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Death of the classroom: Will elearning kill it or save it?

28th Jun 2013
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Is elearning responsible for the death of the classroom, or it the unlikely saviour? Daniel Griffin makes the case for the blend.

The elearning market is the fastest growing market in education, standing at $91bn in 2012. This is largely influenced by developing technology and the 870% growth in internet users since 2000, resulting in over 2.4bn internet users worldwide and a massive shift in the way we gather, store and utilise knowledge [1].

But elearning is not a new phenomenon in the education industry; it is just another format of distance learning and shares many of its pros and cons. One of the first instances of elearning was in 1993 when the first accredited online university was launched [2], since then, elearning has exploded with learning management systems, content providers, virtual classrooms, mobile platforms and MOOCs to name just a few. With our ever increasing reliance and fascination with the latest technology, elearning is fast becoming a necessity in the HR toolkit for developing employees.

However, with this ever increasing dependence on technology comes the question; where does classroom learning fit into this technological future? Do the pros of elearning outweigh the cons and can the classroom still have a place in a society which is reliant on technology as the source of the majority of its information?

Nails in the coffin of the classroom

  • Accessibility: The clear advantage of elearning over the traditional classroom is the fact that it can be accessed anytime and anywhere, as long as you have access to a device with an internet connection. This provides learners with the flexibility to learn their way and not be constrained to set times and locations. This is vital in the modern workplace as employees juggle demands on their time and resources. This accessibility also offers the opportunity for just-in-time learning where employees can access information as and when they need it, further supplementing their current knowledge when solving workplace problems. This accessibility is a game changer when considering the needs of your average Gen Y employee who is reliant on easy to access information and resources, as and when they need it [3].
  • Measurability: Elearning can be viewed as a series of discrete transactions of learning, e.g. learner logs in, views content on strategic analysis, completes quiz, leaves feedback, logs out. This series of learner transactions can be analysed with concrete metrics such as usage rates, frequency of access, location of access, individual vs departmental usage rates, etc. Unlike the traditional classroom, this data can be automatically generated and analysed quickly to assess the benefits of a campaign for a whole department, a group of learners or a single individual. The advantage of this measurement is that it is based on objective facts and can be reported with accuracy to project sponsors and management.
  • Sustainability: A research study conducted by the Open University concluded that distance learning programmes produced 85% less CO2 and consumed 90% less energy per student than traditional classroom courses [4]. Learning online only requires a computer or device with internet access, whereas a classroom session will require each student to travel as well as potentially print out their learning materials.

Is elearning the panacea to all L&D challenges?

  • Effective? Opinions are certainly mixed on this point; many argue that elearning is only effective at transferring knowledge and ‘hard skills’, whereas others contend that elearning is superior generally compared with traditional classroom methods. A nine-year survey of the research literature in training published by Fletcher and Tobias in 'Training and Retraining’ concluded that: 'Learners learn more using computer-based instruction than they do with conventional ways of teaching, as measured by higher post-treatment test scores’ [5]. But is this research recent enough based on the latest blended learning techniques? And are test scores the only way to measure knowledge transfer? What should really be under scrutiny for the effectiveness of learning shouldn’t be the method of transfer, but should actually be the content of the programme and its quality.
  • Universal? There are still large groups of the workforce that are uncomfortable with technology, especially when it comes to learning. The majority of the population will not have had access to computers and the internet when they were still in education and this will have a dramatic effect on their perspective of elearning and the prospect of ditching the classroom entirely.
  • Easy? Elearning takes commitment, it takes a great deal of self-discipline to stick to a self-development routine and study from an elearning portal, especially if there are no set exams, homework or usage monitoring. Classrooms, however, have the advantage that once you turn up you have little option but to participate and learn - but will you remember what you learnt two or three months later? Will you even understand your notes? What seems to be the case is that a large proportion of L&D departments are adept at running and measuring classroom teaching but are still getting their heads around how to translate this measurement to elearning.

So is the classroom dead?

The interest and implementation of elearning into organisations is growing, however with many individuals openly preferring classrooms and elearning measurement and delivery still needing some maturing, the classroom still hasn’t seen its last days yet.

In fact, the blending of elearning and face-to-face is a middle road which is also developing rapidly and is showing promising results, particularly at higher education institutions where the two methods are incorporated together. However, as technology and attitudes towards technology evolves there will be more demand to replace physical classrooms with virtual classrooms, further eating into the traditional classroom model of education.

In conclusion, for classrooms to survive in the long term, they need to incorporate elearning into their delivery, either before, after or during the classroom session itself. This not only will enable more complex exchanges of ideas, but also enable easier networking, integration with people’s lives and a better method of monitoring progress and performance.

To read more on this subject, Virtual Ashridge have released a whitepaper on developing a digital learning strategy, this is ideal for anyone looking to understand digital learning and some of the challenges which come with its implementation. Click here to access.

Daniel Griffin is the digital marketing manager at Ashridge, where he is responsible for creating content for Ashridge’s website and media partners, as well as acting as a point of contact for anyone interested in learning more about Virtual Ashridge. Virtual Ashridge is an elearning collection of business and management content, curated to ensure your learners have access to business school level education, anytime they need it, anywhere in the world

[1] http://edcetera.rafter.com/global-e-learning-industry-overview-infographic/

[2] http://www.jiu.edu/about-jiu/our-history

[3] http://www.ashridge.org.uk/geny

[4] http://www3.open.ac.uk/events/3/2005331_47403_o1.pdf

[5] Tobias & Fletcher (2000). Training & retraining: A handbook for business, industry, government, and the military

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