eLearning Insights: “Do You Really Need eLearning?”

eLearning Insights: “Do You Really Need eLearning?”
Summary: In today's IT era many organizations and institutions are using eLearning because it can be as effective as traditional training but at a lower cost. Developing eLearning is more expensive than preparing classroom materials and training the trainers, especially if multimedia or highly interactive methods are used. However, delivery costs for eLearning (including costs of web servers and technical support) are considerably lower than those for classroom facilities, instructor time, participants’ travel and job time lost to attend classroom sessions.

Do You Really Need eLearning?

In this article, I want to focus on those areas where eLearning is really an awesome option for organizations Learning and Development. Let's figure out what are the parameters that are important when we think to choose an eLearning option.

eLearning reaches a wider target audience by engaging learners who have difficulty attending conventional classroom training because they are:

  • Geographically dispersed with limited time and/or resources to travel;
  • Busy with work or family commitments which do not allow them to attend courses on specific dates with a fixed schedule;
  • Located in conflict and post-conflict areas and restricted in their mobility because of security reasons;
  • Limited from participating in classroom sessions because of cultural or religious beliefs;
  • Facing difficulties with real-time communication (e.g. foreign language learners or very shy learners)

eLearning can offer effective instructional methods, such as practicing with associated feedback, combining collaboration activities with self-paced study, personalizing learning paths based on learners’ needs and using simulation and games. Further, all learners receive the same quality of instruction because there is no dependence on a specific instructor.

Can eLearning be used to develop any type of skill?

A training program may aim at developing different types of skills:

  • Cognitive skills, which can involve knowledge and comprehension (e.g. understanding scientific concepts), following instructions (procedural skills), as well as applying methods in new situations to solve problems (thinking or mental skills);
  • Interpersonal skills, such as skills involved in active listening, presenting, negotiating, etc.;
  • Psychomotor skills, involving the acquisition of physical perceptions and movements (e.g. making sports or driving a car).

How can eLearning address these diverse domains?

Most eLearning courses are developed to build cognitive skills; the cognitive domain is the most suitable for eLearning. Within the cognitive domain, thinking skills may require more interactive eLearning activities because those skills are learned better “by doing”. Learning in the interpersonal domain can also be addressed in eLearning by using specific methods. For example, interactive role playing with appropriate feedback can be used to change attitudes and behaviors.

Some questions to ask when choosing among eLearning, face-to-face instruction or other types of informal or on-the-job learning include:

  • What is the relative cost of each type of training?
  • Is learning best delivered in one unit or spread out over time?
  • Does it address a short-term or a long-term learning need?
  • Do participants have access to needed computer and communications equipment?
  • Are participants sufficiently self-motivated for eLearning or self-study modes of learning?
  • Do target participants’ time schedules and geographic locations enable this type of training?
  • Classroom‑based learning or other types of synchronous learning?

eLearning is a good option when:

  • There is a significant amount of content to be delivered to a large number of learners;
  • Learners come from geographically dispersed locations;
  • Learners have limited mobility;
  • Learners have limited daily time to devote to learning;
  • Learners may face difficulties in reading or listening;
  • Learners have at least basic computer and Internet skills;
  • Learners are required to develop homogeneous background knowledge on the topic;
  • Learners are highly motivated to learn and appreciate proceeding at their own pace;
  • Content must be reused for different learners’ groups in the future;
  • Training aims to build cognitive skills rather than psychomotor skills;
  • The course addresses long-term rather than short-term training needs;
  • There is a need to collect and track data.

Since eLearning is not ideal for all purposes, it is unlikely that it will replace classroom training completely in an organization. The most cost-effective application of eLearning may be to complement conventional training in order to reach as many learners as possible. I personally prefer eLearning only to be used where it is cost efficient. Its a great investment, but at the same time it also depends upon the type of model you choose.