Call it what you will — online training, distance learning, web-based training or e-learning — but the practice of training employees via technology-based methods such as the Internet, intranet, CD-ROM and more has continued to grow in popularity as more and more workplaces discover the value that this type of training has to offer. Experts cite benefits that range from decreased costs, greater convenience and flexibility to improved retention rates and a positive environmental impact.

 Tom Kuhlmann, who has more than 15 years experience in the training industry and hosts The Rapid E-Learning Blog ( shares the following reasons on why e-learning is so effective:

E-learning supports the organization’s goals:

• Improved training costs. Producing learning content is time-consuming whether it’s online or not. With e-learning, each time the course is accessed, your return on investment improves because you are dividing the fixed production costs by number of uses. You also have savings through decreased travel, reduced material, and hopefully improved (and more efficient) performance.

• Decreased material costs. Setting up a real environment for hands-on training can be costly. Even setting up a fake environment has material costs and labor. By creating the environment online and letting the learner practice, you never have to worry about the costs associated with set up, use and cleanup.

• Increased productivity. Because e-learning is not bound by geography or time, you can control training’s impact on production by training people during down times. In addition, with the current economy, you’re asking people to do more with less. So e-learning is a great way to give them the tools and skills needed to enhance their performance.

• Standardization. You may have a great facilitator, but that’s no guarantee that the courses are presented the same across sessions. E-learning allows you to create a standardized process and consistency in the delivery of content. It also compresses delivery time. E-learning courses can be combined with facilitated sessions. E-learning delivers consistent content, while live sessions offer interactive case studies that apply the information.


E-learning supports the learner’s development:

• Real-time access. Live learning events require that those who participate align their schedules to the training calendar. E-learning eliminates this because the course can be accessed anytime, anywhere. This can also happen without Internet access. “I saw a Red Cross demo where the learners accessed the content on a PC out in the field and uploaded their results when they were back online,” says Kuhlmann.

• Freedom to fail. Let’s face it, real learning requires some failure. But no one likes to fail in a classroom full of other people. E-learning lets you fail without fear. This encourages exploration and testing of ideas. With the right feedback you create a great learning environment. Worst case, you can always start over. Something you can’t always do in class.

• Improved retention. The combination of multimedia and instructional design can produce a very rich learning experience that is repeatable. Throw in some good practice activities with feedback and you have a learning environment that’s going to help your learners retain the course content which will produce results.

• Personalized learning. All cars do the same thing, yet we have personal opinions about what we want to drive. The same goes for learning. Learners want control. E-learning allows you to offer control to the learners in a way that classroom learning doesn’t.


E-learning nurtures a learning organization & community:

• Ongoing access to resources. If you take a class in the real world and need a refresher, you better hope that you took good notes. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. That’s not the case with e-learning. Ideally, you continue to have access to the online content and resources to brush up on what you learned.

• Knowledge management. Many people see e-learning as only the authored courses. But e-learning includes all sort of online technologies. If you incorporate some of the tools that allow collaboration and conversation, you can capture organizational knowledge that is available for future learners.

• Encourage sharing. The foundation of a learning community is built on sharing what you know with others. This is where incorporating a forum or wiki really adds value to your e-learning. Depending on how the course is structured, you can encourage sharing of resources and insight gained from the course.

• Employer of choice. People want opportunities to grow. A catalog with all sorts of e-learning courses allows workers to explore other opportunities in the organization. During downtime, it would be great to spend 15 minutes learning to better manage meetings or improve working with peers. Offering these opportunities to learn makes your company a place people want to stay. 

• E-learning is good for the environment. Britain’s Open University’s “study found that producing and providing distance learning courses consumes an average of 90 percent less energy and produces 85 percent fewer CO2 emissions per student than conventional face-to-face courses.”


E-learning may not be for everyone. Those who are not technology savvy may have a more difficult time navigating programs or might be intimidated or turned off by electronics-based learning and prefer to be taught face to face by a live human being. While one can make the case for the value of classroom-based, instructor-led training, in these tough economic times where companies are pinching pennies and workers are bearing the load of a leaner workforce, e-learning merits a closer look.