How is eLearning different than classroom training?

Insights eLearning

How is eLearning different than classroom training?

With in-person and classroom training still on hold as the world adjusts to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are considering online training and eLearning for the first time.

Before rushing into a solution, it’s important to consider the training need in your organization. What do employees need to know or need to be able to do? Maybe they need to be trained on how to use new software, or perhaps you’re implementing critical safety procedures for a new piece of equipment. How are you going to do this?

Many skills and competencies translate well to an online environment, but it’s important to consider how delivery will impact your learners.

There’s no question that learning in a classroom setting is different from learning online. We’ve highlighted some of those differences here:


  • Learners are in a focused and controlled environment. 
  • Learners can ask questions directly. 
  • All learners must progress through the course at the same time. 
  • Significant time commitments are required (inclass times, travel, etc.). 
  • Lecture content is generally not accessible after the class. 
  • Instructors can help to motivate learners. 
  • Learning can be social. 


  • Learning environment is variable. 
  • Learning designers must anticipate questions learners will have, and provide options to allow learners to find answers. 
  • Learners are able to progress at a speed appropriate for them. 
  • No travel time (or costs). Flexible, on-demand. 
  • Module content can be re-experienced. Learners can review entire modules, or just pieces as they need or want. 
  • Learners need to be primarily self-motivated. 
  • Communication with other learners may be limited. 

Each of these options comes with advantages and disadvantages, so how do you know if you are ready to implement eLearning? Here are some points to consider.

Content stability

Is your course content fairly stable, or is it going to be constantly changing over time? High quality eLearning requires a significant investment of time and resources, so if this is a course that will need frequent updates, a classroom approach might be best. There are, however, some strategies we can recommend if you still want to move your training online. A blended approach, for example, with static eLearning modules and regularly updated instructor-led modules delivered via live or recorded webinar, would be an optimal solution.


Is it important to you that all learners receive the same information, delivered the same way? If so, eLearning is the best choice. Classroom training will always vary from one session to another based on the particular instructor, other learners in the course, and the time available.

Ongoing needs

Is this a “one and done” training session, or do you think learners could benefit from reviewing the content at a later date? eLearning can double as initial training and a resource to be referenced whenever needed, unlike a handout that quickly gets lost or recycled.


Do your learners need training on tasks that could be dangerous, or in contexts where an error could have serious consequences? If so, eLearning might be your best bet. Realistic simulations can be very useful in training complex skills, especially when there’s risk involved. There’s a reason pilots learn to fly in flight simulators before getting in the cockpit of a real plane!

In the past, we’ve developed simulations for putting out fires, responding to and de-escalating high-stress behaviour in others, detecting dangerous gases, and performing CPR. In each case, learners walk away with more confidence in their knowledge and skills, without risking their own wellbeing, or that of others.

eLearning also provides an element of psychological safety. During a classroom training session, learners may feel anxious about the possibility of being negatively evaluated by their colleagues and superiors. They might hold back for fear of looking stupid, rather than fully engaging and asking questions. The privacy afforded by eLearning means that learners are free to explore, review concepts they aren’t sure about, and attempt to answer questions, without the fear of failure or judgement. This is particularly true in eLearning courses that don’t stick to forced navigation, and instead allow learners to explore the content in a way that makes sense to them.


Do you have learners in multiple locations? Once again, eLearning is a smart choice. Rather than spending time and money on getting instructors, learners, and materials all in the same place, you can just give everyone access to the same course, to be completed from whatever location works best for them.

During the current public health crisis, this is more relevant than ever, and top of mind for all the training we develop. Even as public health restrictions are lifted, many businesses, instructors, and employees may be unwilling to risk their health to attend in-person training.

Hopefully, this has given you a better idea of some important considerations as you explore online training for your organization. Whatever you choose, you’ll get the most out of your training by drawing on the expertise of learning professionals.

If you have further questions, or don’t know where to start, we’d love to help you get started.

Book a consultation with one of our online training experts today!

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