Written by:

Mark Aston


May 25, 2021

It has been almost two years since the COVID-19 outbreak. And the virus continues to cause disruption all over the world. Countries have gone into complete lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus. And organizations have turned towards remote working solutions to continue their operations. Including moving to online learning to train employees and customers. As well as to educate the general public. But what are the pros and cons of online learning? And what have we learned from Covid-19 about the pros and cons of online learning?

With lockdowns and other restrictions in place, experts predicted that the virus could cost a mighty $2.7 trillion to the global economy. And that was even before it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It may be a grim economic outlook but with every problem comes an opportunity. This especially applies to the educational sector, with the rise of online learning. Let’s start by examining the opportunities created before getting into the details of the pros and cons of online learning.

COVID-19: The Unforeseen Opportunity for Business

E-learning is not a new concept. It has been here for more than two decades and many of its benefits have been known. But making a transition to a completely digital learning arena was never really considered before. Not anymore, though. While the pandemic may have thrust us into this situation, the statistics show online learning has a healthy future.

The global E-learning market crossed a whopping 250 billion USD in 2020. And continues to grow exponentially with an annual growth rate exceeding 21%. 

Let’s explore in detail the pros and cons of online learning and see which one outweighs the other. 

The Pros Of Online Learning

In examining the pros and cons of online learning, there are many pros to consider. Below we discuss the major benefits.

1. Widespread Connection And Standardization Of Training

Organizations that have dispersed teams, departments, offices, or workers often struggle in connecting employees. And in creating a standardized training program. Luckily, online learning greatly eases those struggles. 

Through e-learning, organizations can deliver the same content to all employees and customers. No matter where they are or what time zone they are in. Not only will they attend the same training programs but they will also be able to interact with their co-workers or other customers. Not something that they can currently do in a physical space. 

2. Flexibility And Convenience

The key advantage of e-learning is the flexibility for the learner. They can access theman relaxing while taking an online course platform anytime, anywhere, and on any device. This means that people can learn at their ease when they are on a lunch break or lying on their comfy couch. This also enables them to give their full attention whenever their energy and focus are maximized. This is one of the major pros of online learning for the student.

3. Prepare For The Future

If there is one thing that this pandemic has shown is that we need to be prepared for unknown crises in the future. And that organizations need to be digitally ready and enabled. 

 A recent McKinsey survey of CEOs found that Covid-19 had speeded up the adoption of digital technologies by several years. And that many of these changes would be here for the long haul.

 “Digital adoption has taken a quantum leap at both the organizational and industry levels” McKinsey and Company

During the pandemic, people have moved dramatically to online channels for most things. And this is no different with training. The pros of online learning for many people, organizations included, will endure well after Covid-19. 

If your organization hasn’t made a significant leap into online learning, don’t wait. The future of remote learning is here now. Your employees, your customers, and the general public have tasted it. And now they are demanding it

 4. Upgrade Employees’ And Your Customers Skills

Limitations on travel, and budgets have led companies to focus on new technologies to keep the communication lines open. 

 This means easy access to learning more digital platforms. Especially for employees who are yet to modernize their workflow. Online learning also allows the employee to be more creative with their training and development. And the ones who are up to date with the latest innovations can help educate their co-workers as well. 

Similarly with your customers. Your customer champions will help educate other customers through online channels and communities. Give them the tools and they’ll do your work for you.

5. Achieve Cost-Effectiveness

Conducting in-person training programs is an expensive and cumbersome job. Rather than going to attend a seminar or lecture, people prefer taking an online session.

Online learning does not need travel from the instructor or learner. Making it more affordable and convenient. The cost-effectiveness extends to the long-term because of lower delivery costs. There is no need to book a place or arrange lunch and dinner for the attendees. As well as you do not need to print materials. And attendees also do not have to worry about social distancing in an online training session. 

And these savings are measurable. Take for example Dow Chemical, which saved $34 million. Dow was able to reduce training course costs from $95 to $11 per learner. Simply by shifting from physical classrooms to corporate e-learning. In terms of the pros and cons of online learning, cost-effectiveness is a clear benefit.

 IBM saved approximately $200 million after switching to e-learning

6. Highly Scalable Training Solution – A Pro Of Online Learning

In-person training can be very expensive. Especially if it is to be done across different teams with external partners. Whether it is organizing seminars in many venues or producing physical materials for the attendees to use, limits the scalability of the conventional training methods. 

But, online learning lets organizations scale their training efforts with ease. Since e-learning is software-based, it only requires a stable internet connection to deploy courses. This is one of the major pros of online learning. 

7. Increase In Productivity

One of the pros of online learning is that it helps to keep the employees productive aspros of online learning include increased productivity compared to conventional learning. For example, an IBM study showed that every dollar invested in online training results in $30 in productivity. Mainly because employees can resume their work faster and apply their skills immediately.

Once people get acquainted with how to use the online learning platform, they have more control over the way they learn. They set their own pace which helps them retain more of the knowledge than traditional face-to-face training. And this is proven. The Research Institute of America found that e-learning increases retention rates 25% to 60%. While retention rates of face-to-face training are very low in comparison: only 8% to 10%. Again, this is because with e-learning you have more control over your learning process. As well as the opportunity to revisit the training as needed.

 8. Allow Timely Feedback 

Several online learning platforms are built to give timely feedback on the progress that has been made. This is not possible in all traditional learning methods. 

A pro of online learning is that you can design real-time feedback through built-in coursework. And evaluation is also automated, so the learner gets to know their grades as soon as they are done with a course. In turn, instructors can also track all the data that the software receives. They can determine how well the learners are doing and what help is needed. Also allowing instructors to engage with the learner to fill in any gaps that are present.

9. Improved Critical Thinking Skills

Online learning facilitates the ability of learners to think critically about what they do every day. The goal of the instructor is to challenge you to think differently. And most organizations want you to do that too – to think critically about your role. Mastering this skill sets you apart as an employee or a student.

Critical thinking plays a vital role in any type of education. And one of the pros of online learning is that it has been shown to develop critical thinking skills. Ones that you might not have practiced in a face-to-face classroom setting. In terms of the pros and cons of online learning, this is a subtle but important benefit.

10. Unlimited Reviews And Revisions 

Online learning enables the learner to review and revise the course as many times as they like. Anytime, anywhere. All they need is a stable internet connection then they are good to go. This means people can learn whatever they want on their terms.

Similarly, instructors can update information and add new content at a moment’s notice. And as new content is added the learner can receive a notification.

11. Aligned To 21st Century Business

The majority of people, especially millennials or Gen Z employees who have entered the workspace, spend most of their time on a device. That is why online learning appeals to them. And the use of gamification, simulation, progress badges, provides them a rewarding learning experience.  While also keeping learners engaged. 

And the replacement of mundane seminars and PDF documents helps improve interaction and learning. 

12. Quicker Onboarding Of New Hires

By using e-learning, organizations can provide information about different departments, company structures, and clients online. Instead of through an exhausting training process. The speed of onboarding a new employee can be greatly enhanced meaning they can contribute more quickly. This is one of the big pros of online learning for businesses.

13. Collaboration And Community Building

Learning alone can be lonely sometimes, but it should be a social exercise. Instead ofa community of online learners learning from a book, people generally learn better by interacting with their peers. Bringing learners together through online learning platforms leads to interactive debates. As well as discussions and enhanced learning. Many communities and collaboration tools are available. For example, through discussion forums and live tutorials. Thus adding another important pro for online learning. 

14. Improved Employee Retention

Nearly 70% of employees say that they prefer an employer which makes employee training and development a priority. When employees feel like their employer is not able to provide them the opportunity to grow and learn, they look for greener pastures. 

With online learning, employees can have access to high-quality resources to review at their own pace. The investment put into e-learning ensures an organization’s workers, that their leaders care. And this can be a differentiator from their competition. In terms of the pros and cons of online learning, for employees and employers, this is a clear benefit.

15. Ensuring Business Continuity

One of the extra pros of online learning is that it removes barriers that can lead to the discontinuity of the business. Knowledge is further dispersed across an organization. And so doesn’t live only with a few ‘face-to-face instructors. 

Also, although learning is the process to retain knowledge, there will be times when employees have to refer to resources for important information. And online learning provides an easily accessible platform on which registered users of the company can access. By logging on to the LMS they can find info on the project or process to assist them. In this way, the business operations can move smoothly as employees have answers to their problems at their fingertips.

The Cons Of Online Learning

While the pros and cons of online learning have many pros there are some cons of online learning as well. Below we discuss the main cons of online learning.

1. Technology Or Connectivity Issues

A key challenge of online learning is the connectivity issue. Secure and reliable internet connections are available throughout most of the world. But in rural locations, getting a reliable connection might be difficult. The lack of a consistent internet connection can lead to delays and interruptions in the attention and focus of the learner.

While this may be perceived as a con of online learning, remote solutions have mademan suffering from one of the cons of online learning - poor wifi training and education more accessible. People in remote locations are often now much more able to access training resources. Mobile technology also allows learning to be extended to people in locations where there is phone service. Even if there isn’t wifi access. So in essence this is both a pro and con of online learning!

2. Sense Of Isolation – A Con Of Online Learning?

A sense of isolation is usually detrimental for the students taking online classes. Most people tend to learn better in an interactive environment. While in online classes, all the knowledge they can absorb is through a screen which can lead to a sense of isolation.

While this could be a con of online learning, it can be resolved. For example, through online messages, or emails, and video conferencing. Or user forums, virtual whiteboarding, and other collaboration sessions. These and other features can be designed into online learning to increase interaction and reduce any sense of isolation. 

3. Inability To Focus On Screens

One of the potential biggest cons of online learning is the struggle to focus on a screen for longer periods. Currently, people’s screen time is at an all-time high. If you’ve spent much of your day in front of a screen adding in extra screen time might be counter-productive. 

So, the learner must take breaks during their learning process. And it is the responsibility of the instructor to make the learning process crisp, engaging, and interactive. Helping to overcome this issue and make the learners stay focused and motivated.

 4. A Quality Online Experience Is A Must

No matter if training is delivered in person or online the quality of the instruction is critical. Simply putting PowerPoint slides and PDF documents from in-person training courses online will not suffice. Similarly watching hours of endless videos of talking heads also isn’t a way to provide quality instruction.

Static learning leads to learner fatigue and disengagement. And poor instruction means very little new knowledge is retained. Whether this is delivered in person or online. So in terms of the pros and cons of online learning, you still have to create high-quality, compelling courses.

5. A New Technology And Lack Of Expertise

Linked to one of the cons of online learning above, is that it requires instructors to be experienced in creating online training. Many instructors are comfortable and able to create high-quality, interactive in-person learning. But most are not experienced in creating this online. And there is a big difference. Creating quality online learning requires using different instructional techniques. And the use of different technologies and tools.

If you’re not familiar with these it can be overwhelming. And even those that have a basic understanding won’t likely be able to create a quality learning experience without help or further education.

Pros And Cons Of Online Learning During And After The Pandemic

Organizations are now realizing that surviving in these unprecedented times requires adapting to changing circumstances. Shifting training and education online has been one of the biggest challenges. But also one of the greatest opportunities. 

And Covid-19 has greatly changed the perspectives people have. For example, people are much more accepting of telecommuting which opens the door wider for online learning. And now more people are understanding the pros of online learning. Being able to reach a global audience, with low delivery costs. And providing an interactive, and fun experience are key pros for online learning.

And as operations go back to normal in the future, the experiments in remote learning should inform practices in the future. For example, launching e-learning with a personalized approach can provide the information people need quickly. There will be few organizations returning to fully in-person training.  But combining some in-classroom activities for a “blended” approach will make sense for some topics.

Scared To Take The Leap? 

Post Covid-19, businesses, non-profits, and government agencies should ready themselves for a continued digital push. This is a trend that began several years before Covid-19. And is one that was only accelerated by the pandemic. For example, e-learning was used by 77% of US companies in 2017. Imagine what that number is now!

Embrace the transition to a setup that is flexible, mobile, and completely remote. And elevate your organization’s training and learning. 

And organizations that are overwhelmed by the thought of moving to online learning, do not need to do it alone. Working with a service provider like Spark + Co can assist organizations in the migration of training. By providing needed expertise and support. 

Spark + Co has worked with over 60 clients since 2007 providing custom e-learning courses. And helping businesses, non-profits, and government agencies to achieve their training goals. 

We understand the pros and cons of online learning. And make sure that you experience the benefits while we overcome the obstacles on the way.

Get in touch with us now to discuss how your organization can adapt easily to online learning.