Can Online Learning be as effective classroom training?

Personal but not In-Person

Can Online Learning be as effective classroom training?

Matt Archer

December 3, 2020

Online Learning quote

Today’s learning environment is shifting rapidly. With technology and the internet becoming more readily adapted into daily life due to challenges in the modern world, it’s more important than ever to find ways to utilize online learning to continue to help companies grow and stay effective.

Online training isn’t that new, but it has been brought to the forefront in 2020. Is the infrastructure of current online training and teaching methodologies enough to be able to help businesses meet their goals?

Can Online Learning be as Effective as In-Person?

While Online Learning can never match the physicality of being at a live training, surrounded by other students and led by an instructor, it can still bring a lot of personal connectivity and personality to the learning experience.

Since each learner is different in how they best comprehend and apply training, it can be difficult to determine whether virtual training can be as effective as in-person training in all cases, but can it accomplish the goals of most training in competent manner?

Training is often designed with an end goal in mind. Often it’s for the learner to acquire skills and then apply them in some way to demonstrate competency. In that use case, online training has been shown to be very effective in meeting the needs of learners and companies. As much as 72% of companies participating in a Brandon Hall Group Survey said that eLearning put them at a competitive advantage.[1]

Online Learning quote 2

Benefits of Online Learning

The Online Learning format provides some pretty substantial benefits. The same Brandon Hall Group Survey found that as a whole eLearning allows students to learn up to five times as much content per learning hour than traditional learning.[2] The increase in comprehension was believed to stem from learners being able to digest small amounts of content at a time, such as that found in Micro-Learning, which is a very good use-case for online learning.

Below are some benefits of online learning that can help keep pace or possibly exceed traditional, in-person training.

  1. Convenience
  2. Interactivity
  3. Flexibility


Online Learning convenienceOne of the biggest benefits of online training is that you can take the training anywhere you have an internet connection and applicable device. There is very little need to travel. This makes it very convenient for those who may live far away from in-person training locations, those who travel often or those who have a busy schedule.

For many learners, who may be working full time jobs and have families or other obligations, it’s difficult to make time to attend in-person training events, especially if it also requires travel. Online learning mitigates that issue and allows one to take the training on-demand and take as much time as they need to finish it. eLearning also often allows for reviewing the training as often as desired to be able to better understand concepts.

Further, online learning, due to being computer based, can be programmed to help assist users with disabilities to help ensure their experience is just as good as everyone else’s. This is more difficult during in-person courses where learner needs may change over each batch of new trainees and an instructor may not have the capability or assets required to provide the optimal experience for all learners all the time.

Because of these convenience factors, online learning is able to take a step above traditional in-person training.


eLearning allows training to be happening in layers to allow users to get more out of the experience much easier than in-person training. An online learning course could contain videos and audio files that play as needed and clickable hot spots that appear in different parts of the training that allow you to gather information that will be useful for solving quizzes later on.

These items can all be programmed ahead of time to make the experience flow very easily and allow the learner to feel as if they are in a journey that they can explore at their own pace. Comparatively, in-person learning could still have many of these same elements, but it requires the instructor to be interacting with the elements for the learner or otherwise pausing the instructor-led portion of the training in order to request users take some portion of the eLearning at the instructor’s convenience, not the student’s.

Finally, interactive elements allow the system to be able to provide meaningful feedback to the learner based on choices they make, which can help them better understand the material. This is much more difficult to do in-person as instructors only have so much time to devote and an entire class waiting while they spend time helping one student.


Online Learning flexibilityAs mentioned, online learning has the benefit of being available in an on-demand format, meaning someone can decide to watch a recording of a class or go through an eLearning exercise at any time of day that’s convenient for them instead of needing to attend a class that happens in certain location at a very specific date and time. This allows for great flexibility in when the training is taken and how much is taken at a time. Because of this flexibility of the learner, this allows the training itself to be designed in a more flexible manner, which can greatly enhance the retention of the learner.

Methodologies such as micro-learning take advantage of this concept by intentionally designing their training into small, bite-sized concepts that can be digested in 5-7 minutes while leaving the learner feeling like they have learned something worthwhile. Similarly, some online training is offered in an ala carte format that allows users to choose the amount and order of the modules they consume, providing even more ability to cater to user needs.

Additionally, eLearning can be programmed to adapt to each learner’s different style. Through “Branching,” a training can be designed to follow different paths depending on the user’s choices earlier in the course, allowing it to be a more tailored experience compared to in-person training.

Drawbacks of Online Learning

While Online Learning has some great benefits, there are some drawbacks to be aware of.

  1. Detachment from the Community
  2. Technical Limitations
  3. Inadequate Preparedness

Detachment from the Community

Because of the nature of online learning, many courses simply present an instructor in front of a webcam perhaps presenting on a whiteboard or sharing screen. This level of training tends to be very lecture-like and provides less impetus for Teacher/Student and Student/Student communication.

There are many features that could be incorporated into the training to help offset the more impersonal nature of online learning, such as quizzes, encouraging learner participation through audio, text or document collaboration.

Online learning can even potentially bring more people together than in-person (due to no true limitations on attendees in many platforms the way rooms only have so many seats), but it can also push people further apart.

Another concern is whether the learning is required or self-paced. With the self-paced learning sector shrinking mostly due to lack of engagement[3], it’s important for trainers to determine how best to keep learners interested in the material. Finding a way to continue to bring a community feel to an online environment are crucial to that initiative.

Technical Limitations

Online Learning technical limitationsOnline learning requires some technology to work, and more technology to work well. The more that technology is introduced, especially to those unfamiliar with it, the more potential there is for things to go wrong. As so many trainers are being forced to adopt online meeting platforms, training applications and other collaboration tools, there’s a lot for them to remember and manage.

It’s important that both trainers and learners have an understanding of the technology being used for online learning to help maximize the potential of these applications and minimize the issues that may arise.

Inadequate Preparedness

This issue isn’t caused by online learning so much as it’s a side effect of trainers who think online learning and in-person training require the same type and amount of effort to prepare for. This can quickly lead to awkward situations when applications and tools don’t work as intended or other distractions occur during virtual meetings.

As with the technical limitations, these issues can mostly be solved for ahead of time once trainers and learners gain experience with the platforms being used and understand the differences in requirements compared to traditional in-person training sessions.

Can Virtual Learning Work for your Business?

The odds are that online learning, when implemented well, can help make your business better. Most companies today are using eLearning or other forms of online training to help improve performance, increase retention and save money. With the way work is changing, the bigger question is can your company afford not to invest in online training for its workers?

Answer these questions below to help determine how online learning could help your business grow and thrive.

Online Learning is it right for you

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, your business may be a good candidate for virtual learning. If you would like more information and access to a more robust questionnaire tool that provides feedback about your company’s unique training needs, please reach out to us at Positive Results™ and we’d be happy to assist you.

Final Thoughts

While in-person training isn’t going anywhere, Online Learning is continuing to get larger and more popular. These different training methods don’t have to conflict with each other and can complement each other in many cases. While neither is better than the other, they can both provide some unique and powerful benefits to learners, depending on the requirements of the training.

At Positive Results™ we recommend analyzing your existing and desired training to determine how best virtual and/or in-person training could help improve a variety of important metrics.


If you have additional questions about training or need support, contact us at:

Positive Results™ Custom Business Solutions




[2] Ibid


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