When eLearning Is Not the Answer

As an eLearning specialist for the Towson University Center for Professional Studies, it’s my job to develop creative eLearning solutions for our clients. In fact, I’ve written about eLearning benefits in several blog posts. That being said, it’s important to remember that eLearning is AN answer, but not THE answer.

eLearning can take many forms, but it can’t be the answer for every training need you face as a change leader or instructor. Throwing eLearning at a problem is much like using duct tape over various surfaces—sometimes it’ll stick and function correctly, increasing retention and test scores. Other times it’ll fail because you haven’t properly identified the correct use and you’re left worse than where you started. As an eLearning developer it’s not our job to push the use of the tool, but the correct use. The following are examples of when you should NOT use eLearning:

On-the-Job Training

The use of physical skills can never be replicated in an eLearning format the way that On the Job Training can represent them. This includes going out to the field or work area prior to the start date of your job in order to get an understanding of your surroundings. The eLearning component may supplement this by providing an introductory lesson on field work, but it cannot replace the physical aspect and state of being that on-the-job training provides. You can mimic such situations with video and explanation, however nothing beats the real thing.

Word-for-Word Instruction Manuals

Taking a specific section of text and transcribing word-for-word into eLearning usually doesn’t work out well. This is because exact word instruction manuals (or rules that cannot be changed due to the way they were written) are too rigid a structure to flow well as a narrative. In eLearning development, you section together like-ideas to create a cohesive story and structure. This embodies the breakdown of your course (Pre-Test, Introduction, Module 1, Module 2, Final Exam, Conclusion, & Certificate). In a word-for-word manual, the narrating voice sounds like it is just reading from a textbook instead of guiding the learner along in an educational narrative. Of course it is doable for text that you CAN change and word differently to suit your needs, but for exact duplication it makes creating an eLearning course much more difficult.


It’s hard to teach the concepts of teambuilding and leadership if no one takes the time to get together. Taking this approach to leadership training is ineffective because it alienates employees. In-class training or workshops are much more effective because it allows the social nature of humans to thrive so they can learn together. It’s like teaching a cooking class without any ingredients. Yes, you can tell someone that adding sugar makes something sweeter, but isn’t it more effective to do it in person and have the class actually mix it themselves and taste the result?

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Justin Venters
Justin Venters is an e-learning specialist at the Center for Professional Studies. He develops creative e-learning solutions for clients and consults on online course development, graphic design, script writing, and instructional design. Justin's posts focus on e-learning trends and non-traditional solutions.