16 February 2022

In the last few decades, technology has been rapidly evolving and increasingly integrated into our everyday lives. As a result, the desire to leverage the power of new technology to make our lives easier, more accessible, and more productive has increased as well, including in the realm of education. The vast majority (90%) of all corporations have switched to online training for their employees because of its convenience and ease. That said, there are disadvantages to e-learning that should be addressed to improve online education.

Advantages of E-learning 

Before we dissect the limitations of the online classroom, it is essential to highlight the many benefits it has brought to education. Over the past year, the world has had to evolve and adapt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. For many institutions, this meant shutting down entirely. During the pandemic, the ability to continue education while maintaining social distancing and quarantine guidelines was only possible because of the power of e-learning. Outside of its ability to allow lessons to be conducted from a distance, two of the most significant advantages of e-learning are that it is cost-beneficial and saves time. E-learning courses often cost a fraction of what in-person learning courses cost. There is no need for a physical class space to conduct a lesson, saving money and space with an online course. For companies, this is particularly advantageous when they have a plethora of employees that require training and upskilling, as it is cost-effective and saves time for both company and employee. Courses are also often self-paced, with the learner able to stop and start the course at any time. For working adults with packed schedules and little time on their hands, having a curriculum that can fit in with their unique plans is paramount. E-learning courses can also be personalized to fit the individual needs of each learner. Learners who have specific skills that they wish to improve can have an e-learning course molded for them that focuses on that skill and allows them to practice it without added fluff. They can also consume various kinds of content (written, video, audio), which can help them to engage with the subject matter. E-learners often feel more involved with e-learning and experience improved learning outcomes because they can self-govern, allowing them to revisit subjects that are more confusing at any time. There is also an ecological benefit to e-learning. Online courses enable all projects, homework, and tests to be conducted online. This means zero paper waste. There is also no need to transport oneself to a lesson nor a need for enough space to house a class, meaning fewer emissions and a smaller carbon output overall.

Disadvantages of E-learning

Though e-learning has provided many benefits for learners and education providers, there are ways in which it can fall short. Social interaction is an integral part of the learning process. We learn best not only by practicing and testing on the subjects that we are struggling with but also by engaging with our instructor and with our classmates. Unlike with many online courses, an in-person class can be conducted in small intimate groups. With a self-directed e-learning course, there is no interaction between student and instructor, so when the student is stuck and struggling, they do not have access to instructor expertise. Group discussions in person also lead to improved engagement and overall learning outcomes. Though e-learning is accessible to those who cannot afford in-person classes, they are not accessible to those who lack an internet connection. With in-person learning, it is easier to monitor the classroom for cheating. Without an instructor present nor a means to monitor whether or not instructions are being followed, it is easy for cheating to run rampant in an online classroom. Self-governed online courses allow learners to go at their own pace, but this also means that they must also be self-motivated to start and finish the course. Without an instructor present to monitor progress, there is less accountability to complete tasks. Having a set time and location in which lessons are conducted can help learners stay focused on their lessons and improve their overall learning outcomes. Though e-learning comes with a plethora of content with which the learner can engage, they have less hands-on experience than if they were learning in person. Hands-on instruction can help learners solidify the information they are being taught in ways that learning online cannot. It is one thing to learn about chemistry online; it is another to conduct actual chemistry experiments in a classroom.

So how does e-learning overcome its disadvantages? 

E-learning must be adaptable enough to change when needed to improve the learning experience. One way to make e-learning better is by making it more dynamic for learners. E-learning courses should add live lectures along with their pre-recorded content to give learners the chance to engage with an instructor in real-time, whether it is a live stream once a week or a group meet-up every few weeks, having a live aspect to the e-learning process can help learners participate more and keep them accountable to their instructor and their peers. Adding a learning management system can also help reduce the chances of cheating and increase the chances of course completion. Learning Management Systems allow instructors to monitor progress and grades. If a student is struggling, an LMS can help instructors understand where they need more attention and help them tailor their lessons around that particular subject. Conducting surveys can also help e-learning providers get a feel for how their learners best engage with the content they provide, allowing them to focus on providing each learner with the content that best suits them. Having learners set goals before starting an e-learning course and frequently reminding them of said goals can also help improve learners' focus, motivation, and accountability.