Online learning vs face to face learning: why you should make the switch

Are you yet to harness the power of online learning? This article can help. You might be wondering what great digital learning looks like, what benefits you can expect from making the switch and how can you make the transition a success. Read on to answer these questions and get started on your own move from face to face to online learning.

Face to Face vs online learning


Your learners want digital

Recent research from the likes of Bersin by Deloitte, Fosway and many more revealed the learning habits of modern professionals in 2018. The results paint a picture of employees adapting to cope with the fast pace of modern working life. They are often busy and overwhelmed but still keen to learn; they value high quality content that’s personalized and relevant to their needs; and they are getting increasingly impatient and turned off by content and experiences that isn’t high value, relevant, and available when they want it.

The reality behind these stats is that both employees and employers struggle to justify the time spent in classrooms; especially when that training is targeted at a broad group. 96% of learners turn to their phones in moments of need instead, looking for specific, personalized answers to their questions. Is your learning content available when they pick up their phone? If not, your learners are likely to rely on search engines or their desk buddy’s opinion rather than your carefully crafted workshops.

Online learning via phones

The business case for transformation

The benefits of digital learning for business are as powerful as the ones for learners. From an efficiency perspective, not only is it more cost effective to design and deliver learning digitally rather than flying facilitators around the world, but online learning also reduces ‘seat time’ for learners, so your people can spend less time in the classroom and more time contributing to the success of their business.

Employees keen to learn

Most employees are keen to learn and improve, but struggle to find learning to help them develop their skills when they need it most. Waiting for a slot on a course means their time to competency is slowed, whereas digital learning is an opportunity to make personalized, relevant learning accessible to people when and where they need it. But it doesn’t have to be your sole delivery option.

Online learning vs face to face learning in the workplace

Many Learning and Development Professionals have seen the positive impact that a classroom environment can have, particularly in terms of fostering connection and collaboration between learners. There’s a valid concern about losing the richness of social learning as you make the move to online, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

Two colleagues working on laptops

It doesn’t have to be online learning vs face to face learning; a case of one or the other. Instead, The solution is to incorporate the positive lessons from face-to-face into your digital strategy to create blended learning in the workplace. The best blends tap into the highest opportunities offered by the different modes of learning and don’t waste the opportunities presented. Let’s compare the opportunities presented by online training vs face to face.

Face to face learning

Biggest benefits: The biggest opportunity that face to face training presents is the ability to discuss, collaborate, practice and role play, all ‘live’ and with guidance from a facilitator on hand. Being part of a group and held accountable are powerful learning tools, and these opportunities to apply learning are a good reason to bring employees together at the same time.

Opportunities wasted: When your aim is for employees to carry out personal reflection or absorb new factual information, the effort of face-to-face could be wasted. The social element doesn’t aid these experiences and, if anything, it holds people up from learning what they need, when they need it.

Online learning

Biggest benefits: Online learning is carried out by an individual rather than a group, and therefore presents a brilliant opportunity for personalization. Each learner can use it in their moment of need and it can adapt to how individuals respond. The online elements means it can easily be reused and reviewed as well as shared on social networks, not to mention the benefit of easy updates and translation. And the power of the code behind authoring tools opens up countless interactivity options that allow you to create experiential learning experiences.

Opportunities wasted: The opportunities digital learning presents are wasted if your learning is a ‘one size fits all’ experience that doesn’t recognize the individual. Crucially, best practice digital learning is not the content of a face-to-face slide deck hosted online. A non-interactive reading experience is also not making the most of the tools at your disposal and risks losing engagement from learners.

Of course, social learning doesn’t have to be confined to face-to-face; online networking and virtual classrooms can bring social experiences online effectively. And personalization can be done successfully in the flesh as well. But by playing to the strengths of each, you can create effective learning experiences that support learners and help you meet your goals.


Best practice blended learning

Take a look at the three examples below to see how some common training topics can be turned into blended learning programmes with digital learning at the heart of them. They’re all designed to make a real-life impact and help learners achieve tangible goals. At Elucidat, we call this People-Centred Elearning.

Compliance training

Compliance training gets a bad rep. Some businesses see it as a box ticking exercise that takes their staff away from the day job for too long every year. Unsurprisingly, learners can come to view it the same way. With a modern, personalized digital blend, your compliance training could soon become a valuable training experience that learners rate highly.

Shows the stages of compliance training

1. Digital pre-test to identify needs

Example of an adaptive pre-test

Start your compliance training by acknowledging the different levels of prior knowledge that you’re bound to have within your organization. Some people will be up to speed with information security regulations, for example, and the content will be brand new to others. An adaptive pre-test like, this one built using Elucidat, helps you determine who needs to learn what. Tutorials are served up only to those who need it, and those who pass with flying colors can skip other elements of the blend and go straight to the assessment, saving a lot of seat time.

2. Elearning scenarios

Relatable practical examples

Learners who have shown that they need further training on a particular area can move on to elearning scenarios. Relatable, practical scenarios like these show learners that the training is relevant to them, and the decision making and comparison with peers keeps the active, social learning element of face-to-face training, without needing to get everyone together in one location.

3. Virtual classroom Q&A

For those ‘but what if…’ questions that an elearning program can’t predict, you could host a virtual classroom Q&A session with an expert. Learners can submit questions ahead of time and dial in to get their answers. Recording the online sessions means anyone who can’t make the time slot doesn’t have to miss out.

4. Elearning test

Finally, some compliance topics require proof of knowledge. An elearning assessment is a great way of assessing your learners. It’s easy to create pools of questions so that each learner sees a different combination of questions, and a centrally controlled passmark saves a facilitator having to check each answer.


Soft skills training

Soft skills training – topics like delegation, time management, difficult conversations etc – are inherently personal. There’s no single ‘right way’ to do it, and the challenge is to help the individual find what works for them and for the company. It’s the perfect contender for a blended training program.

Stages of soft skills training

1. Reflective digital activity

An example of online elearning

This blend begins with a warm-up activity that asks learners to reflect on how they currently manage their time. Personal questions are engaging and hold people’s attention, and the smart back-end of this Elucidat project tailors the tips and feedback provided based on answers each learner gives. Have a go yourself to see how personalized digital learning can be!

2. Expert videos

Personal reflection could be followed up with expert videos, giving time management tips and techniques. Having reflected on their current skills, learners are more likely to be open to learning from the experts, and videos mean they can find a time to learn that suits them, whether that’s on the commute to work or in between meetings.

3. Face to face role play with manager or mentor

A lot of soft skills success is in the execution, so the human element of a role play is useful here. It’s an opportunity for learners to put their reflection and theory into practice, getting feedback from a manager or mentor before applying ‘in real life’.


Product knowledge training

Product knowledge is all about making facts easy to remember and easy to link with customer needs. There’s often a lot of detail for individuals to retain, so information should be easy to look up in the moment as well as revise ahead of time.

Stages of product knowledge training

1. Digital product info-sheets
There’s no escaping the need to communicate a lot of facts and detail. Breaking this down into a modern, digital product sheet makes it more appealing to learners, easier to update and provides opportunity for interactivity. Take a look at this example of a fresh, scrollable, digital one-pager.

2. 2-minute tutorials

Example of pocket sized recap

When a customer asks a question that a sales advisor can’t remember the answer to, a super-short, mobile-friendly refresher is more likely to do the trick. This example shows how the key facts can be distilled into a pocket sized recap to be used in the moment.

3. Elearning scenarios

An example of an elearning scenario

Recalling facts isn’t enough; customer services advisors also need to be able to effectively recommend products to appropriate customers. An elearning scenario is perfect for this; allowing the learner to practice in a safe environment and receive feedback. This example shows how learners can practice a realistic sales conversation in through a digital simulation.

4. Digital pop-quiz
A competitive pop-quiz every 3 months could help keep the learning alive. Add some offline rewards as motivation –  such as entry into a prize draw for some vouchers – and suddenly your team are voluntarily revising this product knowledge every quarter!


How to implement blended learning in the workplace

If the blended learning programs above have got you excited, you’re probably starting to think about the practicalities – how can you design similar programs for your specific needs? There are three key steps to creating a successful digital or blended program: understand your audience, analyze your materials, and build the right skills in your team.

Understand your audience

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The first step in digital training design is no different to face to face training design – get to know your audience and the type of learning that will work for them. Earlier we looked at modern learners in general; you can combine these broad statistics with an understanding of your specific audience in order to design something that works for them.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What demographic are you designing for?
  • What tends to motivate these people?
  • How much time do they have?

Click here to download a free interactive guide that helps you build learner profiles.

Alongside an understanding of your learner, make sure you’re clear on your goals. For example:

  • What will be different if the learning program is a success?
  • How will you measure the impact of your learning?

You’ll find further questions to refine your thinking in our free interactive guide.

Even if you have a face-to-face course in place, it’s worth completing these exercises to ensure that your new learning strategies still align with your goals. With a fresh understanding under your belt, you’re ready to focus on your content.


Analyze your content

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This is where you can reap the rewards of the time you invested in your current face-to-face training. Revisit that content with fresh eyes. It’s a good opportunity for a spring clean, so first check that all your content directly supports the goal you identified. If it doesn’t, it can go!

Break down the content that’s left into smaller chunks, noting down the learning objective for each chunk. Then think about the way you’re delivering those chunks at the moment – it’s more that just explaining the content to the participants – right? You might have some of the following:

  • Discovery activity: where learners uncover something for themselves
  • Practice activity: where learners take part in an activity either alone or in a group
  • Demonstration: where learners get walked through the ‘how’
  • Case study: where learners see skills come to life in a contextual example
  • Tutorial: where learners are talked through a theory, process etc
  • Story sharing: where learners and/or facilitators share stories or personal experience
  • Mythbusting: eliciting misconceptions from learners in order to correct them
  • Assessment: testing learners ability to apply their skills

What works well from this list? Which will motivate and engage your learners, according to your learner profiles?

Match your content with a delivery channel

When you know what works offline, think about how you can create similar experiences with the digital channels available to you. You might have some of the following channels:

  • Elearning
  • Mobile-first elearning
  • LMS discussion forums
  • Intranet pages
  • Virtual classrooms
  • Video production capability
  • Virtual mentoring/tutoring

Bear in mind that, as you’ve seen in the examples above, elearning and mobile-first learning can come to life in many different ways, from interactive scenarios and social polls, to image-led case studies and videos. Take a look at some more examples here.


Get the skills you need in your team

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With a clear vision of what you need to produce, it’s time to assess whether you have the skills in house to create the components. If you’ve been creating and delivering face to face training, then the chances are that you already have Learning Design skills and Subject Matter Expertise. It’s the digital element that you might still be looking for.

You could consider adding these roles to your team:

  • Authoring tool expert
    Cartoon of authoring tool expert
    This person is someone who can take the ideas you’ve got on paper and transform them into interactive, digital learning experiences using an elearning authoring tool.If you choose an intuitive, cloud-based authoring tool such as Elucidat, other members of your team will also be able to work in the authoring tool to bring the content to life; the expert’s role is to lead the way. They will bring design skills and an in-depth knowledge of the capabilities of your chosen tool.


  • Graphics/media expert
    Cartoon of a graphic designer
    Digital learning experiences need to look as high-end as your favorite websites, games and apps. Basic stock imagery or clip-art style icons won’t cut it, so consider investing in the skills that will make your products look as professional as the content itself.

If you’re planning to include videos in your digital blend, don’t forget the crucial editing skills you’ll need. Many media experts can also work with video, so you might be able to kill two birds with one stone.

The exact roles you’ll need in your team will be determined by the blended programs you design. To see a range of different Digital Learning team structures, take a look at this article.


Final thoughts

A successful digital learning blend is the solution to the online learning vs face to face learning debate. By harnessing the skills you already have in your face-to-face team and taking inspiration from digital learning examples, you will be able to tackle the move head-on.

Remember that the most successful blends have a clear purpose and audience, utilize a range of digital channels and are created by a skilled in-house team, using elearning authoring tools.

Like the examples you’ve seen using Elucidat? Book a demo today to see how we can support your digital transformation.

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