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Is Learning Online better that Classroom Learning for me?

March 14th, 2011
by Alain

Over the past few years, I’ve had many people ask me if Online Learning is better than in-classroom learning. Like you, I have read  lot of different opinions on this subject. In this post, I will discuss this, and contrary to what you may think, the answer to this is NOT always yes.

Whether an Online or a Virtual Learning Environment is better than Book Learning or in-classroom learning depends on a few factors.

First, it very much depends on YOUR learning style. I wrote about Learning Styles in a an earlier post so I won’t add too much about it right now. What I need to say is that discovering your learning style is critical to how you can maximize any learning environment you find yourself in. If you don’t know what your learning style is, or are not sure, do take a few minutes to find out. The time you invest now in finding more about yourself (self-awareness) will pay back in multiples in time saved when trying to learn something new.

Second, it also very much depends on HOW the material is presented. Yes, you can blame the facilitator, teacher or the presenter for this one , and the environment. It is not always the student’s fault.

Adult Learners need to be involved in the learning process.

Unfortunately, many teachers want to teach adults like most schools are trying to teach our children. You already know or read about the poor success that our education system is having so I won’t elaborate other than to say that if you were trying to create an environment where 25+ children would find it the most difficult to learn -it would look very much like one of our classroom. Children of all learning styles, forced to sit for hours, with sometimes very little interaction allowed…

Now, do you remember a classroom like that as an adult learner? Did you learn much?

Let’s look at a typical classroom:

  • students sitting in rows, facing the “teacher”
  • fluorescent lighting and no fresh air-poorly done presentation (read death by PowerPoint)
  • poorly controlled temperature, too hot or too cold-students learning at different pace, some with more knowledge to start with
  • few breaks during the day, and too many hours of continuous “teaching”
  • lots of information pack in a short period of time, no time to review and internalize material
  • no consideration for your own circadian cycle (cycles in your energy levels)
  • classroom distractions outside of individual student controls
  • very little interaction between “teacher” and students

Now, having read that you may think that I am against in-classroom learning. Actually, I totally think that in-classroom learning is best for most people if done right.

Here is the description of a  classroom designed with the learner in mind:

  • smaller number of students
  • students sitting in a semi-circle with the facilitator completing the circle
  • short period of instructions (max 50 minutes) followed by break in the presentation method and a quick review of the material previously presented before moving on with more new material
  • half day learning only, not much is learned after 5-6 hours anyway
  • room lit with indirect lighting, and open windows for fresh air
  • material that is relevant to the learners
  • students that want to be there

As you can see, this is quite difficult to implement in our current corporate world. However, it is not impossible as I have had to opportunity to do many times with sales or productivity training where the students were “volunteering” for the training instead of being “forced” to take the class.

And, as a facilitator it then becomes my duty to make the class interesting and use all learning tools in my arsenal to make each learner get the most of each training session. This can only be achieved with relevant material, the right environment and multi-modal teaching techniques. Multi-modal teaching techniques address all of the different learning styles and present the information in audio, visual, tactile and interactive ways that enhances learning for all the participants.


What about Online or Virtual Learning Environment, is that the answer?

Not always as it also depends on how it is done. If by Online Learning you mean taking the same material and simply recording it online it will likely fail to achieve the desired results.

Again, it must give the opportunity to address all of the Learning Styles and deliver the information in audio (hearing), video (watching), print format (reading), and interacting (ask questions).

If and only if that is done, then Online Learning can be successful as it brings the following advantages against in-classroom:

  • no travel, (less expensive)
  • no need to be away from home or work for a long time
  • you learn when learning works best for you (are you a night owl or an early bird?)
  • you take as much or as little information as you want at one time (self-paced learning)
  • ideally, you would spread the learning over weeks instead of “packing’ it in a short time
  • the ability for you to manage the environment, lighting, temperature, distractions, etc
  • you can ask question anonymously, yet you can see many other questions asked previously (forum or FAQ)
  • you have access to the facilitator(s) by email or via an online form

So, if Online Learning is done right, I believe it brings in the best of both worlds. For examples of Virtual Learning Environment that work, check out the Alberta Insurance Council Licensing courses at and the Canadian Exempt Market Products Licensing Exam Course at
And unless you live in a cave, you will continue to be presented with new learning opportunities for the rest of your life.

Why not make the most of it?

  1. Find out how you learn best, what works for you. What is YOUR Learning Style?
  2. Find someone you will deliver the material you need to learn in the way that will work best for you.
  3. Learn how Adults Learn, and pick up some of the Free Learning Tools available on this site.

Once again, I look forward to hear from you.

Alain Gauthier, RPT
Edmonton, AB Canada

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