For many years, on-the-job training meant being confined to a classroom or workstation. But as technology has evolved, so has the demand for flexibility.

The solution? eLearning.

With a vast array of mobile-ready and diverse media content, eLearning promises a tailored learning experience unmatched by traditional methods. But the real question remains…

Is it actually effective?

According to research, yes. In fact, if implemented properly, eLearning can be more effective at training employees than classroom learning. Here’s why…

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Traditional vs. eLearning

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There are plenty of things that traditional learning and eLearning has in common, but in terms of style and results, they can be radically different.

Traditional learning, for example, often:

  • Ignores informal learning in favor of formal
  • Is highly scheduled, with periods of down time
  • Needs to be commanded and controlled
  • Is transactional in nature – “I teach, you learn”

On the other hand, eLearning or modern learning:

  • Embraces both formal and information learning
  • Is continuous and accessible any time from any location
  • Supports and enables self-paced learning
  • Is transformational – “I learn because I want to learn”

While traditional learning methods are often admin-driven – or created and regulated by whoever is in charge – eLearning tends to be self-regulated and driven by the learners themselves.

A Difference in Motivation

In one of his speeches entitled The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink illustrates three factors of human motivation:

  1. Biological motivation, or the need to fulfill hunger and thirst. In this context, learning is regulated to include only the necessary information to (more or less) meet basic needs.
  2. Reward-based motivation, or a drive to “seek reward and avoid punishment” to achieve goals.
  3. Autonomous motivation, or the desire to learn for a higher purpose or mastery of skill.

Traditional learning often falls in the first two categories (though primarily the second). For workers in particular, this means they are required to attend classroom sessions or they will suffer a consequence – perhaps losing a paycheck or even being fired. They learn because they want to survive, not because they want to learn.

With eLearning, there’s a higher level of autonomy. Learners may still be required to learn, but because the sessions are often self-directed, there’s an internal motivating factor that creates a better learning experience.

This autonomy leads to quicker mastery of skills and more purpose in and out of the workplace.

A Difference in Social Interaction

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With traditional learning, there is a certain level of interaction to be expected: hands are raised, questions are asked and answered, and presentations are given.

While this may seem like a benefit over eLearning, studies show that eLearning discussions actually tend to be more substantial and have higher rates of participation. Why?

Scholars believe that online interactions remove necessary social cues, so people tend to reveal more. They are also more anonymous, more in control, and more able to open up without feeling self-conscious.

A Difference in Accessibility

In a traditional classroom setting the biggest difference from eLearning is that there is, in fact, a physical classroom. It requires someone to be present at all times to monitor activities and review content.

If one learner is struggling to remember, the instructor will sometimes answer questions or review materials, but in larger environments, this ability is limited.

eLearning, on the other hand, is stop-and-start as needed. This ability to review information at the moment of need is a major advantage, as it allows students to refresh information that would typically be forgotten immediately.

Workers benefit the most from eLearning because they can access valuable training information at any time, which reduces errors and improves not only the quality of the work, but the quality of the business as well.

A Difference in Training Time

One of the biggest disadvantages of traditional learning is the time required to review materials. If there’s a time crunch, certain lessons may be skipped in favor of others. If there’s no time crunch, then the learning experience can be unintentionally stretched too long, causing distraction and disengagement.

Thankfully, one minute of classroom time does not equal one minute of online training.

An eLearning course can take up to 75% less time than a traditional course. This makes room for increased personalization of scheduling, a factor that is critical for modern learners.

But the time benefit is not just for the learners. Businesses can benefit, too. In fact, the real hands-on time is 30-50% less with eLearning, which can save countless hours and financial resources that would have otherwise been dedicated to hands-on training.

A Difference in Delivery

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Much of how a physical instructor teaches can’t be duplicated or repeated. There are certain mannerisms, use of language, expressions and other visual cues that contribute to the learning experience.

While this in itself isn’t a bad thing – and it could be argued that this type of interaction is irreplaceable – it does have its downsides. For instance, should you need to switch instructors, or should a worker miss a classroom session, they’ve lost valuable information that can’t be handed to them on a sheet of paper.

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With eLearning, you have a much greater range of media to use: simulations, interactions, scenarios, and visual storytelling, all of which can be duplicated and shared with a variety of people in a variety of styles.

When it comes to training efficiency, duplication is key, and eLearning takes the cake in terms of replication.

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Final Thoughts

While there’s still a place in this world for traditional classroom learning (for now, anyway), eLearning is on the rise.

Not only is eLearning effective for helping students and other learners gain more knowledge, it’s essential to helping workers refine and improve their skills, better their job performance, and bring significant improvements to their companies by saving time and energy over traditional learning.

Research shows that eLearning has the ability to motivate learners on a deeper level, increase engagement, drive social interactions, and reach audiences in ways that traditional learning can’t match.

So, if you have the choice between adding eLearning to your workplace, go for it. Your workers and your business will be all the better for it.

Jonathan Davis is an accomplished professional with experience helping Fortune 500 companies achieve success in employee communication and training programs. Jonathan focuses on delivering reliable, successful outcomes that increases employee engagement through highly targeted deliverables, creative messaging and robust programs.