E-learning vs. Traditional classroom learning – Are they totally different?

By: European Heart Association


Not all learning settings are created equal. In today’s modern times, many factors have an impact on effective learning, be it the methods used, how the content is designed, or simply other factors like tools and media employed to enhance the learning experience. Though studies have continually shown that learning in an online setting is as effective as learning in a traditional classroom setting, the quality of how the content is presented matters most. Online e-learning can be effective if the content is presented in a manner that enhances how the learner understands concepts and information, and once this need is met, e-learning can truly revolutionize training and studying.

E-learning and traditional classroom learning require different skills and methods to deliver course content. Though they have similarities, each has their own unique features and their own pros and cons that have to be taken into consideration depending on the scenario where learning is needed. For example, classroom learning may be more feasible for a small group in the same location, while e-learning is more applicable for learners in various locations. Below, we elaborate more on how e-learning is different from the traditional classroom setting.

  1. Group interaction and communication – In a traditional setting, much interaction happens between the individual and other people in the same class. Since learning is not meant to be done alone, the social dynamics within a classroom contribute to the learning process. An e-learning setting, on the other hand, may need more efforts to sustain interactions between the instructor and the learner, together with communication between students. Incorporating the use of discussion boards, chat boxes and emails can help a lot to encourage a sense of community among online learners.
  1. Media and tools used – While a traditional setting may find more use for textbooks and written instruction methods, graphics and media can also be incorporated to arouse interest and engagement among learners. However, there are a number of barriers to the use of media in traditional settings. Lack of resources or time constraints make an instructor stick to methods that are easy to use, like lectures and books. Because if this, traditional settings lose out on keeping students engaged in the course content. On the contrary, e-learning presents an ideal setting where a variety of media and tools can be used to enhance learning. Pictures, moving graphics, documentaries, simulations, audio tools, and many other methods are easy to incorporate in computer-based learning. Using various media can also help different kinds of learners to more easily cope up with understanding various concepts and skills required by the course.
  1. Pacing and personalization – It cannot be argued that one of the main challenges of traditional learning is being able to meet the need of each and every student. In a typical class, an instructor cannot give equal attention to each student. Also, a conventional classroom setting cannot cater to every type of learner, resulting in failure to effectively get each student to understand the course content. Students differ in their learning pace and ability, and a classroom setting simply cannot set a pace and style that can cater to every single learner. A good thing about e-learning is that, when used optimally, it is able to cater to an individual’s pace and learning style. When presented using the right media and organization, e-learning can be made to fit each learner’s needs, thus enhancing engagement and learning.
  1. Language and content – Traditional classroom settings mainly use words and written content to get information across. Words and language used may be easily modified to fit the technicality and content of the course, and written material may only contain important aspects of the topic, since this may be supplemented by lectures and discussions from the instructor. On the contrary, written content for e-learning modules should be designed differently because online learners heavily rely on this material. Written content for online courses require more detail and careful design, making sure that each concept has the correct meaning, is clear and is easy to understand. Written modules can also take advantage of various text designs to emphasize important concepts, give attention to details, and to keep learners interested in the content.

E-learning and traditional learning have the same goal, that is, to ensure effective learning. Ultimately, each method will only be effective when used optimally in ways that fit the human learning process.