied learning styles, preferences and competencies.

    Analysis should identify the elements of the learning that are primarily knowledge based and which can be acquired without recourse to other learners. Group-based learning is an essential part of helping people to make the decision to change behaviour and in assisting learners convert knowledge into skills and behaviours.

    The learning never ends at the classroom door. Yet most of our training practice seems to assume that once someone has been on a course, they have been trained. Opportunities to practice are an important part of the learning process. e-learning can enhance and support these exercises.

    Yet no matter how well e-learning has been designed, it is extremely unlikely that an e-learning programme can completely replace traditional course material. The blended solution will be the most appropriate role for e-learning within organisations and corporate learning strategies.

    There is no hard and fast rule that says that e-learning should be only pre-course, or only reinforcement materials. In fact, it is the power of digital training media to be re-purposed and re-used that enables e-learning to really fulfil a role for people development.

    Linking different learning modules and objects in different sequences, obviously requires a whole digital library of materials for trainers and learners to draw upon. This flexibility, designed to meet the specific needs of the learners, provides a role for e-learning beyond more traditional distance learning approaches.

    (See the white paper at

  17. Beware technical limitations
    I come late to this discussion as I’ve been up against a writing deadline. I agree with what has been said earlier but think that there are other issues in the elearning vs traditional argument.

    Not the least of these is the technical infrastructure that is in place to facilitate the elearning. Much can be done with streaming audio and video and very engaging programmes can be written, but the infrastructure has to be in place and understood.

    I work for a company producing elearning and we are forever having to compromise training ideals with technical practicalities. “We have sound cards but they’ve been disabled” is a comment often heard; so we have to produce a programme without sound. “We want to run it over a 56k internet connection”; so we’re limited on what graphics we can use.

    You have to consider the whole elearning environment, otherwise we may all be better off with a good book; the original interactive multimedia device.


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