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Learning Design: Considerations in the case for ELearning versus face to face training?

Pick up most articles on learning and we hear about the move towards e-learning and in particular responsive learning programmes for PC’s, tablets and smartphones.

Why would you choose ELearning, the benefits alone cannot be justified on the availability of the technology. Global tablet sales engenders a culture where people can and want to learn by taking e-learning courses on tablets and the swing to BOYD (Bring your own device) into most work and learning situations is evident.  The opportunities to learn outside the training room are extended in terms of not just where.  Here we examine the factors to consider during the design and evaluation of commercially developed training and when selecting ELearning versus face to face training during learning design.   

Availability of learners

A key benefit of new technologies in the ability to access learning spaces 24/7 and from any device, however the majority of learners want to access ELearning from the organisations learning management system and during company time.    There are often the practical issues to consider such as the learner to tutor ratios and the geographical spread.  For many organisations it would not be cost effective to use face to face learning sessions due to both the number of employees in the learner group and their availability.  The measured delivery or chunking of learning offered by elearning modules is appealing to the managers of employees who cannot leave their posts for longer periods of time to attend face to face instructor led training. 

Reflection and contextualisation

The advantage of face to face instructor led-training is that it gives learners the opportunity to consolidate learning by reflecting on what they have learnt in real time situations. Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler (2007) refer to this as ‘contextual learning’ or learning in context of their work setting where they can discuss this with colleagues and relate this to their role (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2007, p. 5).   Where ELearning is provided as a stand-alone resource the use of a Learning Log or Delegate Pack can support the ELearning by scaffolding reflection activities and asking questions on how learners will apply knowledge in practice.  A Development Plan can include opportunities to apply what has been learnt both individually and working with other team members.   Pletka (2007) in Educating the Net Generation emphasises the importance of ‘giving learners opportunities to apply the content in meaningful contexts’ (Pletka, 2007, p. 18) as ‘socially contextualized learning engages students’ (Pletka, 2007, p. 17).

Time and Cost

In developing training resources it is worth considering the time involved in face to face training and the costs of eLearning modules versus face to face training sessions.  Weller(2002)  in Delivering Learning on the Net suggests that  ‘Before you engage in the development of specialist software it is worth considering the benefits it brings to the course, any potential saving in student or educator time’ (Weller, 2002, p. 142).   

Conversations to construct learning

ELearning modules do not enable learners to capitalise on the benefits of group conversation and interaction, Smith (Smith, 1997, 2004) cites the work of Eduard Lindeman in his classic work The Meaning of Adult Education.  Lindeman was an explorer of group work and supported discussion and equal participation as the preferred route for learning. 

With that in mind ELearning resources should form part of the learning process.  Learning design should provide the opportunity to discuss with other colleagues how this learning relates to their workplace during face to face training or via online communities of practice, this is essential for development.


Kukulska-Hulme, A., & Traxler, J. (2007). Design for Mobile and Wireless Technologies. In H. Beetham, & R. Sharpe, Rethinking Pedagogy for the Digital Age. London: Routledge.

Pletka, B. (2007). Educating the Net Generation. Santa Monica: Santa Monica Press LLC.

Smith, M. K. (1997, 2004). Eduard CL lindeman and the meaning of adult education. Retrieved January 7th, 2012, from Infed:

Weller, M. (2002). Delivering Learning on the Net. London: Kogan Page Limited.


Cath Jackson
Scholarship Development Manager (Doncaster College University Centre)
Freelance Learning Designer