Face-off: The advantages and disadvantages of online training
Interviews / Opinions

Face-off: The advantages and disadvantages of online training

, Former Content Marketing Manager

Spurred on by the recent pandemic, online training’s finally (ta-da!) gained its place in the spotlight. When COVID-19 hit, remote working became the norm. And businesses, reluctant to take the plunge before, were also forced to dip their toes in the digital learning waters.

Most have continued to use online technology to support a more flexible approach to working. And have done the same with employee development.

But if you’re now doing some of your employee training online (or at least using digital tools to facilitate learning), you’re probably reaching a crossroads. And wondering if you should continue as you are, or put complete faith in technology and move everything online.

If you haven’t started to explore online training yet, you may feel as if you’re approaching a dead end. Is it time to branch off and explore a new path?

Either way, before you decide, you need the full picture. So we’ve researched the advantages and disadvantages of online training to help.

But first, a little background.

What is online training?

Unlike traditional training, which takes place in person, online training (or eLearning) happens remotely over the internet. With online training, a Learning Management System (or LMS), is often used to manage and deliver courses.

These courses can be asynchronous (employees complete them at their own pace) or synchronous (employees attend a live, virtual session at a fixed time). All that employees need is internet access and a device (PC, laptop, smartphone, or tablet).

Don’t mistake online training for remote training. It’s a common misconception that might bring confusion. Online training isn’t necessarily remote training. For instance, in-office employees can get both traditional or online training. On the other hand, remote employees can have access only to online training.

11 advantages of online learning

Online learning sounds simple, right? But that’s not all. Let’s look in detail at the other advantages of online learning.

1. You can cut training costs

Corporate eLearning comes with low associated costs, compared to offline training. There are no venue hire fees to budget for. And no transportation, accommodation, or hospitality costs to consider.

Additionally, with all course or study materials available online and suitable for reuse, resourcing is tighter, too.

2. It’s easy to scale

Whether you’re training 50 employees, 500, or 5000, online learning has the capacity and infrastructure in place to cope. It’s also capable of meeting a sudden increase in demand. If you’re experiencing a skills shortage and hiring at pace, for example, online learning has all the tools you need ready to go.

Meaning you can onboard and train larger volumes of employees in a short time frame with minimal disruption to you or your HR team.

3. Employees have access wherever they are

With online training, the barriers of time and location are removed. This makes it an ideal option with today’s increasingly geographically-dispersed workforce. Employees can complete courses wherever they are in the world. And, as well as attending virtual webinars, conferences, and other training events in real-time, they can access recorded and archived sessions at a later date if time zones prove problematic.

Not only that, but using tools such as online discussion forums, messaging apps, live chats, and virtual “breakout” rooms keep communication flowing. Learners can talk with other participants and their instructor during online group training sessions. Or more privately in closed or one-to-one groups.

Not all of your employees will be in need of the same training, at the same time. Investing in online training gives you the opportunity and flexibility to specially tailor every employee’s professional development. It also helps staff retention, as employees will be content that you are investing time, money, and consideration into their training.

4. It’s easy to use

As long as you choose the right platform for your online learning, using it should be a breeze. A good LMS will be designed with the learner in mind with intuitive navigation and clear calls to action. Online training also centralizes both your course materials and your learning experience. Which simplifies training for learners and HR admins. Setting it up is straightforward, too.

To roll out a corporate eLearning platform, you just need to register for an account. There are no complicated server installations to arrange. Your corporate training platform takes care of the IT and all the ongoing maintenance for you. So even small startups without dedicated IT departments or specialists can benefit from corporate online training.

Uncovered: The advantages and disadvantages of online training

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5. Online training content is rich

Content can make or break a training program. With online learning, it’s easier to source existing content. Most LMSs come with access to a wide range of off-the-peg, professionally-made training courses you can source straight from the platform. Plus the option to import content from external web pages.

Creating new content’s easy too. Whether it’s videos, audio, tests, or surveys, you can create training content directly within the online learning system or design it externally and simply drag and drop it in.

It’s also easier to manage and maximize content. You can reuse informal content (like PowerPoint presentations and Word documents) that you’ve already created to train employees.

Digital content is also more consistent and up-to-date. Online training courses (particularly asynchronous programs) deliver the exact same content to everyone. They’re also easier to review and revise to ensure every user receives the most accurate information possible.

6. Creating and managing online training can be automated

The admin surrounding training has the potential to swamp your L&D experts, particularly if you’re a fast-growing or enterprise organization. Online training has the potential to automate a lot (if not all) of the admin involved in creating and managing corporate training programs. Course assignments, session reminders, user deactivations, event email notifications, or assignment results can all be triggered automatically. This leaves more time for your HR professionals to add value where their skills are best focused: making your corporate eLearning program a success for your employees and your business.

7. Employees become more engaged

Training is a big motivator for employees. And linked heavily to employee retention (76% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training). Add technology into the mix and engagement, and retention, rise. By using online learning, such as a corporate eLearning platform, organizations can achieve an 18% boost in employee engagement. There are many reasons for this, not least the fact that it’s feature-rich, versatile and supports interactivity, multimedia content and gamification. All of which have the potential to make learning more engaging and keep motivation levels high.

8. It offers versatility and flexibility

Employees aren’t keen on training that conflicts with their work schedules. Stats indicate that most like to learn at their own pace. Here’s where the flexibility of eLearning has the edge on traditional, offline training. It lends itself to micro and mobile learning so employees can study whenever they want, wherever they are (rather than on a fixed day at a fixed time).

Added to this is the fact that your employees’ training needs will emerge at different stages in their professional life. Online training gives you the opportunity to tailor provision according to each employee’s timeframe and needs.

eLearning also comes in many different guises. And it’s this versatility that gives it its cutting edge because people learn in different ways. Some are visual learners. Some thrive in a live classroom-style environment. Others like to study solo away from distractions and at their own pace. With a wide range of training options, features and resources, online learning embraces equally different learning personas.

It also has the flexibility to address the needs of different training modules or requirements. Some courses (compliance, health and safety, online security, for example) work well as self-paced online modules. Others demand a more practical, instructor-led and demonstrative approach.

One of the advantages of online learning is that you can cater for both.

9. You can measure its effectiveness

Providing training’s one thing. Providing training that makes a difference is another. Without the right evaluation, it’s impossible to establish what’s working and what’s not. Or make targeted improvements.

Measuring the effectiveness of in-person training is complicated, resource-heavy, and tends to be unreliable. Not so with online training. A good corporate eLearning platform should come with a powerful reporting system that tracks logins, courses (completed and active), attendees, certifications, and other timeline activities. Plus, there are built-in tools (surveys, polls, quizzes, and tests) to source additional feedback and data.

Social eLearning platforms deserve a special mention here. With offline training, there’s no way to quantify or qualify conversations or discussions that take place. Shift those conversations over to the digital space, however, and it’s a different matter. Online discussion forums, messaging apps, and video-conferencing tools are rich with usable data and actionable metrics. Whether it’s content views, contributions (comments, posts, discussion threads), reactions (likes and shares), or questions asked and answered, each interaction is measurable. And each interaction tells a story that’s unique to eLearning.

10. Interactivity boosts participation and retention

Online courses support active learning because employees are able to engage physically and mentally with the content and with other learners. This could be through digital storytelling, a pop-up or click button on a PowerPoint slide, 360-degree images and videos, discussion groups, gamification techniques, quizzes, or surveys.

Why does interactivity in learning matter? It matters because it boosts participation rates and the retention of course material. Good for your employees. Good for your L&D outcomes.

11. You get the chance to boost your brand

Making a commitment to digital training says a lot about the culture, values, and outlook of your organization. It signals a progressive and future-focused approach. And it shows that you’re willing to invest in employee development. This, in turn, can help sell your brand to potential future hires.

Uncovered: The advantages and disadvantages of online training

8 disadvantages of online learning

When it comes to weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of online training, you might already think it’s case closed. Not so. Yes, the advantages of online learning are compelling. But there are disadvantages to consider too. Bring on the case for the prosecution.

1. Online training can feel impersonal

Training’s about people. And the value of human interaction can’t be underestimated. Online learning can feel abstract and impersonal if it’s formed solely around asynchronous, learner-led training modules. There’s a place for these, of course, but they shouldn’t be your only form of training.

The answer is to use the technology and tools fueling your online learning to bring people together and not just deliver courses. Facilitate interactions between peers and instructors. Reach out directly to learners. Schedule live, instructor-led training sessions, virtual conferences, or webinars to balance our self–paced modules. And exploit online discussion groups, and live chat functionality to keep people communicating. Not only will this make eLearning feel more “human,” but it will also make it feel less isolating.

2. Not all learners are familiar with technology

The majority of your workforce (especially the growing contingent of Millennials and Gen Zers) will be familiar and comfortable with digital technology. But not all of them. To some, just mentioning online training will trigger feelings of fear, uncertainty and reluctance.

The good news is that online training shouldn’t be any more complicated than logging in and browsing the web. And if your employees can log into their work laptop, PC or phone, and access your company intranet or corporate website, they have all the skills and knowledge they need.

As long as you choose the right eLearning platform, your learners shouldn’t notice the technology. All they’ll notice is a seamless, integrated learning experience. Of course, you know that. The challenge is making sure they do. So focus your internal messaging on these key points.

3. Employees perceive it as extra work

Online training supports self-paced learning. This is a good thing. But it may not be perceived as such. There may be employees who assume that this type of training has to be done in their own time. And this approach might jeopardize the overall employee training and development program you’ve so carefully planned.

Again, here’s where your HR team’s internal communications campaign comes in. Educate employees in advance by highlighting the benefits of asynchronous learning (employees can pace themselves and fit training sessions into the working week as and when works for them). And reassuring them that that absolutely doesn’t mean it takes place outside work time.

4. Lack of directions might be overwhelming

When training takes place remotely, it can feel as if there’s no support available. And without a facilitator present to answer questions or hold learners to account, motivation can take a hit. Which leads to deadlines missed and courses left uncompleted.

The answer? Offer a blended approach. Provide instructor-led sessions (with live Q&As, virtual breakout rooms, or chat functionality) that balance out self-paced training modules. And keep communication channels open, constant, and flowing. Encourage the use of discussion forums to post questions. Make sure your instructor or L&D experts monitor and moderate these. And that they proactively post links to additional resources that might prove helpful.

5. Learners spend too much time in front of a screen

Spending long periods of time looking at a screen isn’t ideal. And online learning, by its nature, requires the learner to be focused on a screen. This can be a particular problem if your employees already spend a lot of their time at a desk, working from a laptop or computer.

Screen drain is an issue. But it doesn’t need to be a problem. Microlearning offers a good solution. Small, bite-sized nuggets of training, microlearning is an effective way of limiting the time an individual spends in front of their screen. It also stops learners from feeling overwhelmed. And leads to better absorption of knowledge.

6. It’s easy to lose focus

Online learning happens in a less controlled environment. Sitting at a computer or other device, there are always other temptations and distractions. Whether it’s surfing the net, checking social media, flicking through work emails, or the chatter of colleagues in the office, it can be hard to stay focused.

There’s no way to avoid or eliminate this. The only solution is to keep employees engaged and interested, so their minds are less likely to wander. Keep modules short (see our point about microlearning). Use a variety of media. Include interactive features. And make it full through gamification and rewards.

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7. Troubleshooting can affect the experience

To train online requires online connectivity. And while internet penetration is now vast, a consistent connection can’t always be guaranteed – especially with remote workers. Other technological issues – forgotten passwords, slow downloads speeds, glitches and buffering – can also affect the experience.

Thorough testing along with careful planning can, however, significantly mitigate the need for troubleshooting. As can clear messaging around platform login protocol.

8. It might look unnecessary to stakeholders

You’ve got an L&D team. Why do you need an online learning platform? Won’t that leave your HR employees without a role? Reasonable questions, which stakeholders in your organization are likely to want answers to.

So, what is the answer? Well, the reality is that rather than making your L&D experts redundant, online learning helps them focus on more weighty matters. With the logistics and delivery taken care of, they can look at strategy, evaluation, and crafting compelling courses that meet organizational goals as well as employee needs.

The pros and cons of online learning: Making an informed decision

So, those are the advantages and disadvantages of online training. And, when it comes to online training, there’s no “perfect” approach. Every case is, of course, unique. And what works for one organization, may not work for all. But, armed with the pros and cons of online learning, it’s easier to build a solution that works for you.

If you need to deliver lots of practical courses and don’t have any remote workers, for example, you may want to balance some online training with offline sessions.

If most of your workforce is dispersed, in-person sessions won’t be an option. In which case, webinars, virtual conferencing, and live presentations will feature highly.

The beauty of online training is its potential. And its compatibility. It’s not proud, and works well in partnership with other methods. So, is it the right time to switch?

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Christina Pavlou - Former Content Marketing Manager

Christina, ex-Content Marketing Manager at Epignosis, focuses on L&D, diversity, and enhancing workplace well-being. Learn how to improve your work environment. More by Christina!

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