digital learning

Is Classroom Training More Effective Than eLearning?

Published by Tony Small

5 September, 2022


Can we truthfully answer this long-standing conundrum?

Classroom training is often the preferred learning modality. However, eLearning offers major benefits in terms of scalability and cost. My personal position, as a long-standing educator who grew up in an age when the only option was the classroom, has always been that classroom training is indeed the best.


This viewpoint is not founded on any cold, hard evidence but rather on my individual preferences and a reflection on the lessons I've learned from my own life. But when thinking about it today, I came to the conclusion that it was time to put this viewpoint to the test by looking for some solid research findings that addressed this age-old question. Rather than comparing the virtual classroom (which utilises synchronous learning) to the actual classroom setting, one of the things that piqued my interest was how effective eLearning (also known as asynchronous learning) is in comparison to traditional classroom instruction.


The results of my research led me to an authority in this field named Dr. Will Thalheimer of  Work-Learning Research, Inc. He has conducted his own research in addition to conducting an extensive review of the academic literature in this field. As a result, his analysis and conclusions offer a good depth of insight that can be used to answer the question accurately and completely. You'll be able to read his entire research paper right here.


The answer to the question of which learning method is more efficient is a bit unexpected, and it can be stated as follows:


classroom training < eLearning < blended learning solutions

where < means less than


However, in order to provide us with more insightful information, Dr. Thalheimer delves further into the methodologies and characteristics of the research, as is shown in the following:


The real truth of the matter is that the relative effectiveness of learning is not correlated to modality, but it is directly correlated to the methods or pedagogy of learning used. Let me expand further on this very important distinction.


What Dr. Thanlheimer came to realise is that there is not a single pedagogy or design approach that is used for either eLearning or traditional classroom education; rather, there are in fact a great number of different pedagogies that are applied to both modalities. Now, if the research design makes sure that the same pedagogy is used for both of the modalities that are being compared to one another, then it turns out that both of the modalities are nearly as effective as one another.


Permit me to elaborate on what I mean by the terms "pedagogy" and "design approach." According to one definition, pedagogy is "the approach to teaching, is the theory and practice of learning, and how this process influences, and is influenced by, the social, political and psychological development of learners. [wikipedia -] It is all about how a course is designed to get across the teaching points in a way that is clear, understandable, and memorable to the individuals who will be taking the course. This includes the utilisation of visual aids, learner exercises, discussion groups, opportunities to practise, knowledge checks, etc., that is, all of the components of an educational process that set it apart from simply listening to a presenter, reading a book, or watching a video.


According to the findings of the research, the outcomes in terms of learning effectiveness are much closer to equity when the same or near-equivalent teaching methods are used in both modalities. This is the case whether the teaching methods are face-to-face or online. For instance, if a video-based scenario or an animated graphic has been developed and utilised in the eLearning course, then the instructor of the classroom course should show the students the same media asset that has been utilised in the eLearning course.


One of the reasons that, in less controlled studies, eLearning delivers better outcomes to classroom training is that the more thorough design process that is applied to eLearning content ensures that the pedagogical approach is more rigorous and effective, and this compensates or even over-compensates for the lack of synchronicity in this modality. In other words, eLearning content is designed to ensure that the pedagogical approach is more rigorous and effective.


The most significant thing that can be learned from this study is that rather than focusing on the mode of instruction (classroom, virtual classroom, or eLearning), one should pay more attention to the instructional methodology.


From the point of view of the design of e-learning, this will entail paying attention to all of the following, as appropriate to the subject matter:


1- For better illustration of difficult ideas and information, consider using video and animation.

2- The provision of opportunities for learners to reflect on their own learning and consider how it can be applied in their workplace.

3- When developing learner assessments and knowledge checks, it is important to give equal weight to the retrieval recall and recognition options. In the case of recall, a learner is given less prodding in terms of the information that is required, whereas in the case of recognition, a learner is encouraged to recognise the appropriate response from a list of possible responses.

4- Avoid the temptation to overwhelm the learner with too much information. It is preferable to present 10 knowledge points and have a learner be able to remember 8 of them rather than offering 20 and having learners only remember 5 of them.