About 16 years ago, online learning was in its infancy, whereas being taught in a classroom in a systematic form has been around for hundreds of years. Little wonder that it’s not been easy to translate the pedagogical methods used in the classroom into those adopted in online learning. Yet there is evidence that suggests both methodologies can deliver comparable learning outcomes (notwithstanding that both methodologies can be subject to poor implementation and delivery).
A number of things are different in online learning but in order to explain why it is a viable alternative to classroom learning, we will focus on the three things that have the most significant effect on the outcome of companies’ training impact assessment.
When the US Department of Education carried out an evaluation and review of online learning in 2010, it found out that the learning outcomes of students who engaged in online learning exceeded those of the students engaged in classroom learning. One reason for the improved effectiveness seems to be the increased level of participation through interactivity and self-paced ownership of the learning. This leads to higher levels of cognitive engagement and therefore higher levels of retention.
In online learning, learners can stop to reflect whenever they want, or return to previously-delivered content, and thus ensure a deeper understanding before continuing. This is what Vygotsky (1896-1934) called ‘Scaffolding’ – learning at a level that is appropriate to the learner’s capability. This contrasts with classroom instruction with its ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, whether you are ready or not. The flexibility of pace in online learning gives the learner time to digest and reflect on the information being presented, and time to integrate it into their existing understanding and context. This is how they make sense of it and how they are helped to embed it in long-term memory.
One minute of classroom time does not equal one minute of online training. The same subject covered by an online learning course typically takes between 25 and 60 percent of the hours needed for traditional learning due to more condensed content delivery, scripted to be succinct and accurate, coupled with the time lost to the physicality of classroom events, e.g. introductions, tea and lunch breaks, etc.
Where a traditional classroom course may span a longer period of time (for instance, 8 hours of delivery, the content time compression aside), an online learning course offers the convenience of being accessed at any time over a period of days and weeks e.g. 8 x 30 minutes sessions.
It is well understood that the cost of developing online learning content can be higher than for a classroom-based course. However, this difference is ultimately negligible when taking into account the scalability of online learning and the indirect logistical costs of classroom events. As the online learning field matures it is also becoming the norm to be able to purchase off-the-shelf online content which further helps justify the large savings of using this medium.
For instance, Ernst & Young cut training costs by 35 percent while improving consistency and scalability. They condensed their training time by about 52 percent.
In addition, sending Online Content to international locations via the internet is cost-effective in comparison to sending instructors via airplanes.
Both online and classroom learning programs have a fixed development cost. The development cost of classroom learning course is clearly lower than that of online learning. On the other hand, once developed, the online learning course does not incur any further costs. Therefore, the total cost line for online learning is horizontal. The classroom course, however, contains such variable costs as the cost of the trainer. Consequently, the total cost line of the classroom course continues rising after development.
From the perspective of individual professionals seeking to develop their skills, the cost of enrolling for an online training is only a fraction of the what its classroom equivalent costs. For instance, the cost of our Event Management Course online is N16,950 where as in the classroom it costs N35,000.
This analysis clearly shows that online learning is more cost-effective. However, the most critical point lies in the learning outcomes achieved by both approaches. It is worthy of note that in some cases, the online learning approach can deliver even more effective learning with better memory retention. And this makes it a viable alternative to classroom learning.