E-learning is certainly “having its day.” It seems as if everyone, from primary school students through corporate employees, are receiving this learning delivery format, from computer-assisted and enrichment activities for school-aged learners to more formal training among work forces.
Still, there are those who still state that nothing can really replace the physical presence of an instructor and face-to-face contact between that instructor and his/her students.
Given that this debate continues, it might be wise to take a look at the pros and cons of each type of learning. In this way, those who plan education/training programs can see how each would fit (or not) with their organizational culture.
The Pros & Cons of E-learning
Proponents of e-learning all point to the fact that it is a much more efficient method of education and training. And there is certainly something to be said for this. Here are the major pros:
- If a work force is in several different geographical locations, e-learning makes much more sense than to go the cost of sending a trainer to several physical locations. Or worse, sending employees from several locations to a common site.
- E-Learning allows participants to “replay” content as needed, in order to be certain that they master what has been taught.
- Technology allows verbal and face-to-face interaction during set times, or the ability to tune in to those interatom if they have been saved.
- All materials are online rather than in hard copy format – saves paper and they can be accessed at any time, or printed out as a student/participant chooses.
- Feedback from quizzes and exams is usually immediate, so participants have up to date knowledge of their progress and mastery.
- Learners can often have greater flexibility of the times they access their learning modules and on what devices they choose to use, fitting them into their schedules more suitably.
And the cons:
- There are some learners who just want a real live person in a classroom with whom they can interact as necessary, immediately. Having to wait to ask questions.
- There can be additional hardware costs for an organization that transitions to e-Learning.
- With flexibility of time, learners can become a bit “lazy” and procrastinate completion.
- Lectures may be provided in text form, and that requires lots of reading
- Personal contact with an instructor can be limited and may most often to occur via email. This means wait-time for a response.
- Some curricula do not lend themselves well to and elearning environment, especially those in which physical activities must be completed to demonstrate mastery. Take, for example, the courses offered by Phoenix Health and Safety, an organization that provides employees with safety training for required certifications. There may be equipment and supplies that must be on-site, and the instructor may need to physically observe participant use of that equipment.
This is, of course, the more traditional method of teaching and learning, and there are many who stick to their beliefs that this is a more successful experience for participants.
- During lecture periods, students can physically request recognition and ask questions on the spot in real time. And they can ask follow-up questions as well. In e-Learning, there are only these opportunities during times when video conferencing is in place.
- Physical textbooks can be handled as necessary, underlining, and writing notes in margins. The physical presence means that texts are immediately accessible rather than having to log in and navigate to some e-materials.
- Face-to-face interaction allows nuances of expressions and other non-verbal behaviors that can be clues to learners about the importance of certain content. And instructors can gauge the receptivity of their learners.
- Class participants can physically interact and discuss the course content, perhaps collaborating in study groups during non-school hours.
- For those who need a social environment for learning, face-to-face learning is far preferable.
- A physical classroom and a set schedule of class times will keep potential procrastinators on task.
- A set schedule of class times can be a problem. Learners who are ill or who must miss class for other reasons must figure out how to make up what was missed.
- Textbooks can be pricey.
- Learners who are geographically dispersed must travel. Even if they live in the locale of the classroom, there is travel and possible parking fees.
- Learners who do not like a social environment often prefer elearning situations in which they can work on their own.
The Middle Position
What most educators and trainers understand is that some curricula and learning activities lend themselves well to elearning and flexibility for participants. Other curricula will still require face-to-face environments, because of the types of participation required by the learners. At least for the near future, both environment will continue to be utilized based upon those specific circumstances.