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What works in elearning (1/5):
Is elearning more effective than classroom-based learning?

Tuesday 14th April, 2020

In this first article in our series on what works in elearning, we begin by looking at what the research has found about the effectiveness of different learning delivery methods:

  • Classroom,
  • Elearning and
  • Blended learning.
Classroom vs elearning vs blended learning

The obvious question arises: Is elearning a more effective way to deliver training?

Your goal is to deliver your training or course in a way that addresses your training needs, is engaging, accessible and cost-effective. With all the hype around elearning’s cost-savings, breadth of delivery and innovation potential, the obvious question arises: Is elearning a more effective way to deliver training?

In his overview of the research into the effectiveness of elearning, Will Thalheimer (2017) found some surprising (and not-so-surprising) results.

Online vs classroom training: It's not the delivery method that matters

While the research suggests that blended learning (that which combines classroom and online learning) gets the best outcomes, it’s actually not the delivery method (classroom, blended or elearning) that matters.

Effectiveness is determined by the learning methods used

Looking at meta-analyses comparing different delivery modes, the most important factor in the effectiveness of learning is the learning method used (such as retrieval practice).

All delivery modes get great outcomes when effective learning methods are used.

Blended learning tends to use more effective learning methods

So while blended learning may come up in the research with the best outcomes, the results suggest this may be due to more of the effective learning methods being put to use in blended learning.

Be sure to use effective learning methods when developing elearning

For those developing online learning courses and resources, the focus then is to fully make use of the learning methods that have an evidence base for effectiveness.

Use a combination of the four most effective learning methods...

Thalheimer notes four learning methods that have consistently been effective:

  1. Retrieval practice,
  2. Spacing,
  3. Real-world context and
  4. Feedback.

In this series on what works in elearning, we will look at these four learning methods and how they can be utilised for effective elearning. First up, we explore Retrieval Practice.

Man working on laptop


Thalheimer, W. (2017). Does elearning work? What the scientific research says! Available at https://www.worklearning.com/catalog/