E-learning Over Traditional Classroom Instruction

E-learning Over Traditional Classroom Instruction

When faced with the fact that this is the 21st century and so much of life is technology-driven, some people wonder if teachers will soon become obsolete. I can’t see that happening, because there are still too many things that require “hands on” learning. Even if regular schooling, as in years 1 to 12 become computerized, a need for teachers will still continue in order to grade assignments and exams, as well as to provide tutelage. My own son provides a great example of why we still need teachers.

Master Four is learning to write. A very clever boy, he knows how to operate the computer and has his own games to help him learn everything from reading to math. There is even a program that shows correct pen strokes for writing! He had been trying to teach himself from that writing program, but it didn’t seem to be sinking in. We sat down together and began to practice writing and in less than an hour, he was scribbling his name. All I did was show him how to do the pen strokes and he could imitate my hand position and stroke order.

However, there is one problem that even I can’t solve… correct grip. I’m not a qualified teacher and don’t know how to teach my son how to hold a pencil properly. That is what he has a kindergarten teacher for, because I just can’t figure out how to do it without a great deal of frustration. So, for all of us parents who can’t figure out how to teach something that requires a physical example, there will be teachers who will do the work for us.

Does that mean we need instructors for everything we learn? Of course not. Workplace training (or any sort of auxiliary learning) is just one area where having face to face training can be simply a money pit. For example, if you partner a seasoned employee with a new one, then there is downtime as the seasoned person trains the newbie and answers any and all questions, as his work gets left on his desk for another day or two. This type of partnering usually makes the new employee feel more comfortable to approach that seasoned person with any and all future questions, thereby further hindering production by the veteran.

Or, if it’s a continuing education course that all employees have to take and a classroom set-up is provided in the conference room, well, what production could happen when everyone is sitting in the conference room? It’s not only the expense of production loss, but also the cost of facilitating the training such as the cost of the venue and equipment needed, including the instructor to teach the material, or if you have employees spread all over the country, possibly setting up various venues or having a trainer or team of trainers go to various locations. It would be much more cost and time-effective to have that training done via e-learning.

Some courses are constantly being updated. So, in a classroom scenario, it is a challenge to get an expedient turnover of information between the time it is released and the time the students learn it, because in the middle are trainers that need to learn, understand and then disseminate the material, as well as reprint and redistribute manuals. In an e-learning environment, content can be changed quickly and then employees can learn new information, thereby eliminating the middle man, so to speak.

People like having a face to connect with a course too. They like to feel that there is someone they can approach with questions on the subject matter. It is familiar to sit in a class with an instructor, because it’s what’s always been done. So if it isn’t broken, should it be fixed? Most of these issues are resolved in the design of any good e-learning course, so it’s not as much a case of a course being “broken”. It’s just a different medium, rather than the flesh and blood sort.

The “face” of an e-learning course may not be an actual face, but more the overall look and feel of the design. Some courses do make use of an avatar or images of people so as to give an actual face with which the learner can identify. Having a good, easy-to-use player will help the learner feel empowered and in control. All these “faces” help the learner to be able to connect with the course and feel a sense of familiarity.

I can’t think of one e-learning course that doesn’t have some kind of help attached to it. We all know that a button with a good old question mark on it is for help. So, for a learner to be able to ask a question regarding an e-learning course is a matter of clicking a button or two. Glossaries help with the program and common questions regarding the material are usually included in courses. It isn’t common for a course not to be programmed well enough to cover all bases. There are also some courses designed with the function of being able to e-mail questions that aren’t covered. From experience, I can say that often answers ARE within the material, but have been overlooked.

There are also plenty of people who prefer traditional classroom instruction over e-learning because there is less responsibility on the part of the learner for acquiring the knowledge of the subject matter. Classrooms are teacher-driven, whereas an e-learning course is student-driven. In the classroom, it is easy to say, “The instructor didn’t cover that.” When dealing with an e-learning course, all the information is there for the learner, but it is up to the student to learn the material. It is known what information the course contains and from the assessments, it can be known what the student has learned.

Along these same lines, what is actually being taught can vary from teacher to teacher, so consistency can be an issue. It’s highly unlikely that every single trainer will do and say the same things, so the material conveyed can vary, as well as the level of quality in training, but in an online course, the material is the same, in every instance. It also caters to the various learning styles of the students.

In any group of people, you have varying levels of skills and learning preferences. Some learners like to read, others to listen and even more who prefer to watch and do. An e-learning course can cater to all those styles at once through text, images/ animation, audio, games, etc that will engage and hold the student’s attention. Meanwhile, the classroom instructor must resort to rote learning and can only go as fast as the slowest student, usually losing the attention of the quicker learners.

There is a middle ground in the classroom versus the e-learning debate, which is called blended learning. It takes the best of both worlds and puts them together. Blended learning is the ideal learning process in that initially the learners complete an online course to gain knowledge in the subject matter and then proceed onto the classroom portion to reinforce what was learned through the practical application of the concepts. By the time everyone gets to the classroom, they are all on the same page and have relatively equal knowledge of the material to be fully ready to participate in application and problem-solving. In a way, that is what Master Four in doing in his quest to learn to write. He uses his computer program to learn the basics such as the alphabet and pen strokes, then I (or his kindergarten teacher) physically go through the lab portion of holding the pencil and physically writing.

Happy learning!

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Donna Niemi Barrett

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15 comments on “E-learning Over Traditional Classroom Instruction
  1. Michael Spangle says:

    Since my experience in training is in the more hands-on technical arena, I am perhaps a bit prejudiced in this area. The presence of an instructor does more than just serve as a channel for the delivery of information. There is the interaction that takes place between trainee and instructor that can not be quantified on any Excel spreadsheet. A good instructor can serve to inspire learning in a way that no elearning environment can provide. It is this human element that can never be replaced. What would be of interest to study is the short and long-term retention rate of information conveyed using elearning.
    As for what subjects would best be learned through elearning, I would say that most review/refresher classes where the learning objectives were cognitively based would be good candidates for such a delivery method.

  2. Nilda says:

    I have to agree with Michael. I have taught in the traditional setting and learned through the non-traditional online format. I look forward to delivering online courses soon. It is difficult to model behavior and attitudes virtually. Affective objectives may better be learned through “the human element”. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” (William Butler Yeats)

  3. Gill says:

    I agree with Michael and go further.

    A good trainer is way more than an information deliverer. Not only will they inspire the learner, but they will often anticipate questions sometimes before the questioner even realises that they have a question. Help is all very well, but until you know the correct terminology, Help is often impossible to navigate. Given that many people ‘translate’ concepts into their own (often inaccurate) language, help frequently fails them.

    There is also the discipline factor of being booked on a course. With self-delivered e-learning it is very easy to ‘do it later’, and later may not come.

    And for many practical skills, only another skilled human being can every decide that the learner has fully mastered the skill.

    So, in summary, there is a role for e-learning, but it will never fully replace teachers (for learners of any age).

  4. Lynn Joy says:

    I think that e-learning will never fully replace classroom based training. Face to face delivery still has an awful lot to offer, not least the interaction between the participants and the training consultant. This is something that is not easily replicated. Classroom based training is not just about information giving. It’s about participant engagement and experience. Often the training consultant will have to be flexible in their delivery as the needs of the participants can be very different to the brief given by the manager or training department.

    For me though the most important thing is the participants’ needs. I’ve seen too many companies provide very expensive interventions with lots of bells and whistles that simply didn’t deliver. Largely because they got seduced by the technology (particularly if they encountered a good salesperson!) and forgot about the basics.

    The best solutions I have seen start with good SMART (yes, I know old school stuff) objectives and combine different delivery methods to achieve them. I’m certainly not against e-learning (I work for an e-learning authoring company after working for 14 years with a ‘traditional’ face to face training company) but I think that it needs to be delivered in context.

  5. Berti Brown says:

    At some point in time the digital learning platform will replace much of traditional learning due to forthcoming technological necessity that has already begun to evolve. If the varied needs of learners are to be accommodated, traditional learning contexts will not become totally obsolete. To clarify a comment made, many of us in education have moved away from “in front of a class, delivering content.” The learning needs will drive the forum for which learning opportunities will be offered.
    Learning expands so trying to keep it confined within limited contexts defeats its purposes. We should place more concerned about quality of learning and experiences and legality of harm due to the sharing of information.
    Berti

  6. Boyd Lemon says:

    With the use of video, I think it can e-classes can eventually, as the process gets more sophisticated replace traditional classroom teaching. But I think we will always need teachers available for some face-to-face interaction, though I could be wrong.

  7. Nilda Gonzalez says:

    In the debate of whether e-learning will overturn classroom instruction and whether computers, software and classroom management systems will substitute faculty, a lot is still to be said, discovered and questioned. As a student in an online graduate program, it is difficult to accept that there is “less responsibility on the part of the learner”. From experience I can say that the e-learner needs to be as responsible for his or her own learning as the traditional learner. It is possible to sit in a classroom yet “tune-out” to the professor. It is also possible to sit in front of the computer and not login to an online course. Both actions limit learning; however one could hardly say that former is a better example of a responsible learner than the latter. Today, quality online instruction is driven by constructivist theory as much as classroom instruction, building on the learner’s prior knowledge. Today, learning is limited only by the degree of curiosity of the learner. With the Internet, dilemmas or questions can be resolved or answered almost immediately. Being able to discern between valid, reliable information and that which is not, is the critical difference.

  8. Karen says:

    As someone who has taught and done training in both formats I can tell you firmly…it depends. Some learners lack the reading, writing, research and time management skills to succeed in an online environment. Some content is more suited to self driven training methods (as mentioned above) refresher material and material that is based on reading vs. calculation–students seem to benefit from live interaction in math and finance courses. Schools and businesses that look only at cost savings and push content online can miss underlying issues that make this a poor decision.

  9. Human beings will always benefit in powerful ways from face to face interaction. E-learning is here to stay and will be an increasingly important part of education. However, just as writing has only supplemented the spoken word without making it obsolete, e-learning will lend additional tools to learning but will never supplant traditional education.

  10. Sham says:

    I totally agree with Michael, Gill and a few others. I would like to add a few more points as I see & deliver a blended learning to a varied group of people in my company.

    With the advent of college course offerings and corporate necessities being divided. The people inventing & marketing e-Learning courses are packing in all that they can in a level which does cater to the entry level, manager or a higher and more strategic person’s learning per se.

    Another draw back that I see in implementing only e-Learning is the mentality of the Generation X & Y who would rather get a summary rather than read to revel.

    The third factor is the cultural differences….. even in the Asian community where some countries have loads of shopping malls i can find: BUT, just four book shops! What does this tell you? Reading is out; be it a book or on the I-pad.

    All said & done we are fast moving into a technology based learning world…. however the learner’s are not in lieu with the corporate decision makers to move into e-learning alone.

  11. Ken Stevens says:

    E-learning is ok. Just like I don’t appreciate answering services, I realy like the personal contact with motivational speakers loike Andy Andrews. Check out positiveanyhowcomblog.com

  12. The immersive 3D world, formerly the domain (excuse the pun) of the commuter gaming fraternity, is rapidly becoming the arena for further and higher education. Many universities and educational establishments already have a presence in the virtual world (Second Life, etc).
    As the everyday use of the world-wide-web for learning becomes widespread, there is an expectation that virtual reality will form a significant part of learner’s educational experience in the not-too-distant future.
    The question is – does study in virtual reality significantly enhance the experience for learner and facilitator?
    You can guess my answer! Not a replacement for elearning, or face-to-face learning for that matter, more an alternative?

  13. Roger Lye says:

    I have been a trainer now for over 25 years and have seen technology change in the way training has been delivered. When I first started if you needed to show a demonstration you had a projector that was big and chunky and fixed to the building (not just the ceiling) and your presentation was drawn on plastic slides and put on to an overhead projector that weighed a ton. Now we have portable equipment that can go anywhere. We also have the advantage of virtualisation which means that you do not need the equipment in the classroom that you once needed. Remote access to a virtual server can provide each student with there own computer if required and software tools that are now available such as NetOp School allow the instructor to interact on a one to one level. This should mean that virtual classroms could give the ability to provide the same sort of training that was once performed in a phyiscal classroom. At the recent Training Skills and Technology show in London companies like Adobe and Citrix both had offerings in this space and . It does need a different set of instructor skills than the tranditional classroom based approached and as has Hemant commented human beings still like to have that physical presence of the instructor and interaction with a group.
    There is also a high price tag for going to a virtual classoom and we need to differentiate between webinars and e-learning in the same way that we do between seminars and hands on technical training.
    I think if you have the money to invest in a proper virtual classroom and the time to follow up e-learning there is a lot to say for e-learning but in my opinion without that investment there can be no substitute for classroom based training. As far as I am concerned you either need to do it right or do not call it e-learning.
    There is the blended approach which combines self paced (software simulation etc.), webinars and classroom based training which reduces both the delivery and attendance costs which was mentioned in the original blog provides a very viable alternative. This in the short term I think will offer the best solution for most organisations. I should point out here that the opinions here are very much my own and I would be interested to hear from other on this subject.
    We here need to look at these options and I am very much in two minds as to how to proceed.

  14. Yan Xu says:

    There’re several reasons to choose e-learning.
    1) cost effective. one material/one investment, to be used for innumerable times. 2) convenient. learning from anywhere at anytime. 3) quick implementation. make it possible of training for big amount of people in short period.
    e-learning is suitable for hardskill or knowledge based training, which is easy to be standardized. Not quite effective for softskill training, which needs interaction and individual conduct.
    With the innovation on mobile web, some e-learning can be even more flexible. And some e-learning may change to be e-guide on mobilephone. (eg. some transaction process used to be trained by e-learning can be a guide on mobilephone for employee when using a specific process.)
    My assumption on future e-learning: much more like video games. learning by playing will be the trend.

  15. I agree with Michael

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