Can eLearning Replace Classroom Training?

Feb 23, 2022

By Heidi Staples, Senior Instructional Designer at TWi

In my previous life as an academic, university faculty ritually bemoaned the diverting presence of smartphones in the classroom. Those baddie students weren’t looking at us but were too often staring into those blasted devices.

While reasonably concerned about distractions from the lessons at hand, I think maybe educators and trainers are also sometimes a bit nervous. I know I was.

Will classroom training be replaced by the likes of smartphones?

We’re in the midst of a massive technological shift. The ground moved beneath my own feet back in 2017 or so, when students across all of my classes suddenly began routinely communicating about our course, without me, via a social media site the name of which I can’t even recall. They seemed very comfortable with the situation. Me, not so much.

I realized students on their phones in class could in fact, at least sometimes, have been talking about the subject at hand. It’s just that I, the teacher at the front of the class, may not always have been needed in the conversation, or even welcome.

Anyone else starting to hear a few bars of “Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone?”


eLearning is transforming how we learn.

The World Economic Forum [WEF] describes our time as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, “a fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another. It is a new chapter in human development.” Meanwhile, the benefits of eLearning are becoming more evident with every new finding, and the necessity of classroom training can seem more uncertain by the day.


No wonder there’s been a recent “16% increase in virtual learning and a 16% decrease in instructor-led training.” It seems fair to wonder, will classroom training – by which I mean a live person standing at the front of the room -go the way of the phone book and the paper map?


Classroom training is necessary for some learning outcomes.  

Whether or not stand-alone eLearning can replace classroom training really comes down to the desired learning outcomes. Bloom’s Taxonomy, the gold standard for nailing down learning outcomes, can help determine whether to include classroom training in a course.

Achieving the ability to evaluate or create can often simply require an instructor’s direct engagement with each individual learner’s thinking process. Live classroom training also includes social elements that facilitate this type of rich, personal exchange.





I taught writing, creativity, and critical thinking in a university classroom for almost twenty years. A student’s ability to advance their thinking was inevitably bound up with the teacher-student ratio and my subsequent opportunities to give personalized feed-back.

Perhaps my most impactful class ever was a summer course on ecology and writing with one student. We relished what became essentially an intensive tutorial, both of us engaging the other with our best higher-order thinking.

[Gwendolyn Lemley pulling us deep into the constitutive powers of language within ecological thought]

[Gwendolyn Lemley pulling us deep into the constitutive powers of language within ecological thought]

Turns out, even a hillwalking one-to-one tutorial deep in the Alabama woodlands inevitably morphs into an enriched blended learning experience when one of us cleverly whips out a smartphone.


A blended approach can offer the best of classroom training and eLearning.

Metanalyses suggest that blended learning creates the largest benefits when compared with either independent classroom training or eLearning. My own classroom teaching certainly benefited from a blended approach. Over two decades, my training practices evolved to make more and more use of the Learning Management System [LMS], and I became genuinely excited about the digital transformation of learning.

A well-stocked eLearning resource hub powerfully enabled my students, creating a growth mindset, while expanding their capacities. The achievement ceiling was removed, as curious motivated students could create unique learning pathways through the provided resources. Achievement gaps were overcome, as students more challenged by the subject could review curated foundational material repeatedly at their own pace.

This frequently updated resource hub also greatly reduced the number of SOS emails after a lost syllabus or missed class. My time was freed up for central activities like responding to student work, conferencing with students, and performing research. I only now realize just how much this enhanced capacity on both sides of the experience was boosted behind the scenes with mobile learning (m-learning) using that widely maligned mind extender, the smartphone.

[Source: Whisper]

These days, pretty much every third-level course is embedded with an online resource hub because of the immense learning acceleration digital tools promote. Many companies now offer similar eLearning hubs for employees, enabling greater performance than was possible in the old world of mere white boards and dry erasers.


Welcome to the Digital Age of Learning.

The Digital Age is rapidly transforming the learning experience, whether in the university or corporate training classroom, or simply at the kitchen table. Learning in the Digital Age describes learning as “evolving from an authority-based model to a discovery and experiential-based model.”


6 characteristics define learning in the Digital Age:

  • Learning is engaging through an exceptional and relevant learning experience
  • Learning is empowering, personalized and self-directed
  • Learning is ubiquitous, just-in-time, on-demand and in context
  • Learning is a blend of social, experiential, formal and informal
  • Learning is hyper-connected with analytics everywhere
  • Learning is continuous and promotes inquiry, exploring and doing

The Digital Age of Learning amounts to more than a mere add-on of digital tools. We’ve entered a new world that recalibrates who, what, when, where, and even why an individual engages with learning content.


Blended learning has evolved with eLearning in the workflow.  

In the corporate sector, learning innovation has transformed simple blended learning into optimised performance enhancement. The new world of learning demands businesses that want to remain competitive adapt their training programmes to this new model.

Competitive companies are extending learning beyond classroom training, with eLearning embedded into the workflow. A more targeted learning approach meets learners at their points of need during work, because, according to learning thought-leader Gary Wise, “measurable business outcomes & value are generated, compromised, or lost at point-of-work…not during training.”

The most forward-thinking businesses are hiring learning services companies to provide comprehensive performance analysis, future-proofing their operations. The result is dynamic learning performance ecosystems that include eLearning in the workflow. Continuous self-directed up-to-date learning meets workers at their points of need, optimizing employee capacities and the organization’s efficiency.



Classroom training will continue to adapt with eLearning.

In this Fourth Industrial Revolution, technological connection to resources anytime and anywhere is expanding our human capacities at warp speed. Perhaps most critically, learners need no longer grope in the dark for lost learning, hobbled by the forgetting curve.



Instead of forgetting 70 percent of what we learned within 24 hours, and limping along, we now have eLearning, a technological augmentation that allows us to keep practicing while on task.

To this increased collective learning capacity, add other global drivers of change like the Great Resignation and its sibling the Great Relearning, along with post-Covid adjustments. By all accounts, we won’t know ourselves in five, much less ten, years.


eLearning is emerging as a critical tool in our adaptative success. Whether or not eLearning can replace live classroom instruction entirely, however, will always depend on the particular learning outcomes required.

Meanwhile, anyone who does classroom training and notices a student casting sidelong glances at a mobile device ought to abandon any jealous impulse. As the old wisdom goes…

You too can be among the ninety-nine percent of mobile learners who report an enhanced learning experience using their devices. Whip out your own phone, and read some of the ample research on the many ways to leverage a smartphone’s expansive power in the classroom.

If you’d like to hear more about how eLearning can help future-proof your business, as well as how global cultural events are rapidly transforming the training landscape, please attend my webinar Why eLearning is the Future of Corporate Training on March 1st at 10:00 Ireland standard time.



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