Advantages and Disadvantages of eLearning Technologies to Deliver Training to Your Learners
What You’ll Find Here about Advantages and Disadvantages of eLearning
Like nearly everything in life—and certainly all technologies—eLearning offers advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we’re talking about adult learners completing self-paced, online training. If you’re trying to figure out the advantages and disadvantages of eLearning, you’ve found the right spot. (Spoiler alert: For each disadvantage, we’re also including a tried-and-true strategy to mitigate the negative implications.)
First, the Good Stuff: Advantages of eLearning
eLearning offers some impressive advantages for you and your learners. Here’s a recap. (If you want more details about the advantages of eLearning, you can take a deeper dive in I Know Some of the Benefits of eLearning, but Do I Have the Whole Picture?)
With eLearning, training can be accomplished wherever and whenever it makes sense. Employees can fit training around other tasks. Employers don’t need to reschedule work because an entire team is in training at the same time. Learners who aren’t your employees (think members, suppliers, vendors, volunteers, etc.) can accomplish their learning while working around jobs, family schedules and other commitments.
You save money with eLearning because you’re not paying instructors to prepare materials, refresh themselves on content, travel to the training location and set up the classroom—all before they even begin to teach. You’re not paying learners to travel, and they can typically cover the same content in much less time through eLearning than in a live session. You’re also not renting a classroom, maintaining a training space of your own or nabbing a conference room that is needed for another purpose. All of this translates to reduced costs.
You can scale delivery to maximize your investment and drastically bring down your cost-per-learner. If you're using a Learning Management System like the TraCorp LMS that does not charge a per-user fee, once your training is developed, you literally can train 10 people or 10,000 for the same cost.
Often the person who is most knowledgeable about a subject doesn’t have the bandwidth or skills to deliver effective instruction, so someone else facilitates the training. With eLearning, you can “cut out the middle person” (the facilitator) by partnering your subject-matter expert with an instructional designer. The result of this partnership is that learners receive information exactly the way the subject-matter expert has approved it, with no concerns about the facilitator’s background, skills or biases.
This is a non-issue for some subjects but crucial for others. If your content is confidential or better received in a private environment, eLearning offers this advantage compared to a live session.
In every classroom since Confucius taught the sons of nobility, some learners have been eager to share their thoughts and answers—and others simply don’t participate in that way. In a live setting, it is difficult to ensure that everyone is truly “getting it.” One of the advantages of eLearning is that every learner, even the quiet ones, must fully complete any required element before continuing.
Connection to Resources
In eLearning, you can seamlessly link to an online resource and instruct learners to save it to their devices for use later. This boosts the likelihood that learners will use the resource in the future since it is already on their devices.
Now, Some Disadvantages of eLearning—and How to Overcome Them
As we explore the advantages and disadvantages of eLearning, we’ll compare this delivery technology to live training. Here are some weaknesses of eLearning and how you can mitigate them.
Responding to Unique Questions/Comments
It’s true; a typical eLearning course can’t detect and respond to a unique question or comment from a learner. We’ve successfully instructed learners to note any questions they have at the end of each lesson in an eLearning course. Then, after a summary of key points in the course wrap-up, they revisit their list and see which have been addressed. Finally, we provide specific instructions for the remaining questions: ask your supervisor, email the Help Desk, call your case manager, etc.
In live training, you might be able to email your instructors about a content change, perhaps attaching a revised slide deck. Updates to an eLearning course are more complex and require technical support. To reduce potential delays and costs, think carefully about what information you include in audio, onscreen text, and supplemental resources. For example, if a regulation has a dollar threshold that can change annually, document it in a web-based resource only and link to that resource from the eLearning course. If that’s not feasible, state the current threshold in the onscreen text but don’t include it in the recorded narration, which would require an audio pickup by your voice talent.
One of the great things about a well-facilitated, live training session is the synergy that can develop when learners share information and ideas that spark learning in others. Unfortunately, the asynchronous nature of eLearning makes this impossible in a live environment. That just means you need to allow for it in other ways. Perhaps your eLearning ends with a few questions learners prepare to discuss at a follow-up virtual meeting. Or maybe your comprehensive training solution includes a guide supervisors use to facilitate a discussion during a team meeting.
Practicing Certain Skills
Learners can practice many skills and get feedback on their performance via an interaction in an eLearning course. But there are some skills, especially those with a physical component, where you need a different approach. That’s why skill practice is another area where you may need a blended learning solution: eLearning that covers concepts and builds knowledge, then perhaps a group lab for skill practice. Or maybe your training solution includes a structured follow-up where you provide a supervisor or mentor with a checklist to observe and confirm the learner’s new skills.
Practically speaking, it’s impossible to control everything your learner can access during an eLearning course. That includes access to resources that “give away” answers to knowledge checks and assessments. Fortunately, adults tend to be motivated learners when their knowledge and skills have relevance and a direct impact on their situation. Thus, they are less likely to cheat. Therefore, be sure your content is on-target for your learners and clearly conveys the purpose and importance of each lesson.
There are both advantages and disadvantages of eLearning. If you’re looking for flexible and scalable training that saves money, delivers consistent content, provides privacy, ensures that even quiet learners participate fully, and increases the odds that students use resources after the training, consider eLearning. Yes, there are potential disadvantages, and you must be mindful of them. But those drawbacks don’t mean you should rule out this delivery mode; you can take steps to overcome any weaknesses so that you and your students can benefit from the advantages these technologies offer.