Online learning or eLearning can sometimes get a bad rap, depending on your experience. Some online learning is, well, let’s be honest, horrible – dull and boring and consisting mainly of a bunch of text on a page, with a click/next approach and, if you are lucky, the occasional interaction.
So is online education really better? What are the advantages of online learning?
When done properly, online learning has a variety of benefits compared to traditional in-person learning, including greater engagement and learning retention, scheduling flexibility, a wider range of classes, affordability, individual pacing, and improving concentration.
The benefits of online learning seem promising, but is online learning really the way of the future?
The rest of this article will dive into the advantages of online learning at length and explore why online learning might be the right next step on your education journey.
What Optivly Think about Online Learning
This is an area very close to our hearts. Our mission is to improve people’s experience when they undertake online learning. We know that when done badly, online learning actually disengages people and leads to poor completion rates, low levels of retention, and discourages learners from undertaking further learning in the same format.
This is the main reason we created Ronzilla (TM).
Ron is our protagonist (or avatar) which allows us to portray the common misconceptions and mistakes that are made with online learning design, production, hosting, and deployment. e.g. Ron doesn’t get online learning – he thinks that it’s just taking a learning manual and putting it word for word into an online learning format with a few pictures here and there.
Whereas at Optivly, we know that good online learning, designed properly, can be very engaging for the learner and lead to positive personal and organisational outcomes – people learn and successfully apply the new knowledge in their role.
1. Online Classes Are Flexible
Perhaps the most often touted benefit of online classes is their flexibility, all of the material you need to learn is online and readily accessible. There’s no driving back and forth from campus, workplace, or being bound by location.
People can learn from the comfort of their home, while traveling, or at their local coffee shop! In a working environment, online learning can be undertaken outside of normal working hours or before an employee even starts (think induction and onboarding). From a school or vocational training perspective, classes can be scheduled outside of traditional semesters or schedules.
2. Online Learning Enables Access to a Broad Catalogue
Online Learning options allow organisations to offer their employees access to a broader range of learning experiences via accessing content catalogues from a range of providers. Instead of being limited to the courses that can be developed internally, companies can extend their offering through selective licensing of third-party content. This approach allows for custom training plans to be developed for various roles in the organisation without the company needing to invest in building all of the training needed.
3. Online Learning is Cost Effective
Once developed, an online learning course can be delivered at scale, and when compared to the cost of traditional classroom-based training, online learning provides rapid ROI.
Many organisations would be familiar with the cost of flying employees to a venue or flying trainers to employees. Online learning removes the costs of flights, transfers, trainers, accommodation, venue/facility costs, and catering. In addition, online learning provides on-demand training at the point in time when and where it is needed. Instead of waiting for the next induction course to be run, a new employees can access the training and information they need immediately, including pre-commencement. This cuts the cost of employee induction and reduces the time taken for an employee to get up-to-speed and work ready.
4. Online Classes Let You Learn at Your Own Pace
People learn and comprehend things at different paces.
An employee with prior knowledge or experience in a certain topic is able to move through a learning experience faster (retaining engagement) than someone who needs to take the time to absorb the new knowledge and ensure they understand what they are learning. In a classroom, the learning pace is dictated by the facilitator and the hours in the day allocated to training delivery. The individual learning needs are really accounted for as the training has to ‘get done’.
5. Online Learning Enables Enhanced Delivery Options
Online learning allows the introduction of a range of learning technologies that can create an experience that is difficult, costly and/or dangerous to provide in a real-world environment.
A great example of this is Microsoft Flight Simulator. With this game, people can learn a vast amount of practical flying knowledge, including aircraft instrumentation, without the costs and risks associated with flying. Using Virtual Reality technology, we can transport an employee into an underground mine, simulate a roof collapse, and then rewind that and ask them to identify the trigger points that led to the roof collapse.
Online learning allows us to safely put people in unsafe situations and provide real, visceral responses using readily available technology.
Not all online learning is created equal. There are good and bad examples of online learning. Good online learning has many benefits that are hard to match in a traditional face-to-face workshop and offers economic and business benefits that can be easily quantified.
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Whitlock, Q. (2001). Course design for online learning – what’s gone wrong? In Stephenson, J. (Ed.) Teaching and learning online: Pedagogies for new technologies, Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 182-194.