The Elearning Dilemma

Anyone who has been working with elearning over the last decade has certainly heard the declaration that “Elearning is the wave of the future.” I’ve personally read numerous articles touting it; I’ve attended the lectures explaining why elearning is primed take over the training industry. Why then is elearning still struggling to gain massive popularity in corporate America?

Before I delve into the topic, let me state that I do believe this theory to be true. I do think that elearning is the next great training method and I do believe it will take over some day; I’m just not sure when that day will be. And I do realize the elearning is much more popular than it was ten years ago. However, that still does not mean that it has taken the training world by storm like many experts thought it would. Before I got into the industry, I was led to believe that by the late 2000s elearning would have taken over facilitator led instruction as the preferred method of training at most corporations and that is simply not the case.

In order to understand the present, we must first examine the past; and what better place to start than with a (very) brief history of elearning.
The concept of elearning or, as it was originally known, computer based training was introduced close to 30 years ago. Some people argue that the father of computer based training was an Irishman named Bill McCabe. His vision was to train computer professionals using a computer. What an ironic concept…He started a company called CBT Systems and offered his computer based training to any corporations that would listen. Eventually, one did: Lotus Notes in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

At that time, the internet did not exist and all computer training was done locally on dedicated training computers. This was suitable for a few years until a new technology emerged: the CD ROM. Eventually, all training was transferred to CDs and it was possible to deliver training on a personal computer. This worked for about five years but in the late 1990s, rumors began to circulate that the CD-based training courses weren’t living up to expectations. Luckily, the internet made the transition from CDs to online elearning a practical and cost effective option.

In recent years, elearning has become possible on any PC, in any location with access to the internet. The technology to create robust, media infused elearning courses has advanced much quicker than we thought it would. But the technology to deliver learning electronically didn’t stop with computers. We now have transitioned to learning via smart phone and personal gaming systems.

Armed with all this information, you may ask yourself, “Why is it taking so long for elearning to become just as popular as classroom training?” As author William Gibson has noted, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.”Here are a few reasons, based on my experience in the training industry, why the distribution of training is still uneven:

  • People fear change – A change from traditional classroom training to elearning courses is a pretty significant occurrence so, naturally, people are hesitant.
  • Old habits die hard – We are so accustomed to classroom learning that anything else is looked at as experimental.
  • Technology is lacking –Many companies have failed to prepare themselves, technologically, for the transition to elearning. This is once again a symptom of organizations not embracing or preparing themselves for a shift in training philosophy.
  • People like their jobs – Trainers like to train and they like the idea of being employed. They fear that if elearning takes hold, their jobs will be in jeopardy.
  • All or nothing mentality – Individuals that are new to elearning believe it to be an all or nothing concept. They have not yet grasped the concept of blended learning – classroom learning coupled with elearning courses.
  • Elearning developers are expensive – Traditionally, elearning developers make more than trainers and many companies aren’t willing to pay the higher salaries.
  • It’s easier to create a classroom course – Many companies believe that elearning courses take too long to design and even longer to create. They believe they save time and money by creating instructor led training.

It’s very hard to come up with ways to hastily get past the first five reasons. As a society, we are so enamored with habit that any kind of drastic change makes our heads spin. We like things to stay the same and when confronted with a dramatic paradigm shift, like elearning, our first instinct is to fight.  Our second instinct is to question. Why do we need this? What good will come of this? How will this make my job easier or more secure? Elearning advocates have come up with answers to address all of these questions but, to the shock of no one, they’re still not good enough. So, simply put, elearning proponents are fighting a constant uphill battle.

For more information about adult learning, instructional design or elearning, visit

Cross, J. (2004), An informal history of eLearning, Internet Time Group, Berkeley, CA.


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4 Responses to “The Elearning Dilemma”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Thanks for the post. Appears the post is duplicated??

  2. Jeff Whitney Says:

    Great list and excellent topic. Here are a few things we see that have also impacted adoption:

    • Effective learning programs often blends instructor led learning with elearning. Unfortunately, many orgs aren’t set up to develop learning content once and re-use it across multiple elearning courses or across ILT and eLearning. But as organizations adopt the supporting technologies, their overall learning and eLearning efforts improve.

    • Elearning loses the advantages of student-student and student-teacher interactions found in traditional learning. Fortunately, Web 2.0 technologies are addressing this drawback.

    • An aversion by many to bad page turning courses, which too often is their only interaction with elearning.

    And coincidentally, OutStart’s CEO, Massood Zarrabian just did a Salt Keynote on the past and present of eLearning and its slow adoption and blogged about it in his post: “What we can learn from the growth of eLearning in the 2000s.”

    • learntoelearn Says:

      All great points Jeff. And thanks for the link to Outstart’s blog. I love the overall message: its all about “evolving together.”

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