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ATD Blog

Major Misconceptions About E-Learning

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Whenever I’m at a conference, at work, or online, I often find myself interacting with folks that have a lot of misconceptions about e-learning. Typically, these misunderstandings surface when someone tries to explain why e-learning isn’t effective, or when someone has a very narrow idea of what offerings should look like. The truth is that these misconceptions about e-learning stem from an individual’s inexperience or fear.

Frankly, I don’t blame these folks for having these misconceptions. It’s likely they’ve experienced e-learning that truly is bad, ineffective, or misused. And it’s these negative experiences that have shaped their views.

The good news is you can reframe people’s thinking if you understand these three common misconceptions about e-learning that most people get wrong.

#1. E-Learning Replaces the Classroom

Perhaps the most common misconception about e-learning is the idea that it replaces the need for the classroom—and even the instructor. I believe this idea stems from the insecurity some (not all) classroom facilitators have about their position in the learning process. As much as I believe the classroom has its place within the learning ecosystem, some (not all) facilitators believe that if the content isn’t delivered from their mouths and into the ears of the learners sitting in front of them, learning isn’t occurring.

The truth: e-learning (like classroom facilitation) is just one learning modality, among many. Learning isn’t a singular event that happens while seated in a classroom or behind the screen of an e-learning course. Learning is a process that occurs through the progression of multiple events, where learners obtain knowledge, apply that knowledge, and master a skill. This can happen in the classroom, in an e-learning course, with a job aid, while watching a video, having a discussion, or while practicing on the job.


#2. E-Learning Must Be Interactive to Be Effective

E-learning comes in many different shapes and sizes. And when most people think of e-learning, they think of something that has been developed in a tool like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate. While these programs offer the ability to create highly interactive e-learning content, many folks believe it must be interactive to be effective.

The truth: there isn’t (at least there shouldn’t be) any single rule for when a course should or shouldn’t be interactive. Interactivity should be included if it can help the learner better understand, apply, and master the skill being taught. If the skill being taught doesn’t require application or isn’t best practiced in a digital interaction, then interactivity should not be included for the sake of interactivity.


This misconception about e-learning is the result of folks having a narrow view of what e-learning looks and feels like. If you take the term “e-learning” literally, it means any learning that is electronic or digital. If you think of e-learning as digital learning, it opens the possibilities to a lot of different types of content. Videos, interactive documents, webinars, podcasts, online discussions, or interactive performance support tools are all examples of digital learning, also known as “e-learning.”

#3. People Hate E-Learning

I have to be honest, I’ve never understood this one. To me, saying you hate e-learning is like saying you hate the internet. I don’t know about you, but when I need a reminder of how to cook rice, I don’t pull out a big old cookbook or sign up for a class. What do I do? I find a quick, two-minute video on YouTube. Now, if you take to heart what I explained in point #2, then an online video constitutes e-learning.

The truth: people don’t hate e-learning; people hate bad e-learning. But what is bad e-learning? It’s e-learning that is poorly designed, isn’t fit for function, and doesn’t effectively fulfill the desired learning need. E-learning is good when it’s designed well and used when it’s most appropriate.

What other misconceptions about e-learning have you experienced? Share them by commenting below. And be sure to join me October 11-12 in New Orleans for the ATD Core 4 Conference. I am sure there will be some talk of e-learning misconceptions.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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Thanks for the article Tim! I am considering using this topic or something like it for an engagement /discussion training session this fall. Any other material you would like to share on the subject would be fantastic! I am hoping to use your above article as a springboard.
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Great article, Tim. Here's another, related to #1: A well-designed 1-day classroom course cannot be plopped into a 1-hour elearning that is equally effective.
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Lots of spelling and grammar errors in this article.
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