Virtual Learning vs In-Person Learning

  • Ezra
  • July 13th, 2021

The pros and cons of virtual learning compared to in-person learning are often debated, but could there be a better solution for workplaces to adopt that balances the best of both worlds?

Virtual vs In-Person Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the way we work across 2020 and 2021. During the latter half of 2020, Pew Research Center revealed that roughly 71% of employed adults were now working from home, up from a mere 20% that worked from home prior to the outbreak. Although a sense of normalcy is returning to some areas of the world, many businesses have given up their offices after realizing just how cost-effective it can be to run a business remotely.

Unfortunately, many employees have started facing burnout as a result of remote work arrangements. Around two-thirds of employees experienced burnout symptoms during 2020 while working remotely. In addition, stress and financial anxiety remained high, especially since many workers were unable to fully disconnect from their workplace.

This uncertainty around the benefits of remote working arrangements has created a lot of debate over similar topics. One such area is the introduction of virtual learning versus in-person learning. While online education has been hailed as an e-learning revolution, there’s no doubt that there are some concerns and disadvantages with the current implementation of e-learning solutions.

Does studying online produce the same results as studying in person?

Perhaps the biggest question is if virtual learning and in-person learning produce the same results. If a worker develops the same skills learning online as they do in person, then cost and time are the next two factors to compare. Initially, it was believed that people would eventually reach the same level of education regardless if they studied with e-learning resources or with in-person training. An article from Tech & Learning University has shown that this may not be the case.

The article explains that Justin Reich, director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab, has found evidence of what’s being dubbed an “online penalty”. Researchers that looked at the California community college systems observed that not everyone did equally well online. Reich says that “many learners appear to do less well online, they’re less likely to pass a course, and they’re more likely to get a lower grade.” The online penalty also appears to be more severe for learners that are not accustomed to the education system.

However, Reich says that there is good evidence that well-supported high-achieving students can do well remotely, especially if their instructors provide additional support to help them achieve their goals.

On the contrary, Provost Dr. Elizabeth Johnson of Post University in Connecticut says that outcomes for students are the same regardless if they enroll in remote or in-person courses because they are designed off the same learning outcomes. Johnson says that “it’s designed so there won’t be a difference,” pointing out that there will be a clear difference in the experience but the intent behind the learning experience doesn’t change.

But there is a difference in the retention of remote versus in-person students. As Johnson describes it, “choosing to quit is very easy” with online education.

Virtual learning versus in-person learning in a workplace setting

While virtual learning may have issues in an academic context, there is a stark difference when we set the debate in a workplace context.

For example, the e-learning market is anticipated to grow at an exponential compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21% between 2021 and 2027 due to the increased demand for e-learning services. With new technologies being revealed and billions worth of investment being poured into the technology sector, many businesses are starting to adopt online learning tools to educate and improve the skills of their employees.

This coincides with the needs of employees themselves. Statistics show that 68% of employees believe that training and development is one of their company’s most important policies. Many of these employees believe that they aren’t reaching their full potential currently and a vast majority are looking for opportunities to grow their careers. This means employees are more than willing to work harder for the company, and this generally involves virtual learning so they can acquire new skills for the future.

But there are some clear disadvantages that can’t be ignored when businesses start relying too heavily on virtual training. A commonly used formula within the training profession is the 70-20-10 model for learning and development. This model was created in the 1980s and describes a general guideline for organizations that want to maximize the effectiveness of their in-house development programs. The concept is simple;

  • 70 percent of learning and development occurs through hands-on experience.
  • 20 percent is achieved through social learning, coaching, mentoring, and other methods of interaction.
  • 10 percent comes from formal traditional courseware instruction and educational events.

This means that we can’t expect to see large gains when it comes to virtual learning and how efficiently our employees work. While they may gain new knowledge that enables them to perform well in a new role, the majority of their experience and skill is going to come through hands-on experience.

This coincides with some of the well-known disadvantages of virtual learning, such as the unrealistic or irrelevant simulations that may be presented as part of the virtual training course. In addition, virtual learning tends to isolate learners, meaning there is very little social learning being achieved. Lastly, we can’t ignore the technical issues related to security problems, network issues, and software errors that hinder virtual learning.

Is there a better solution for workplace learning?

By following the 70-20-10 model for learning and development, we can see that true expertise can only be gained through hands-on experience. A very small part of employee development relies on formal training, but this doesn’t mean we should ignore the benefits or possibilities that come with virtual learning.

As explained by Johnson, the goals of academic e-learning and in-person learning are the same. But this is where the problem lies; it doesn’t take advantage of the tools and features at our disposal. E-learning offers countless opportunities for businesses and e-learning services to merge all three components of the 70-20-10 model for learning and development:

  • Gain real-time feedback on how employees are performing.
  • Record real-world situations that employees encounter which can be used as relevant examples for trainees to learn from.
  • Communicate with managers and team members to take advantage of social learning
  • Access formal courseware instruction.

By combining all three elements of the 70-20-10 learning and development model, we can start taking full advantage of the features and technologies that e-learning offers us.

Ezra has redesigned leadership coaching for the digital age to transform your company’s workforce through affordable, scalable and high-impact solutions that promote equitable access through our world-class coaching app. Find out today how everyone can be better with a coach.

Related Articles