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eLearning is now a common inclusion in the training programmes of many organisations. This includes private enterprise, the public sector and all levels of education. Stand-alone computer based training and basic interactive video style delivery actually pre-dates the internet, but only since that revolution has eLearning exploded in power, reach and relevance.

Making Learners Tick

Early attempts at pioneering eLearning content included simulated page turning styles or poorly designed interactions which left learners, bored, disengaged and often unable to even remember the basics of what they had been ‘taught’.

Research conducted in 2017 by US learning expert Will Thalheimer, PhD reveals that in a straight shootout between eLearning and standard classroom learning the results are often very similar. When learning methods are held constant between eLearning and classroom instruction, both produce equal results. In other words, a PowerPoint presentation or lecture delivered in a classroom environment has approximately the same impact as one delivered in eLearning format with a voiceover or video presenter.

What does make a difference is the method rather than the modality. Therefore, such factors as well thought out interactive activities, realistic practice, spaced repetitions, real-world contexts and feedback become vitally important.

The Blended Approach Wins

Blended learning is where traditional methods such as classroom delivery and practical exercises are mixed with online delivery to create a hybrid learning experience. With learners tested in Thalheimers’ study equally satisfied with both eLearning and classroom modes and thus not providing any serious disadvantage the results really hit hard, a 13% improvement in declarative learning and an even more impressive 20% increase in procedural knowledge.

The bottom line here is that eLearning in the real world tends to outperform classroom instruction, but only if that eLearning has been designed in such a way to take advantage of the wider amount of delivery methods available. When learning designers add technology enabled capabilities, they tend to create learning methods which are different from and more effective than those typically used in classroom delivery, which has an over-reliance lecture styles as the prime method.