Benefits and drawbacks of e-Learning

e-learning

e-learning is not, however, the be all and end all to every training need.

by Kevin Kruse. Originally published at www.e-learningguru.com/

The vast movement towards e-learning is clearly motivated by the many benefits it offers. However much e-learning is praised and innovated, computers will never completely eliminate human instructors and other forms of educational delivery. What is important is to know exactly what e-learning advantages exist and when these outweigh the limitations of the medium.

Features unique to e-learning

Like no other training form, e-learning promises to provide a single experience that accommodates the three distinct learning styles of auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners. Other unique opportunities created by the advent and development of e-learning are more efficient training of a globally dispersed audience; and reduced publishing and distribution costs as Web-based training becomes a standard.

E-learning also offers individualized instruction, which print media cannot provide, and instructor-led courses allow clumsily and at great cost. In conjunction with assessing needs, e-learning can target specific needs. And by using learning style tests, e-learning can locate and target individual learning preferences.

Additionally, synchronous e-learning is self-paced. Advanced learners are allowed to speed through or bypass instruction that is redundant while novices slow their own progress through content, eliminating frustration with themselves, their fellow learners, and the course.

In these ways, e-learning is inclusive of a maximum number of participants with a maximum range of learning styles, preferences, and needs.

Collaborative learning

All collaborative learning theory contends that human interaction is a vital ingredient to learning. Consideration of this is particularly crucial when designing e-learning, realizing the potential for the medium to isolate learners.

With well-delivered synchronous distance education, and technology like message boards, chats, e-mail, and tele-conferencing, this potential drawback is reduced [but not removed].

However, e-learning detractors still argue that the magical classroom bond between teacher and student, and among the students themselves, can not be replicated through communications technology.

Advantages of e-learning to the trainer or organization

Some of the most outstanding advantages to the trainer or organization are:

  • Reduced overall cost is the single most influential factor in adopting e-learning. The elimination of costs associated with instructor’s salaries, meeting room rentals, and student travel, lodging, and meals are directly quantifiable. The reduction of time spent away from the job by employees may be the most positive offshoot.
  • Learning times reduced, an average of 40 to 60 percent, as found by Brandon Hall (Web-based Training Cookbook, 1997, p. 108).
  • Increased retention and application to the job averages an increase of 25 percent over traditional methods, according to an independent study by J.D. Fletcher (Multimedia Review, Spring 1991, pp.33-42).
  • Consistent delivery of content is possible with asynchronous, self-paced e-learning.
  • Expert knowledge is communicated, but more importantly captured, with good e-learning and knowledge management systems.
  • Proof of completion and certification, essential elements of training initiatives, can be automated.

Advantages to the learner

Along with the increased retention, reduced learning time, and other aforementioned benefits to students, particular advantages of e-learning include:

  • On-demand availability enables students to complete training conveniently at off-hours or from home.
  • Self-pacing for slow or quick learners reduces stress and increases satisfaction.
  • Interactivity engages users, pushing them rather than pulling them through training.
  • Confidence that refresher or quick reference materials are available reduces burden of responsibility of mastery.

Disadvantages to the trainer or organization

e-learning is not, however, the be all and end all to every training need. It does have limitations, among them:

  • Up-front investment required of an e-learning solution is larger due to development costs. Budgets and cash flows will need to be negotiated.
  • Technology issues that play a factor include whether the existing technology infrastructure can accomplish the training goals, whether additional tech expenditures can be justified, and whether compatibility of all software and hardware can be achieved.
  • Inappropriate content for e-learning may exist according to some experts, though are limited in number. Even the acquisition of skills that involve complex physical/motor or emotional components (for example, juggling or mediation) can be augmented with e-learning.
  • Cultural acceptance is an issue in organizations where student demographics and psychographics may predispose them against using computers at all, let alone for e-learning.

Disadvantages to the learner

The ways in which e-learning may not excel over other training include:

  • Technology issues of the learners are most commonly technophobia and unavailability of required technologies.
  • Portability of training has become a strength of e-learning with the proliferation of network linking points, notebook computers, PDAs, and mobile phones, but still does not rival that of printed workbooks or reference material.
  • Reduced social and cultural interaction can be a drawback. The impersonality, suppression of communication mechanisms such as body language, and elimination of peer-to-peer learning that are part of this potential disadvantage are lessening with advances in communications technologies.

Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?

The pro’s and con’s of e-learning vary depending on program goals, target audience and organizational infrastructure and culture.

But it is unarguable that e-learning is rapidly growing as form of training delivery and most are finding that the clear benefits to e-learning will guarantee it a role in their overall learning strategy.

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