Thursday, January 14, 2010

Is eLearning As Credible As Classroom Training?

By Shelley A. Gable

I recently came across a discussion on LinkedIn that debated whether classroom (instructor-led) training is more credible than eLearning. After comparing the effectiveness of the two methods in a variety of studies, many researchers have concluded that they can be equally effective and that the instructional strategies drive effectiveness, not the medium.

As training professionals, we have the knowledge to make informed decisions about whether to use classroom training, eLearning, or another approach to meet an instructional need. However, if a project's stakeholders perceive eLearning as less credible than classroom training, then it's to our advantage to anticipate why these perceptions may exist and prepare ourselves to address them.

In the LinkedIn discussion thread, training professionals suggested a variety of reasons that classroom training may be perceived as more credible than eLearning. Below are some of those reasons, along with suggested discussion points for addressing them with project stakeholders.

Classroom training is more familiar.
This makes sense. Nearly all of us learned in a classroom setting in school, and most of us continued to do so in college. In contrast, the majority of us have probably had a lot less exposure to eLearning. Therefore, the key to overcoming this obstacle may be to help stakeholders visualize how the proposed eLearning course would work. What resources will be available to learners? How can they get their questions answered? How will learners practice newly learned skills and receive feedback? How will performance be assessed?

Classroom training gives learners hands-on practice and feedback from the trainer.
One participant in the LinkedIn discussion thread suggested that many people think that eLearning is just reading. As with the item above, it may help to provide stakeholders with specific examples of how learners will apply newly learned skills and receive feedback on their performance in the eLearning environment. Will the training include scenario-based knowledge checks? And if so, what kind of guiding feedback will learners receive if they answer incorrectly? Will the training challenge learners to complete a particular task (perhaps in a simulation)? And again, what types of feedback and guidance will be provided? If possible, it might be especially helpful to share completed examples from other projects with reluctant stakeholders.

Classroom training allows peers to learn from one another.
eLearning can do this too. Many organizations use web 2.0 technologies to accomplish this. A previous post on this blog, Understanding Web 2.0, offers a crash course on this topic. For organizations that haven't embraced that technology yet, there are also low-tech ways to do this - click here to read a previous post on this blog that offers a few low-tech suggestions.

Classroom training is more interesting and keeps learners more attentive.
What makes classroom training interesting? An energetic presenter? Perhaps this effect can be mimicked by incorporating audio narration or an occasional video. Slides that are visually appealing and content that is written with some character can help too. The ability to interact with peers? This was addressed above. The variety of activities? There are a lot of options available in our eLearning toolkits too. If a stakeholder suggests certain classroom activities that should be included in training, brainstorm equivalent activities for the eLearning environment.

A few final thoughts...
I'm guessing that all of us have encountered eLearning courses that have been little more than text-filled page-turners. Unless the topic is intrinsically interesting, this approach tends to be boring and ineffective. I suspect that it's experience with courses like this that makes some folks reluctant to consider eLearning. But I've also attended classroom training that consisted of little more than a facilitator reading from a seemingly endless series of slides, which has a similar effect as a page-turner on the computer.

eLearning isn't optimal for every instructional need. But when an eLearning solution does make sense, be prepared to explain to reluctant stakeholders how the instructional strategies that make classroom training effective can also be applied in an eLearning environment.


  1. The case for online learning is gathering momentum and evidence of support, though the case is still out. Check out the US Department of Education report through the article at:

  2. Nice post! When I first started the LinkedIn discussion I had no idea that it would get some many responses.
    The idea came from a time when I was sitting with a bunch of commercial lending mngt and were discussing training options. The tone/mood was that classroom was the best (and always the best) option. If we needed to save money then we could "settle" for online training. That made me start to wonder why they had these feelings. So I jotted it down so that I could blog about it later and put it on LinkIn.

    A like your comment about being familiar. We all "grew up" with classroom training as basically the only option. As new generations grow up will they see online training as more credible since they grew up using it? Will we ever get to a point where we judge the credibility based on the course content and not the means of delivery?

    Great post...keep up the good work!

  3. Hi there.
    I really enjoy reading your blog and specifically this post. Currently, I am studying Instructional Design at an Online University and working for the same organization. So, I clearly have bought into the fact that eLearning is credible and worthwhile.

    I do agree that both in classroom training and online learning are equally effective but, I do believe your success depends on the type of learner you are. As you said you can have a virtual or physical classroom that are boring and not suited for effective learning. I think in an Online learning environment some students struggle because they cannot get instant clarification on issues or get some of the visual or auditory explanations that a classroom provides more so than online training. Being an Online Learner definitely means being a proactive and having to work harder at finding a solution or at least waiting for one.

    I think one of the best advantages to Online University or trainings is how multicultural your virtual classroom can be. In a physical classroom you do have some international students but you do not always get to interact or have discussions with them. In an Online environment you can be surrounded by classmates from all over the world with extremely different opinions, backgrounds and ideas. At times you get to experience a completely different viewpoint that gives you insight into a solution or idea you never would have thought of. It’s quite fascinating to see things from different perspectives and angles. I also think in an Online environment more students feel more comfortable to give their opinion then having to speak in front of the class in a classroom setting. The last thing I will mention is the flexibility of Online Learning. It’s quite amazing to be able to continue to work while working on my Master’s. There is a limited amount of Master’s programs that are offered in the evenings and you are locked into always attending class on those evenings.

    I can understand that your viewpoint is more towards selling an Online Training program to a client so most of my points might not apply to you however; I wanted to give you additional insight into the Online student perspective.

    Thank you.
    Liz v d Burg.

  4. Liz, thanks for your excellent comments. I completely agree with the benefits to online training you mention that derive from studying with an online university. The original post wasn't so much trying to sell a program to a client as it was questioning whether eLearning has finally overcome the stigma that was once associated with it.

    Like you, I studied for my master's in a Distance Learning program (the excellent IPT program at Boise State University). And my experience was exactly what you describe -- more open participation, very diverse student population, almost global idea exchange. There is tremendous benefit to taking classes and sharing ideas with others from a completely different geographical region and with different backgrounds and job levels.

    Yet, until recently, many didn't seem to share this view. I remember when the idea of studying for a degree online automatically led some people to think of a diploma mill or, at best, ineffective learning. Fortunately, enough quality schools and programs have emerged that Distance Learning education programs have been widely accepted, even respected. And it should be that way; I worked harder for my online master's than I did in any classroom program.

    But we still see some resistance from the corporate world. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, some people just don't believe learning can happen in any environment other than a classroom. How can their opinion be changed? Time, evidence, and quality eLearning programs.


Thank you for your comments.