eLearning vs. ILT: What’s Better For Me?
Read Time: 6 minutes
ILT, eLearning, and virtual classrooms, oh my!
Sure, that doesn’t have the same rhythmic charm as “lions and tigers and bears.” But, if you’ve had to choose between eLearning or instructor-led training (ILT), you’ve probably felt overwhelmed, just like Dorothy did while traveling the Yellow Brick Road. Add virtual classrooms to the mix (you’ll soon see why we’re including them), and things become even more challenging.
Fortunately, you can overcome any feelings of trepidation that surface when choosing one training solution or another. All you need is a firm understanding of the solutions! And guess what? You’ve already taken the first step by making your way here.
In this article, we define eLearning and ILT, discuss the differences, and help you to feel comfortable choosing a training solution for your program.
What Is eLearning?
Historically and technically speaking, the term eLearning refers to any training that is made and accessed using electronic and digital materials. You can deliver web-based eLearning, which learners can access anywhere they have a device and an internet connection. You can offer downloadable eLearning, so learners can access it offline. And of course, eLearning can be web-based and downloadable all at the same time!
With that explanation, you can interpret eLearning broadly. However, in the training industry, eLearning has come to have a more specific definition.
To illustrate exactly how the training industry views eLearning, let’s look at virtual classrooms.
Does eLearning Include Virtual Classrooms?
We think of a virtual classroom as any space that allows for remote, real-time, synchronous learning (when people learn together at the same time). Virtual classrooms could take the form of:
- Webinars – Online through video conferencing
- One-to-One – One learner to one instructor
- Small-Group – A small group of learners with one instructor in a classroom setting
- Lecture – A large group of learners with one instructor
- Workshop – Hands-on training
Although virtual classrooms use digital and electronic technology, they aren’t usually what today’s training professionals consider an eLearning solution. The industry primarily thinks of eLearning as:
- Course- or module-based learning
- Asynchronous (when people learn by themselves)
Both solutions leverage electronic and digital technology, which fits the technical description of eLearning. And yet if you asked a training professional for an eLearning solution without offering any other details, they likely won’t think of virtual classrooms. In other words, the industry has come to define eLearning more by the type of learning it offers and less by the underlying technology. When we think of eLearning, we think of course-based, asynchronous, self-paced learning.
READ MORE: How to Develop an eLearning Program for Your Company
What Is ILT?
ILT, on the other hand, is short for instructor-led training. This is a solution that occurs in person and involves a trainer and/or facilitator guiding a group of learners through the session (trainers are usually subject matter experts, while facilitators don’t have to be).
In addition to lecture and presentation, ILT allows for dynamic learning in the form of:
- Large group discussions
- Breakout sessions in small groups
Those elements alone offer the clearest insight into the eLearning vs. ILT debate: the former offers asynchronous learning, while the latter consists largely of synchronous learning.
Now, let’s put the puzzle together and explore when you might need one solution or the other.
Do I Need eLearning or ILT?
The answer to that question can be “both,” thanks to the magic of blended learning. But for now, we’ll assume you have to choose one or the other. In that case, what you should ask yourself is, “Do I need asynchronous or synchronous learning?” Let’s explore the advantages of each.
What Are The Advantages Of eLearning (Asynchronous Learning)?
The main, overarching advantage of eLearning is the convenience it offers learners. They can:
- Take eLearning on their own schedule
- Go through the learning at their own pace
- Revisit the material during moments of need, setting them up for meaningful reinforcement
From a business perspective, eLearning offers additional benefits, namely in that it is cost-effective and easy to scale. Many eLearning programs need an initial start-up cost, but you can increase your ROI rather quickly when you run more students through an eLearning program.
What Are The Advantages Of ILT (Synchronous Learning)?
What ILT may lack in convenience, it more than makes up for with collaboration, be it with peers or subject matter experts (SMEs). As we mentioned, ILT accommodates large- and small-group interaction. Additionally, learners are able to ask SMEs questions in real-time, a luxury they don’t typically have with eLearning.
That “all-access” environment is socially enriching, and it provides a space to wade through more complex material. Indeed, ILT is typically a more reliable means for learners to practice thinking and acting critically, while eLearning is a more productive way to deliver the facts and knowledge that will inform said actions.
What If I Need Both eLearning and ILT?
Are you faced with material that requires the delivery of clear-cut facts as well as a space for navigating and practicing complex ideas or skills? You can accomplish that with a blended learning program. For example, you could learn in an eLearning that you’d encounter lions and tigers and bears along the Yellow Brick Road, then you’d turn to ILT to learn and practice what to do in those encounters.
The same logic applies to actual training topics, such as leadership training. You could use eLearning to inform your learners about leadership skills, and then use ILT to have them practice the skills in different scenarios. What we’re describing there — and with “The Wizard of Oz” example — is an example of blended learning, which empowers you to mix and match modalities (modes of training) throughout your training program as you see fit.
What Are The Challenges Of eLearning And ILT?
Whether you’re mixing and matching modalities or are choosing one or the other, you need to consider the challenges of eLearning and ILT. Oddly enough, those two solutions tend to solve each other’s problems.
For example, the challenges of eLearning include:
- Isolation: Some learners find online learning to be isolating and lonely, which isn’t conducive to learning, period, let alone if the material is complex. Well-designed ILT addresses that issue, as does eLearning that is engaging and straightforward.
- Self-Discipline/Time Management: Because eLearning allows learners to participate on their own schedule, it puts to the test their self-discipline and time management skills. ILT ensures learners participate in the training due to there being a designated date and time at which their attendance is required.
- Technology: eLearning is entirely dependent on technology, which can often require troubleshooting. ILT may include technology components, but it can go on without it if it has to.
Conversely, ILT challenges include:
- Cost: Planning and executing ILT can be costly in terms of money and time. This is true not only for those who develop it but also for the learners, especially those who have to make travel arrangements and are pulled away from their work for days at a time. eLearning can be pricey upfront — and the development hours are no joke — but once it’s produced, it’s produced, which brings us to…
- Scalability: Because of all the moving parts and logistics, ILT can be difficult to scale, whereas that is a strength of eLearning.
- Consistency: As facilitators and participants change from one session to the next, a consistent experience — in terms of the impact on learners achieving their objectives — becomes a challenge for ILT. eLearning can offer you a bit more control over the experience.
In the case of eLearning vs. ILT, you ultimately must evaluate the complexity of your material (remember, ILT is better for the more complex subject matter); the additional advantages and disadvantages of asynchronous and synchronous learning; and the needs of your learners and your business.
What If I Need Synchronous Learning For A Remote Audience?
So, Have You Found The Courage To Choose?
If you’re squarely in the eLearning vs. ILT battle, we hope this article helped you to feel more confident in making a decision. Remember, it may not have to be one or the other; you may find that blended learning works best for you. Want to hash out the details specific to your project with one of our learning experts? Give us a roar!