When creating eLearning, these five differences between ILT and eLearning can be helpful to keep in mind

I’ve had a chance to work with a number of people who have a background in classroom facilitation or k-12 education, but who are just starting out in their journey as eLearning designers.

In today’s podcast, I walk through five big differences between instructor-led training and eLearning, and I also offer a few ways to navigate, and in some cases take advantage of, these differences when creating eLearning experiences.


Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder of Endurance Learning. And today’s podcast will focus on five big differences between instructor-led training and eLearning that you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re designing eLearning.

But before I get to any of this, I do need to remind you that today’s episode is brought to you by Soapbox, an online tool that you can use for 5 or 10 minutes, and you can take care of 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. So basically you go to www.soapboxify.com, you set up an account, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people will attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and boom! Voila! Just like that, within seconds, Soapbox will instantly generate a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish your learning objectives. If you want more information, just pop over to www.soapboxify.com.

Instructor-Led Training is a Facilitated Experience

Instructor-led training...a learner raises their hand while a facilitator calls on them.

Okay. Today we’re going to be talking about the differences between instructor-led training and eLearning, especially if you’re new to eLearning, some things you’ll want to keep in mind. But first, let’s define how we’re using these terms – instructor-led training and eLearning. When I talk about instructor-led training, especially for the purposes of this podcast, I’m really talking about a facilitated experience. And today, I’ll probably take that even a little bit further by specifically suggesting that I’m thinking of in-person, instructor-led training. Although virtual, instructor-led training might also be something to keep in mind, but basically we’re talking about a workshop that’s scheduled and it includes a facilitator and a group of learners.

ELearning is a Self-Directed Experience 

A woman takes an eLearning module on her laptop.

When I talk about eLearning, for the purposes of today’s podcast, I’m specifically referring to something that’s self-directed, so the learner is on their own. And it’s self-contained, so it’s a course you might find on your LMS – you take it, you complete it. I’m not talking about eLearning here in the form of like a multi-week program that might include some moderation by an instructor or discussion boards, peer-to-peer online interactions, things of that nature. That’s also a form of eLearning, but not really what I’m focused on today.

Five Differences Between Instructor-Led and ELearning

All right. So let’s talk about the differences and I’m going to list five of these differences.

1. ELearning Has Limited Opportunities for Social Learning

And the first one is that with eLearning, there are limited opportunities for social learning. When I talk about social learning, I’m talking about those nuggets that you pick up from discussions with other people, whether that’s through activities, maybe structured discussion time, or even during breaks when you’re in person. 

If you take short video clips of people sharing their thoughts and perspectives on the content, it can be a compelling way for eLearning participants to hear from other people.

Even though self-guided eLearning modules don’t really offer an environment where casual discussions can take place, you can still simulate some aspects of social learning if you get a little bit creative. So maybe you want to share some quotes or feedback from your learners. Maybe you’ve done the same material in person in the past, and you have some quotes or some reactions from past participants that you can share as part of your content. Or maybe you can use information from some of our beta testers. You know, people who have taken your eLearning and they’ve shared comments just in a test environment, and that can be captured and included in the final version of your eLearning module. Maybe you can even take short video clips of people sharing their own thoughts and perspectives on the content. Video of others sharing their perspectives may not replace in-person interactions, but it really can be compelling. It can be a compelling way for eLearning participants to hear from other people.

2. ELearning Has No One to Facilitate a Conversation

Okay. Let’s talk about the second difference, and this difference is pretty important. It’s the fact that there’s nobody there in eLearning to actually facilitate a conversation. 

We needed to tighten up the questions that we were asking as well as the options that people could choose from to make sure there was clear right and clear wrong answers.

I was running into this issue the other day. I was working with a client and we were reviewing some assessment questions, and I realized that the way in which I had phrased some of the questions would have been fantastic for getting in-person discussion started. Unfortunately, I was designing an eLearning module and there would be no facilitator, so we had to adjust our assessment in two ways. One: we needed to tighten up the questions that we were asking, as well as the options that people could choose from, to make sure there was clear right and clear wrong answers. And the second thing we had to do was there was still going to be places where there might be some confusion or resistance to the “correct answer.” So we needed to make sure there would be adequate feedback for any incorrect choices. And we would say that it was understandable that someone would choose this option, but for X, Y, and Z reasons, it wasn’t the best option for this scenario.

3. Learners Will Need to Fit Your ELearning Into Their Day

Okay, let’s go to difference number three. People will need to fit your module into the flow of their day. With in-person sessions, people typically block off their calendars, they’re maybe even out of the office, they go to a different room where there are fewer distractions and possibilities for interruption. How does an eLearning designer compete with this? 

Well, obviously your content needs to be compelling. But beyond that, you may even want to have a short introduction screen in your eLearning that points out that when people take classroom workshops, they’re more naturally isolated from distractions and interruptions. For best results for the eLearning, they may want to take a moment, block off their calendars, turn off the email and IM notifications, silence their phones, maybe even hang a sign on their cubicle that says, “Do not disturb.” And they really do need to get ready to focus for the next 10, 20, 60 minutes, or however long your course is. I’ve always liked as a learning participant also seeing a progress bar so I can see how close I may be to completing the course. And then my mind can rest a little bit easier knowing that I can respond to all the messages that are waiting for me once I complete another 53% of the course.

4. There are Many Different Ways Learners Can Take Your ELearning Module

Alright, difference number four. There are a lot of ways people might consume your module. Keep in mind that when people are taking eLearning, they might be on a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, a phone. 

So for people who are using a touch screen, they won’t really click on something, they’ll tap on it. Of course, people using a computer and a mouse, they’ll click. So the language that you use when you’re giving instructions, for example, when asking people to select instead of click or tap, that’s going to be important. Also, keep in mind some of the activities that you choose to use may work better with some media than others. So using that slider or drag and drop activities, those might be complicated on a touch screen. So if you want to be sure, make sure you test your activities out on different devices before you launch your module. Okay.

5. ELearning Modules Make it Easy to Simulate a Wide Variety of Scenarios

 But when you use scenarios in eLearning, you can control the narrative, the dialogue, the difficulty of the situation that a learner needs to navigate, and every learner will get a consistent experience that fits your vision. 

The fifth difference is that there are all sorts of opportunities to simulate things that would be hard to do in a classroom. So think of role play, for example, any role play experience you’ve ever had in a classroom training. The participants, they might have wildly different experiences based on who they’re partnered with and how serious people take those scenarios. But when you use scenarios in eLearning, you can control the narrative, the dialogue, the difficulty of the situation that a learner needs to navigate, and every learner will get a consistent experience that fits your vision. 

The fun thing about eLearning is that there are very few limits to what you can actually challenge your learners to do.

Beyond role-plays, you can have your learners experience or interact with all sorts of concepts instead of just flashing screen after screen of text. For one recent eLearning that I developed, I had to make the point that a truck could haul an extra 200 pounds of cargo if it simply used a specific product. Instead of just stating this fact outright, I had learners do an activity in the eLearning where they had to keep stacking box and box of cargo onto the bed of a truck to see how much extra cargo they would actually be able to carry. So the fun thing about eLearning is that there are very few limits to what you can actually challenge your learners to do.

Instructor-Led Training vs. ELearning: The Summary

All right. Let me sum this up here by saying two things. One is that instructor-led training and eLearning, while they both have the end goal of helping people do something new or differently or better in mind, they are very different media that are used to help people learn. And when you’re writing for an eLearning project, it is important to keep some of these fundamental differences in mind so that you can take full advantage of the medium you’re using to help people learn.

All right. That’s all I have for you today. Thanks for listening. If you know someone who might find today’s topic on how to navigate the differences between instructor-led training and eLearning to be important, please do pass along the link to this podcast. If you want to make sure that you’re notified of a new podcast when it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple, Spotify, wherever you listen to your podcasts. Even better would be if you were to just go in and give us a like or give us a review – that’s how other people find us. It’ll take you a minute, it would mean a ton to me. If you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, you can go to Amazon, pick up a copy of my book: What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training. I talk about eLearning to some extent in there as well. Until next time, happy training everyone.

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