What’s holding e-learning back?

Face-to-face delivery still accounts for well over 90 per cent of all adult training in the UK. But according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, e-learning can save up to 70 per cent of training budgets.

Why isn’t everybody using it? Why isn’t the e-learning hype of a few years back matched by the reality, where, it is mostly either not being used at all, or its use is severely limited? And if it’s so cost-efficient, why isn’t everybody at it? Here are the possible reasons:

E-learning is not the answer to saving costs and saving time

E-learning is a way of delivering learning online that requires the same attention to objective setting, precise learning outcomes and clear instruction and feedback as the best face-to-face programme and the most sophisticated distance learning courses. But it has the added complexity of technical demands of making materials work well online – fully interactive and with scoring, tracking and appropriate feedback. It is complex, and it takes more resources to develop.

E-learning is complex to create

E-learning isn’t as simple as taking a training course and converting it into a PDF document. That simply changes a book in print into a book on a computer, and research shows that reading on screen is much harder than reading off the printed page.

Although many of the early concerns about standards and inter-operability have been overcome (SCORM sets an acceptable standard for most e-learning, and current learning management systems should now all comply), much of the building of e-learning materials requires specialist IT skills.

Time and people problems

In just the same way as finding time for staff to go on training courses is difficult, it’s also hard to find time for them to undertake online programmes. Managers would like staff to study in their own time, which can often mean expecting people to work out of hours. When time is found for studying online, it is hard to ring-fence. Some prefer online learning to take place away from the desk.

There are many different ways of delivering learning

E-learning is just one delivery channel among many. One learning company, LMD, shows that the range of possible learning and training approaches is clearly complex, combining people working together, people connected to each other, published/broadcast media and delivery online.


Even in the largest of organisations, not everyone has a desktop computer. Many government departments, for example, have thousands of employees whose jobs are not office-bound. It’s hard to achieve the principle of equal access.

Technology never stays still

There is no such thing as a standard PDA or mobile phone. E-learning relies on stable technology, both software and hardware. There’s no point in creating programmes and courses for delivery to a desktop PC (or a laptop) with specified plug-ins when the organisation is about to upgrade. But increasingly, there are a wide range of alternatives.

Learning styles get in the way

Everyone learns in different ways. Considerable attention has been paid to learning styles. A lot of this debate has been based on divisions of learners in fairly crude styles. But it is clearly true that learning from screens full of mostly text-based data does not suit everyone, in just the same way that sitting in a classroom listening to teacher doesn’t suit every child.

Google can locate content

It’s the most popular software of all. Google is magnificent if you want to find some content. Not only does it work across the web, but with Google Desktop search, it’ll help you find content on your own computer, however badly you file things.

So, if what you really want to do is to find something out, then using a fast search engine is likely to be considerably more efficient at finding facts than wading through an online training programme, however good the navigation.

So is e-learning dead?

Absolutely not. Courses and programmes in this way can be delivered reliably, consistently to large numbers of people. But there are alternatives too – reports of the death of the trainer have been seriously overstated.

David Wolfson is the chairman of the British Learning Association. The BLA is the cross-sector independent member organisation, committed to excellence and best practice in learning.


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