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E-learning vs. blended learning — definitions, differences & use cases

By Hanna Liimatainen on Feb 6, 2019 7:51:31 AM , updated on Oct 20, 2021

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the use of different technologies to support organizations’ learning and training programs. For many organizations, online learning is the default choice.  

The terms e-learning and blended learning are often used interchangeably, which is hardly a problem in casual conversation.

However, since several studies have shown that blended learning is usually the most effective, we wanted to explore the major ways in which e-learning and blended learning differ. Understanding the differences will help you decide which approach will work best for your learning and training needs. 

So without further ado, let’s move on to definitions, main differences, and typical use cases of the two online learning approaches.

What is e-learning?

Simply put, e-learning refers to the use of digital technologies to deliver complete learning programs. E-learning is also commonly known as online learning.

The participants of an e-learning program can take part in all the sessions from the comfort of their own homes—or anywhere else—as long as they have a computer and an internet connection.

E-learning can be either interactive or static in nature. Interactive sessions can be hosted through a video connection between all the participants. Static e-learning courses, on the other hand, consist of on-demand online materials that are not customized for each group of participants.

Some examples of e-learning platforms include:

What is blended learning?

Blended learning refers to an approach that combines e-learning with traditional in-person learning (think of lectures, workshops, and training sessions) and independent study.

For example, a blended learning program can consist of monthly in-person training days, weekly assignments, and frequent—if not daily—peer-to-peer discussions on a digital facilitation platform.

Howspace is a learning experience platform suited for blended learning programs because it’s:

  • Collaborative
  • Easy to adopt and easy to use
  • Contextual and noiseless
  • Customizable

A learning experience platform could be a great addition to static e-learning platforms, as it promotes social learning and applied learning at work.

What about hybrid learning?

Some people also use the terms blended learning and hybrid learning interchangeably, but there is a difference between these two approaches when it comes to participants’ physical location during synchronous interactions. With blended learning, participants are all in the same physical location for face-to-face activities. With hybrid learning, some participants are together in-person and others join remotely for synchronous interactions. You can have hybrid sessions as part of a blended learning program. 

When deciding whether to have live interactions fully in-person or hybrid, consider the purpose of your program, your budget, and how far participants would have to travel.

The differences between e-learning and blended learning

As the definitions above suggest, the main differences between e-learning and blended learning are: 

  1. The environment(s) in which learning takes place, and 
  2. The nature of the learning experience

1. Where does learning take place? — Online vs. Everywhere

While technology takes a supporting role in blended learning, e-learning courses take place online and online only. Technology is the star of e-learning programs, whereas with blended learning, it’s only one method to help facilitate the learning experience.

The main benefit of e-learning is that it’s completely time and place agnostic. Most online courses allow the participants to set their own pace and choose their learning time freely.

Blended learning, however, can better support different learning styles. Unlike e-learning, it doesn’t try to fit all the participants into the same mold. Instead, it takes different learning styles and preferences into consideration so that participants can make the most of their preferred learning channels.

2. What is the experience like? — Immersive vs. one-directional

According to the 70/20/10 model of learning and development only 10% of learning happens in a formal classroom environment. The remaining 20% and 70% come from developmental relationships (i.e. interaction with peers) and challenging assignments, respectively.

The typical problem with e-learning programs is that they’re too separate from the participants’ reality. While online learning materials can help participants cram theoretical concepts into their minds, these learnings often lack context. And without context, new information doesn’t really stick.

Due to its interactive and immersive nature, blended learning subjects the participants to a lot of different stimuli and encourages them to apply the things they’ve learned into their work on a daily basis. That’s where 70% of long-term professional development happens.

Combined with peer-to-peer collaboration and discussions on a learning experience platform such as Howspace, blended learning truly sets the participants up for success. And while these developmental relationships may theoretically only account for 20% learning, it’s the 20% that can make or break a learning experience.

When is e-learning the right choice?

E-learning is best suited for short-term, tactical training courses that consist of practical how-to videos, interactive exercises, and preferably training sessions that allow the participants to ask questions and contribute to the learning experience freely.

When is blended learning the right choice?

Blended learning, on the other hand, is better suited for longer-lasting, more complex organizational learning programs, such as leadership training, where it’s important that the participants can repeatedly apply the things they’ve learned to their work and get ample support from the learning community around them.

If you'd like to learn about more organizational learning techniques, check out our ebook covering 8 ways to boost engagement in virtual organizational learning

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