E-learning vs in-person learning: What you need to know

Weighing up what’s best for your learners against what’s best for your company is often a challenging task. If you want to create a learning environment that brings out the best in your team, you’ll need to get to grips with the pros and cons of e-learning vs in-person learning. We’re here to help break it down for you.


E-learning vs in-person learning: what’s the difference? 

Traditionally, in-person learning has been the ‘go-to’ for many HR, L&D and training managers. The process often involves hiring in a corporate trainer or third-party to deliver specialist training that enhances the knowledge or skills of a specific team.

If we think back to the training classrooms of the 80’s and 90’s we imagine desks laid out in a ‘U’ and littered with bulky plastic ring-binders stuffed with reams of paper. In some training rooms across the country, nothing has changed. In others, however, in-person learning — commonly referred to as Instructor-Led Training (ILT) — has moved on. 

Teaching methods are shifting to a more diverse and inclusive nature, taking the needs of individual learners into account. And, today’s corporate trainer’s are no longer seen by HR or CEOs as commodities, rather as the driving force of motivational learning and professional self-improvement.

Despite the rapid global growth of technology and digital communications, e-learning is still a relatively new thing for many larger businesses worldwide. Smaller and more agile businesses, on the other hand, have adopted e-learning into their culture with open arms. 

According to data compiled by knowledge sharing platform, Zeqr, a whopping 98 percent of small businesses and SME’s are planning to implement e-learning into their learning strategies within the next four years. With this dramatic shift will come a new generation of learners from around the world who’ll be able to access and share knowledge like never before. 

And, students are turning toward this method of learning, too! A report released by Babson Survey Research Group in January 2018 revealed that more than 6.3 million students in the US took at least one distance education course in 2016. The report indicates that distance education enrollments have increased for fourteen years straight. 


The pros and cons of in-person learning

Even with the inevitable rise of e-learning, in-person learning still very much has a place inside in the corporate classroom. And, if you’re considering the way forward with your learning strategy, here’s what you need to know. 

The pros: 

  • Questions from delegates can be answered immediately: during any form of training its common for delegates to learn by asking and having access to immediate answers. These needs can be easily facilitated when in a classroom-based, instructor-led environment. 
  • Networking and social interaction is often the way that many learners absorb and retain information. In an environment where your delegates can learn from each other, you may find that absorption and retention rates are higher. 
  • A dedicated learning environment is useful for those who need time away from their screen. According to ‘Happy Tech’ writer, Amy Blankson, the human attention span has officially dropped below that of a goldfish. Perhaps this is predominately due to the epidemic of distraction, caused by human addiction to technology. Taking your learning off-screen and into a dedicated learning environment will help to keep distractions to a minimum. 

The cons: 

  • Localization can be a big concern for businesses with offices across the US, or even globally. When you have a body of staff that all need to learn the same thing, in-person, classroom-based learning can be a slow and monotonous process. 
  • Classroom-based training is expensive: consider the cost of taking time out of each of employee’s workday, training materials, travel and accommodation expenses, and the cost of a corporate trainer or training partner. The impact on bottom-line is substantial. 
  • Limited shelf life: materials are often prepared by trainers or administrators weeks or even months in advance. Meaning that content is quickly outdated even with minor changes in industry trends. 

The pros and cons of e-learning

If you’ve never explored e-learning as an option, or you’ve tiptoed around it but you’re now ready to dive in, here’s what you need to know. 

The pros:

  • Accessibility: due to their very nature, e-learning tools and materials are accessible to learners all over the world on a 24/7 basis. Therefore, unlike conventional classroom-based learning, employees can access online learning materials at a time that suits them. If you have a geographically-dispersed employee population then e-learning is the perfect solution for your training needs.  
  • Gamification has become a common buzzword with L&D practitioners around the world. In essence, it means that learning materials can be delivered in the form of interactive ‘game-like’ modules. Such modules might include video, augmented reality, or the use of mobile technology. These advanced digital learning tools mean that your company can deliver training that will capture the hearts and minds of employees and make the learning environment more fun and dynamic than ever before. 
  • Cost-effectiveness: it’s no secret that e-learning delivers substantial cost savings compared to traditional classroom-based environments. When it comes to e-learning vs in-person learning from a cost perspective, there’s simply no comparison. 

The cons:

  • Motivation and self-discipline can be a challenge for some, especially when left to their own devices. You may have to keep an eye on the learning and motivational needs of individual staff and adapt accordingly. 
  • Isolation has often also been reported as a problem, with staff feeling cut off or deprived of support. Chat facilities and emerging AI technologies can help to solve this issue. 
  • Lack of input from professional training staff can also be a challenge if you have learners that thrive on input. Because the best trainers engage with their learners, this can be missed by those who need a level of personal interaction to make the most of their learning experience. 


When it comes to e-learning vs in-person learning, you can’t afford to make the wrong decision. Taking your first step into e-learning can reap countless benefits across your employee population for years to come. Choose to make e-learning an experience that brings out the very best in your teams. 

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