Instructional Design

Is eLearning effective? Or is ILT better?

Is eLearning effective, and does it provide an edge over Instructor-Led Training (ILT)?

To answer those questions, we must first explore the differences between the two learning modalities. ILT, at its core, is exactly what it sounds like—a learning experience where trainers deliver learning in-person or virtually.

We call the latter “synchronous eLearning” or “Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT).” On the other hand, “true” eLearning is virtual learning that’s not led by instructors. It’s learner-driven, online, self-paced learning. Also called asynchronous learning, this type of eLearning occurs independently of instructors. And, even when there’s an instructor-led component to it, learners and instructors are never online at the same time. 

Organizations have traditionally relied on ILT to deliver workforce training in person. Over time, businesses bridged the geographical separation of trainers and learners through VILT), with the emphasis still on instructor-delivered learning. Advances in internet technology (e.g., faster chips, greater bandwidth, 5G, streaming, cloud computing), the ubiquity of mobile devices, and the popularity of “learn anywhere, anytime,” and “learning on the go!” have made synchronous instruction less relevant today. 

Current data on eLearning trends also shed some light on the ILT vs. eLearning debate. A recent Brandon Hall Group survey studying the impact of COVID-19 on Learning and Development (L&D) indicated that 96% of those surveyed continued to use ILT/VILT as a training delivery modality. However, the researchers also found many organizations have made a noticeable switch to non-ILT. 

More than 62% have already switched to eLearning and, in response to questions about how organizations are responding to post-COVID learning delivery, 28% responded by saying they’re adopting non-ILT learning. Before implementing any corporate training program, however, organizations should understand the difference between the two learning modalities. It’s also critical to assess the financial impact of the two—is eLearning more cost-effective than ILT or should you stick with ILT?

Is eLearning effective?

What about the effectiveness of an online instructional modality versus other learning approaches? Researchers have been studying that question since the mid-1990s. Analysts consider cost, knowledge transfer, and retention to assess whether ILT or eLearning is more effective. The total cost of training also includes elements of re-training, refresher training, and review and revision training. That’s because of the limitations of the human brain in retaining knowledge—learners often forget what they’ve learned over time. The Research Institute of America suggests that employees are more likely to retain what they’ve learned through eLearning—between 25% and 60% more—than through other learning methods. 

This makes eLearning more effective, not only in delivering better retention but also in reducing overall training budgets because of more infrequent revision and refresher retraining needs. You can also level up your eLearning to make it more effective by using fun additions such as gamification, virtual reality, and 3D simulations to deliver enhanced eLearning experiences.  

Is eLearning more cost-effective than ILT?

One way to answer that question is to let the numbers speak for themselves. Instructor-Led Training has been around for millennia, while the foundations of eLearning dates back only to around the 1960s.  According to one market researcher, eLearning was a $250-billion market globally in 2020. By 2027, it’s poised to reach $1 trillion. That’s a 21.9% compound annual growth rate! 

It’s clear that, from a market share and revenue perspective, eLearning industry participants may find it very effective to make further investments in their respective platforms. However, when businesses make online training decisions (as opposed to decisions to expand ILT), they’re primarily concerned with the cost-benefit analysis of their L&D strategy: is eLearning more cost-effective than ILT? 

Thanks to strategies like gamification, virtual reality (VR), simulations, and branched learning, eLearning delivers more bang for the learning buck: 

  • According to global tech giant IBM, eLearning investments deliver cost-benefit pay-offs. Studies by Big Blue showed that those pay-offs can reach as high as 30%—that means for every $1 spent on online learning, there’s a corresponding $30 in productivity improvements. 
  • Global consulting firm PwC found that VR learning “…became 52% more cost-effective than the classroom.”
  • British oil giant Shell cut its training cost by 90% and saved over $200 million by using eLearning.

Bottom line: Is eLearning more cost-effective than ILT? Definitely!

Benefits of eLearning

Because eLearning is synonymous with “flexibility,” especially in its asynchronous form, it delivers several benefits over other learning modalities:

Adjustable to everyone’s needs

eLearning caters to the needs of all stakeholders in the company—HR, L&D teams, employees, and managers. It does so by embracing broad corporate learning objectives, such as those of annual recertification or mandated compliance requirements; but it does not enforce when, where, or how learners accomplish those objectives. That’s a win-win for everyone! 

Quick delivery

When measuring the pace of completion of corporate training, is eLearning effective? Self-paced learning occurs at a learner’s own pace, but it also results in quicker completion of training. Employees consuming eLearning content complete their courses between 40% to 60% faster than other learning modalities that use the same material. 

Cost efficiency

To measure eLearning ROI against ILT, organizations must evaluate if ILT costs less and if eLearning is more cost-effective than ILT. One study on the cost-effectiveness of corporate learning programs concluded that up to 85% of training budgets catered to costs not directly related to learning activities (e.g., travel, venue costs, printing, lodging). eLearning eliminates most of these costs, resulting in better training ROI.

Customized pace

In a survey at the global accounting and consulting firm, 84% of Ernest & Young’s managers preferred self-directed learning, with 75% of them willing to invest personal time in self-paced learning. Unlike ILT, eLearning isn’t “forced” upon learners based on the instructor’s schedule or pace. That gives eLearning better acceptance, adoption, and penetration compared to ILT. 

Benefits of ILT

In terms of a more flexible learning style, is eLearning effective? The answer is a resounding YES! However, eLearning may not be for everyone, and ILT does have its merits. For instance, Boomers prefer classroom learning and face-to-face interactions, making online learning a challenge for them. 

Builds dialogue

With both instructors and learners converging at the same place and time, ILT provides a better opportunity for in-person dialogue.

Immediate feedback

Some learners prefer immediate feedback, critique, or encouragement—they don’t like waiting for someone to “get back to them later.” ILT offers that level of synchronous satisfaction that asynchronous eLearning does not provide. 

Easier networking

With instructors and colleagues (learners) congregating simultaneously—either in-class or online—networking and forming bonds is easier. 

Hands-on experience

Is eLearning more cost-effective than ILT across the board? Probably not! Some forms of learning require learners get hands-on with the subject—like disassembling and reassembling an aircraft engine. While virtual reality eLearning offers the opportunity for training “hands-on,” there’s no true substitute for actual hands-on experience for aircraft mechanics—and an instructor is ideal to oversee such experience.

How to know which one is better for your team/organization

Each organization is different, and each has its own learning culture. L&D leaders must balance organizational benefits against the associated costs when choosing the right learning strategy for their teams. 

When to use eLearning vs. ILT

Your choice of eLearning vs. ILT depends, firstly, on the type of learning you wish to deliver. Courses such as Office360, Programming, or Sexual Harassment 101 can easily adapt to eLearning. Topics requiring people management, person-to-person interaction, or hands-on learning—such as Conflict Resolution, Public speaking, Negotiations Skills, or Aircraft Maintenance—may benefit more from ILT sessions.

Which type of learning you choose may also depend on your audience. Organizations with older (Baby Boomer and Gen X) employees may benefit from ILT. A more tech-savvy workforce of Millennials and Gen Zers might thrive on eLearning. Alternatively, L&D teams could use a hybrid approach and mix-and-match ILT and eLearning approaches to fit their unique needs. 

If you’re wondering if eLearning is effective, the answer is: most definitely! Not only is it growing in popularity compared to ILT, it also delivers better learning outcomes and faster turn-around times. However, simply “porting” ILT content online does not result in cost-effective eLearning. Change only happens through a concerted eLearning strategy. Discover how ELM Learning creates smart, beautiful eLearning experiences to engage employees and create real change.