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ILT vs. VILT vs. eLearning vs. Video Learning: Traditional or Digital Learning

When you take inventory of modern learning solutions, you can’t ignore the digital divide. There’s the tried-and-true in-person instructor-led training (ILT). Then there’s a host of impactful digitally powered solutions, like virtual instructor-led training (VILT), eLearning, and video learning.

As a learning professional, you’ve probably seen or heard of these training options. But let’s take a deep dive into how they can add value to your training program.

In this article, we’ll provide clear definitions of ILT and its digital cousins, and we’ll note important considerations for building a program anchored in each solution.

Instructor-Led Training

You can’t call something a blast from the past if it never faded away. Instead, you might call something like ILT a gift from the get-go. 

Instructor-led training, or ILT for short, is a training modality 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).

Pros of Instructor-Led Training

Though some might imagine ILT training as lots of lectures and one-sided presentations, it offers much more. 

Dynamic Experiential Learning
The best ILT includes dynamic experiential and synchronous learning (people learning together). They can take the form of large group discussions, breakout sessions in small groups, and role-playing. It allows for a free exchange of ideas, team building, and space for your learners to practice applying what they’ve learned in true-to-life scenarios. 

Access to Subject Matter Experts

ILT also affords learners access to trainers and facilitators, allowing them to ask questions and deepen their learning at moments of need. This arrangement boosts knowledge acquisition and retention, leading to more confident employees.

Real-time Feedback for Facilitators
The benefits of in-person access flow both ways. Trainers and facilitators can assess how well learners are grasping the material. They can adjust the pace, slowing down to accommodate a group struggling to understand a concept or speeding up when dealing with more advanced learners. Doing so helps ensure you don’t leave learners in the dark or lose their attention.

READ MORE:  eLearning vs. ILT: What’s Better For Me? 

Cons of Instructor-Led Training (ILT)

Ultimately, the challenges of ILT become a factor if you’re looking to scale an ILT program to a large number of learners. 

Not Easily Repeatable

The power of ILT comes from real-life groups of people connecting and learning together. Unfortunately, these authentic learning moments are difficult to recreate from one session to another.

When you are looking to scale ILT across a company, you have to accept variance from session to session, even with facilitator’s guides and train-the-trainer programs.

High Cost and Complicated Logistics

ILT can generate costs related to:

  • Instructional design
  • Material production
  • Travel (both for learners and trainers/facilitators)
  • Lost productivity because of time away from work 
  • Facility rental

If you intend to scale an ILT program or use it as your primary vehicle for every training topic, those days of lost productivity — and the other costs — will add up.

Consistency of Experience     

Delivering a consistent learning experience via ILT is another challenge. Each live session includes a different audience that produces different experiences. The trainers and facilitators may vary from session to session, bringing unique approaches and styles that might make for inconsistent ILT. 

When Instructor-Led Training Works Best

When you consider that virtual reality training achieves cost parity with classroom training at 375 learners (and grows more cost-effective from there), the limitations of scaling ILT are clear. When done correctly, ILT is an extremely productive way to drive behavior change in your employees. It puts them alongside subject matter experts or folks who at least know the material very well. It just might not be feasible as the sole training solution for reaching all employees regarding every single topic.

You may alleviate some of the challenges that scaling ILT presents by adopting a blended learning program, which calls for using a mix of learning modalities to achieve learning objectives. You cut the time devoted to live sessions and use what remains for discussion, experiential learning, and role-playing — three elements that make ILT unique and worthwhile.

READ MORE: Why You Should Consider A Blended Learning Program

Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) 

As technology advanced, other training solutions took root in learning and development. Let’s address some popular digital alternatives to ILT, starting with its closest cousin — VILT.

Virtual instructor-led training, or VILT for short, is precisely what it sounds like. Leveraging video conferencing tools like Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and GoToMeeting, VILT lets you take the classroom dynamic online. It retains the real-time and synchronous elements of ILT while shedding the in-person aspect. 

Pros of Virtual Instructor-Led Training

The benefits of VILT stem from its capacity for remote access, as well as its similar structure to ILT.

Cost-Effective Training
Learners and facilitators can join a VILT session from their local office, negating the need to travel for training. With ILT, you incur no travel costs, and you lessen the amount of time a session takes people away from their jobs.  

Convenient Remote Option

VILT offers organizations and their learners the flexibility to join anywhere they have a device and an internet connection. That comes in handy when dealing with flexible or remote workforces, and it allows you to train workers around the country and world. 

Tools to Engage Learners
In a VILT session, learning professionals have many tools to engage learners and boost knowledge retention. You can use breakout sessions, virtual whiteboards, polls, and more to make learner participation easy and valuable. You can also record VILT sessions with ease, allowing learners to revisit the material and reinforce what they learned at their convenience.

Cons of Virtual Instructor-Led Training 

While VILT offers affordable and convenient training (and thus can be easier to scale), it can — if unaccounted for — produce a lower-quality learning experience. The format is so closely related to ILT that many organizations have converted their ILT sessions to VILT. Sometimes, they do so to experiment. Other times, a global pandemic forces them to convert. Regardless, it’s a task that should be done with care, as VILT also presents challenges.

Little Control Over Learners’ Environment
Everyone gathers in the same space for an ILT session. With VILT, each participant is in their own environment, which may present distractions that facilitators cannot control. Perhaps a learner’s kids are home, or their dog is barking, or they’re checking emails. Whatever the distraction is, it disrupts their focus. Trainers and facilitators need to account for that.

Facilitators Can’t Assess Nonverbal Cues
Remember, one benefit of ILT is that trainers and facilitators can sense how well learners are grasping the content. A lot of that work depends on nonverbal cues. In VILT, facilitators have a difficult time assessing those nonverbal cues, limiting their ability to make sure learners are following along. 

Fewer Opportunities For Application

Though most VILT platforms allow for breakout sessions, the modality offers fewer opportunities for knowledge application and practice. The dynamic experiential learning that’s easy to achieve in ILT through role-playing is not as attainable in VILT. 

All those realities can have a genuine impact on knowledge retention. 

When Virtual Instructor-Led Training Works Best

While those challenges are real, VILT is far from a lost cause. The key is to design VILT so that it remains conducive to achieving learning objectives. Some essential ways to do so include:

  • Keeping it short (60 minutes or less)
  • Using the virtual whiteboard to emphasize crucial takeaways
  • Following-up frequently after the session to make learning stick

If you follow those guidelines and others, you can deliver VILT that is cost-effective, convenient, and a catalyst for behavior change.

READ MORE: VILT: 8 Ways To Make The Most Of It For Your Learners


Though the term eLearning technically refers to learning that happens via electronic and digital channels, the learning and development industry means something specific when touting it as a modern training solution. Namely, eLearning is an online training that is:  

  • Module- or course-based
  • Asynchronous
  • Self-paced

It is defined less by the technology that powers it and more by the style of learning it offers. 

Pros of eLearning

If you’re deciding between eLearning, ILT, or VILT for a corporate training program, you’re ultimately picking between asynchronous learning or synchronous learning. We explore the virtues and drawbacks of each in our detailed comparison, but here are some key benefits of eLearning.

Learners Go at Their Own Pace
By deploying eLearning, you don’t rush or restrict learners to a group’s pace. They progress through the training at a comfortable speed. As a result, they gain trust in the training and confidence in themselves.

Convenient and Cost-Effective

Like VILT, eLearning is convenient and cost-effective. When designed and developed in tune with learning objectives, it is a successful avenue to boosting employee performance. Plus, once it’s created, it’s created. Even with high upfront development costs, organizations can easily scale eLearning to all learners, which rapidly leads to ROI.

Learners Fit Training Into Their Schedule
With eLearning being a few clicks away, learners can fit a program into their busy schedules. That frees them to bring their full selves to the training, ultimately getting the most out of it. When they’re ready, they simply access the eLearning on their computer or tablet, something they could do at work, home, or when traveling.

Cons of eLearning

Despite those benefits, eLearning does have its complications, mostly concerning the learner being alone.

Learners May Feel Isolated
The more complex the material is, the more frustrating the experience might be for learners who are isolated and can’t ask subject matter experts questions. Such an experience could cause learners to disengage and lose confidence.

Issues With Self-discipline and Time Management
Learners can complete eLearning when and where they want. The problem is that not every learner is skilled in self-discipline and time management. Left to their own devices, some learners may cram to complete the eLearning or overlook it entirely.   

Not Everyone is Tech Savvy 

Some of your learners might have basic computer skills. They might be wary of taking training online, especially in a format they’re not familiar with. If they take the training alone and become frustrated with the experience, they may exit the training for good. 

If left unaddressed, those challenges could render your eLearning program ineffective and put productivity goals in jeopardy. Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do to prevent that.

When eLearning Works Best

eLearning works best when you keep it simple, engaging, and user-centric. In that spirit, you could:

  • Include resources in the eLearning module that learners can reference throughout
  • Adhere to the 70:20:10 model and make learners active participants in the eLearning
  • Include simple, well-executed branched learning that lets learners dictate outcomes
  • Set clear deadlines for completing the training and send learners reminders
  • Explicitly explain how the eLearning will make their jobs easier (“What’s in it for me?”)

Additionally, ensure the user experience is as intuitive as possible. Learners are already there to think about the subject matter; don’t make them think about navigating the module. Make sure you or your eLearning vendor perform multiple rounds of quality assurance testing to yield an error-free module.

With all those things accounted for, you can use eLearning to impart facts and knowledge to learners with maximum efficiency.

READ MORE: How to Develop an eLearning Program for Your Company

Video Learning

Some things are easier shown than said. Therein lies the draw of video learning, or training that is delivered through video. 

Organizations can use video learning to show learners exactly how to do something. That “something” may not be hard to do, but it’s usually hard to explain verbally or in writing. If you teach a topic or task more efficiently by showing it, you likely could use video learning. 

Pros of Video Learning

There are many benefits of video learning. We highlight a few here. 

Video Can Boost Engagement 

When you add video to your learning program, you can expect an immediate boost in engagement. While the extent of that boost depends on how exactly you use video, the medium is compelling by nature. Capturing and maintaining your learners’ focus are key ingredients to driving behavior change. Video can help with that. 

It Can Improve Performance

Video learning can have a dramatic impact on employee performance, especially when you use it to exemplify repetitive processes. For example, we produced video learning for a client whose warehouse associates then registered a:

  • 10% increase in total pallets produced
  • 7% increase in pallets produced per hour
  • 50% decrease in workers’ compensation claims

Video Learning Can Be Easily Scaled

Once you or your video learning vendor creates the training, you can scale it throughout your business with ease. Learners can watch the training videos on their schedule or view them with a group. When created with intent, video learning can be of great value to your organization.

READ MORE: Learning Through Video: Simulation Training

Cons of Video Learning

There are a few caveats to video learning.

You Need High-Quality Video

One challenge of a video learning program is that you need high-quality video to make it work. Organizations won’t see ROI like a 33% reduction in time from training to productive work from a video you shot on your smartphone. You have to have a skilled in-house video team or work with a learning partner who does. With that comes high costs and a lengthy production schedule, two things your organization will have to account for.

Video Alone May Not Suffice

Engagement is one part of the equation. To put the “learning” in video learning, you need to follow instructional design principles. Conduct a needs analysis and search for knowledge gaps. Create your video informed by those methods, and then pair it with knowledge checks. Otherwise, your film will be fun, but not functional. 

Not Great For Abstract Concepts
In a training context, video learning is best for showing learners how to do processes. You could use it to demonstrate more abstract concepts, like soft skills. But those arenas typically leave a lot open to interpretation, require more context, and spur more questions from learners. In other words, video learning alone is often not enough for such topics.  

When Video Learning Works Best

As with VILT, the challenges inherent in video learning don’t make it a lost cause. In fact, video learning ROI can be extraordinary. The challenges just mean you need to consider video learning carefully before committing to it.

Be sure your organization has:

  • The budget to absorb the production costs
  • The patience to see the development and any updates through
  • The instructional design focus to ensure the training achieves learning objectives

ILT vs. Digital Training Programs: It’s All Here To Stay

All the training solutions we covered in this article will remain part of learning and development for a long time. We hope we helped to illuminate each one’s unique benefits and challenges. The key is to match your solution to your specific audience, topic, and learning needs. As is always the case, your training programs don’t have to rely only on one solution. A blended learning program may be the best approach. 

Want to debrief or talk things through regarding your training projects? Have more questions about ILT, VILT, eLearning, or video learning? Send us a note, and we’ll help you to determine your best training options.

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