How Can E-Learning Be Shorter Than Classroom Learning?

An industry rule-of-thumb is that you can accomplish the same thing in e-learning as in the classroom in half the time.  I don’t know what research this is based on, but in our 9 years of experience, we find it to be a fairly reliable guide for estimating.

So why might that be? Does it mean that we are stripping out the interactivity?  I hope not.  Is it because we are getting rid of group discussions?  Perhaps, but hopefully we are replacing it with interaction that is appropriate for the e-learning medium.  Are we covering the content in less detail?  Well, if we choose to do that, that’s fine.  But then we aren’t comparing apples to apples.

If you assume that we are covering the same objectives at the same level of detail and a similar level of interactivity, how do you account for the length differences?  Here are some of our thoughts.

  1. Breaks and pleasantries.  If you are teaching a half-day class, up to 30 minutes of that time might be introductions, room logistics, going on break, waiting for people who didn’t come back from break on time, etc.
  2. Off-topic questions.  Questions are part of what makes classroom training so valuable—students can get their specific questions answered.  But what if someone just needs you to repeat something?  In e-learning, that’s covered with a rewind/replay button, rather than taking up everyone’s time.  And what about that one person—there’s one in every class—who goes off topic or deeper than you had planned to go.  That’s not an issue in e-learning.
  3. Verbal inefficiency.  I think this is probably the biggest factor.  Sometimes instructors get on a roll.  They tell three stories when two would have been enough.  They might explain something in more detail than is necessary.  They ramble on because they’ve lost their place/didn’t get enough sleep/aren’t prepared/had too much coffee/just like to ramble.  When you create e-learning, every single word goes through an editing process—hopefully making it more efficient and effective.  That kind of filter doesn’t happen in the classroom.

Recently, I worked on a project where we incorporated clips of a classroom instructor into an e-learning course on legal issues for supervisors.  The instructor was very good.  He was interesting and entertaining and told useful stories to make key points clearer.  It wasn’t until we read the transcript of the video that we realized how much verbal inefficiency there was.  Take a look at the two passages at the end of this post.  The first one is the exact transcript of the video: 412 words.  The second one shows a quick editing pass designed to make it more verbally efficient—without removing any content.  It comes in at 205 words.  (Now I could argue that some of the sidebars and details might not even be necessary, but that’s a different subject.)  This passage shows that even a good instructor could possibly speak more efficiently.

So what’s the lesson to be learned here?  One, it’s good to know that we can often teach more in less time in e-learning without cutting content or interactivity.  Two, if the editing process can make an e-learning script more efficient and effective, how can we translate that into classroom delivery?  If you are a classroom instructor, you might want to consider videotaping yourself and having it transcribed.  You might learn a lot about your presentation style and what habits you can change to become more efficient.

Original transcript

All right. So the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, became effective generally in 1992. And I just want to sort of run through with you all relatively– I’m going to really do this fast. Again, it’s a topic I could spend hours talking about. Who is covered by the American with Disabilities Act, or what we call the ADA? The answer is a qualified individual with a disability is covered by the Act, all right?

So the first thing we need to do to figure out whether or not one of our employees has an ADA issue, is we need to take the word “qualified” out of the picture. And we need to ask ourselves the question, is the employee an individual with a disability? And I will tell you at the front end, even though I’m going to run through the definition with you, that you should not try to make this assessment on your own. OK?

The ADA, and sort of the companion law I’m going to talk about in a moment– the FMLA– when they were enacted, it was predicted that they were going to provide employment opportunities for employment lawyers for years and years to come. And that has turned out to be exactly true. I said before, we’re sort of like a help desk on employment issues. Other than harassment situations, and maybe even more than harassment situations, I would say the most questions that I get that clients are struggling with are questions involving the application of the ADA and the FMLA. Because frankly, the employee population has become very wise to these laws.

And what’s difficult is this. Is that when you have an employee who really has gone through a true medical challenge, you totally want to be there for them, right? I mean we’re human. We’re sensitive to people’s needs. And you have somebody who’s going through some sort of cancer, some sort of other critical illness, or disease, or impairment– you want to be there. The difficulty is that this has become sort of– the ADA and the FMLA– what I call a “get out of jail free” card for sometimes low performers who realize that they’re sort of being counseled on their way out of the company. And all of a sudden, they come up with some sort of medical impairment, which may arise, or may not arise, to the level of a disability.

So what is a disability? …

Edited version

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 and became effective generally in 1992. Who is covered by the ADA?  A qualified individual with a disability.

To determine if an employee has an ADA issue, we can first take the word “qualified” out of the picture and ask ourselves, “Is the employee an individual with a disability?”

Keep in mind you should not try to make this assessment yourself. ADA and the related FMLA will provide employment opportunities for us lawyers for years!  Other than harassment situations, the most common questions our clients struggle with revolve around ADA and FMLA because employees have become wise to these laws.

When you have an employee who really has gone through a true medical challenge like cancer or other critical disease or impairment, you totally want to be there for them, right? I mean we’re human. We’re sensitive to people’s needs. Unfortunately, sometimes low performers see this as a “get out of jail free” card if they realize they’re being counseled on their way out of the company. All of a sudden, they come up with a medical impairment, which may or may not arise to the level of a disability.

So what is a disability?…

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  • Diane Elkins

    p.s. I’ve been asked if we re-shot the video after going over the transcript. Surprisingly, when you watch the video, you don’t really notice! It’s an engaging speaker with a conversational style that seemed to flow. We did however, edit down 6 hours of video to about 2 hours.

  • http://www.sweetrush.com/ Catherine Davis

    Great post! I agree with your reasoning that an elearning course cuts the seat time in half (or even less). I find that I can build an effective elearning course with a seat time of 2.5-3 hours converted from a one day ILT. Even if the ILT is designed to be 6 hours, realistically, people block out the 8 hour work day.
    -Catherine Davis, ID Practice Lead at SweetRush

  • http://www.gc-solutions.net Akanksha Garg

    Brilliant article! E-Learning courses can be shorter- and yet as impactful, if not more. Here is an article on our blog http://www.gc-solutions.net/blog/benefits-of-e-learning-reduce-cost-of-infrastructure-logistics/ hope you find it aligned to your experiences as well.

    • http://artisanelearning.com Artisan E-Learning

      Thanks Akanksha!