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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 Apr 27, 2021

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the use of different technologies to support organizations’ learning and training programs.

In this rapidly developing field, 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 more effective of the two, we thought it best to dedicate a whole article to exploring the major ways in which e-learning and blended learning differ.

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

What is e-learning?

Simply put, e-learning refers to the use of digital technologies to deliver complete learning programs.

In other words, the participants of an e-learning program can take part in all the sessions from the comfort of their own homes 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.

E-learning is also commonly known as online learning.

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.

Blended learning is sometimes also referred to as hybrid learning.

The differences between e-learning and blended learning

As the definitions above would suggest, the fundamental 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. You could even say that technology is the star of e-learning programs, whereas in blended learning it’s really only one of the mediums that helps 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.

One of the bigger benefits of blended learning is that it supports different learning styles better. Unlike e-learning, it doesn’t even try to fit all the participants into the same mold but instead, takes different learning styles and preferences into consideration, so that the 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 digital facilitation 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.

Ideal use cases for e-learning

Considering everything we discussed above, 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.

Ideal use cases for blended learning

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, we recently wrote an eBook on the 8 organizational learning trends of 2020 that will revolutionize the way we work.

Psst! If you’re looking for a learning experience platform for hosting an immersive blended learning program, I have good news for you. Howspace is used by thousands of learning professionals and facilitators — and you can now open a trial completely free of charge! No strings attached, no credit card needed.

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