Online Training Breakdown: Terminology Demystified


If you find yourself scratching your head over the difference between Virtual Instructor Led Training, e-learning, m-learning, online training and web-based training, you’re not alone!

The entire training industry is at best, conflicted over terminology.  I met with one of the largest providers of online training platforms and the company themselves, had not made the distinction in their own marketing efforts about where they fall on the continuum.  So if you’re finding yourself confused, this article will help you gain clarity, or at a minimum, help you ask the right questions about what type of learning is appropriate for your training needs.

I interviewed Magic Johnson of Learning Developer, curious as to his thinking about why there is such confusion in the marketplace.  He netted it out by saying “As technology has evolved, subject matter experts and others that lack a training background have access to technology, that in the hands of trainers can yield great results. But it also means that there is a lot out there that is dubbed training and hasn’t been designed well and the platform takes the heat.  On the other hand, the trainers with the background in how to design great content, aren’t necessarily technical experts.  In other words, we have product experts that aren’t training people and trainers that aren’t technical people all using the same technology.”  That combined with technology that serves multiple purposes such as Webinars AND web based training sessions, leaves many people a bit baffled.  Magic also submits that the ‘online’ experience of many college students may further confuse things.  Many colleges use portals where students have assignments posted that they can access anytime, anywhere.  There is a classroom ‘chat’ where they can post messages to other learners and their professors. This has become known as ‘distance online learning’ and is often confused with e-learning  but in this scenario the learning is much more learner directed.  The virtual ‘straw’ that has added to this confusion is the notion that anyone can tack the word ‘training’ onto a webinar and it is now a ‘training’ when in actuality, many of the webinar ‘trainings’ I have attended are an insult to well designed training curriculum.  Let’s start unraveling this, but before we do, click the image below for a complete infographic explaining the breakdown.


Tweet This: Keep your sanity! Online #training explained with complete #infographic here: via @MarlainaCapes 

E-learning is defined as any kind of training this is delivered via electronic media.  Therefore, we could say that any training that uses media, rather than a brick and mortar classroom is e-learning.  Heck for that matter, if I go to YouTube and watch a video about “Teaching Your Horse to Lie Down on Command” I’m getting trained but it is learner directed.  For the purpose of today, we’ll focus on directed training: training which has been designed with a specific learning outcome also known as an enabling objective in mind.   To be clear, a one-to-many live presentation delivered over the web by a product expert, subject matter expert or CEO is most often NOT a training.  It may be the dissemination of information but it is NOT training unless it has been designed with specific learning outcomes that can be measured.

There is e-learning and there is instructor led training.  One uses predominately media and the other uses a live facilitator.  The concept of blended learning which combines some segments that are e-learning and some that are instructor led are in many circles regarded as the best of both worlds.

The best way to determine which modality will work most effectively is to look at the learning objectives.  If I have a learning objective of “participant will deliver a tailored presentation of our value proposition, for a specific client” then in order to test out that the learning has occurred, there will need to be a live presentation.  This is where we can get creative.  Can the participant deliver their final presentation in person? over Skype?  Using Adobe or a similar Virtual Learning Environment?  On the other hand if the learning objective is for the participant to “recognize the five components of a value proposition” then an asynchronous learning module may be very appropriate.  This may include a video presentation, some learning activities and an assessment that can be measured online.

Next ask yourself “Do participants need to be with other learners or with a facilitator (instructor) to achieve this learning objective or can it be delivered asynchronously?”  Asynchronous means they do not need to ‘synch’ up with the facilitator or other students.  Synchronous means that the learning takes place with other learners and with a live instructor.  They may all dial in from their own computers but the learning takes place at a designated time.

If asynchronous is the answer, look to creative solutions that will keep learner engagement high.  If not done well, these solutions will leave learners checked out and your training can get a bad reputation.  This is where the support of a design firm like Learning Developer comes into play.  Learning Developer has a sliding scale for pricing, based on a variety of budgets and various levels of instructional design expertise.  They are experts in the technology AND in instructional design so can work to fill in the gaps that you or your organization lack.

If on the other hand, you determine that synchronous is the answer, what solutions are available?  There are many Virtual Learning Environments or virtual platforms to choose from so be sure to pick one that will be optimal for both facilitators and for learners.  I’m a fan of Adobe Connect but there is also Webex, GoToTraining, Microsoft Lync and others.  Look carefully at the opportunities for learner interaction and how they are done.  Then, take the time to design the course so that it will keep virtual learners engaged. Again, if not designed well, you will lose your virtual learners.  Enlightened Training can help there with our virtual instructional design expertise that is platform agnostic.

The final question is what technology might my learners need access to?  Is your audience solely in the office or are they out in the field?   Do all the participants have access to tablets?  Be sure your audience can access the content not just today but staying abreast of any planned technology changes will help you make the best decision for your audience.

In closing, technology has brought us a broad array of learning solutions.  Developing sound learning objectives and the right technology can take learning to a whole new level.


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