E-learning: Why It Delivers Better Performance

Last week we looked at some of the arguments for e-learning from a cost point of view. 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 learning – most of the time.

1. 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.

2. 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 de-contextualised training room. Goal-based scenarios that emulate the worker’s real environment can do a pretty good job of emulating real work tasks. If these scenarios incorporate real-world information such as emails, reports and websites, and provide learners with realistic challenges, then they'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.

3. Greater consistency

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 content consistency point to everyone, while well-designed assessments with formative questions can check for learner understanding, and more importantly, the ability to apply the this learning on-the-job. The more consistent the learning experience, the lower the risk of introducing errors.

4. 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 speed 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 takes control of the pace, and topics can be revisited whenever learners need to refresh, or whenever the learning 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 using 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 will still 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.