The Myths and Realities of eLearning


Seat Time

Seat time is the time spent by the learner in a learning environment. For many types of content, elearning clearly offers an advantage. The research generally shows that there is at least a 50% reduction in seat time when a course is converted from classroom learning to elearning. Brandon Hall reports it is a 2:1 ratio.

"Brandon Hall, editor and publisher of the Multimedia & Internet Training Newsletter, cites an overall 50 percent reduction in seat time required for a student to learn the same content using online training as compared to in a classroom (Puget Sound Business Journal)."

Of course, a lot of this has to with the type of content. For example, we normally read at least twice as fast as compared to someone speaking. Thus such courses as compliance training offers a seat time advantage due to rather than having an instructor do all the talking, we can now just read it. However, if we are practicing a new skill, then there is normally no real time advantage as we need the same amount of time to practice in an elearning environment as we do in a classroom.

Development Time

With most instructor led classes, a lot of the material is put into outlined form as it is expected that the instructor will fill in a lot of the blanks, such as integrating or leading the learning methods. With elearning, you have to put in all the content and get it to perform the learning methods by itself. Thus elearning has traditionally been a lot more expensive up front as it cost more to develop. However, the real savings come from other factors, such as travel, seat time, and administration costs. It generally takes at least four times as long to build elearning, than it does classroom training. Of course this depends on such factors as the tools you are using, learning methods, and what content you already have that are learner-friendly, rather than instructor-friendly.

If the elearning looks more like a PowerPoint presentation, then a 1:1 is probably close, however, the more elearning moves away from looking like a Powerpoint presentation and into a more interactive package, then the more the ratio starts to increase.

Development time to develop one hour of e-learning (The eLearning Guild, 2002):

  • Simple Asynchronous: (static HTML pages with text & graphics): 117 hours
  • Simple Synchronous: (static HTML pages with text & graphics): 86 hours
  • Average Asynchronous (above plus Flash, JavaScript, animated GIF's. etc): 191 hours
  • Average Synchronous (above plus Flash, JavaScript, animated GIF's. etc): 147 hours
  • Complex Asynchronous (above plus audio, video, interactive simulations): 276 hours
  • Complex Synchronous(above plus audio, video, interactive simulations): 222 hours
Compare this to classroom development time for each hour of class (Laird. 1985) :
  • Technical formal course: 5 to 15 hours
  • Self-contained for hand-off to other instructors 50 to 100 hours
  • Conventional management development 20 to 30 hours
  • Programmed instruction 80 to 120 hours
  • Technical on-site 1 to 3 hours




Available anytime and anywhere -- "Itís always there!" It is only available where you have the proper technology and that technology is capable of downloading and then delivering the eLearning. Also note that some locations (such as a working environments) makes it nearly impossible for learning due to such factors as noise and interruptions.
Multimedia content: use of audio, video, interactive chat, text, etc.   Only if you have enough bandwidth. Also, other forms of learning, such as classrooms already provide the same features, in addition to normally being easier and cheaper to implement.
Accommodates individualís learning style: self-paced, asynchronous collaborative, synchronous collaborative. That depends on how it is developed (the methodology employed). eLearning does not have tools that will automatically account for an individual's learning style, make it collaborative, etc., If you cannot do these with other forms of learning, what makes you think you can do it with eLearning?
Hyperlearning: as contrasted with static text, eLearning has the capacity to link with other resources (simulations, other content, study groups, etc.) that can enhance the learning experience and avoid the linear learning dictated by textbooks. This statement assumes that the only other form of learning is reading. A good training program uses a number of activities to bring about the desired change in behavior. Also, good text learning packages do direct learners to other forms of learning see PSI).
Blindness of the learning engagement: Some learners who are inhibited in a classroom setting may increase engagement online.   Yes, but some learners are inhibited by technology. Also, some of what we learn requires engagement in the real world. Are we really helping them if we do not provide the opportunities to help draw them out of their "box"?
Learner-centered learning: The learner is not a passive participant but a proactive searcher and finder of information.  The training developer determines the amount of participation, not the media. You can develop a passive eLearning program just as readily as you can develop any other learning program.
Modularity of presentation: The contentís architecture is modular, which facilitates different construction of learning events, both in design and length.   The amount of modularity is determined by the developer, not by the medium. This degree of modularity can be built into almost every type of learning program, from the classroom, to lock-step, to self-paced.
Manageable structure: The electronic infrastructure supports managed (and measurable) interaction between advisors and learners. Only if it is built into the eLearning program. . . the same as with any other type of program. eLearning does not have a lock on this. For some pros and cons, see Trading Mules for Tractors: The Pros and Cons of Adopting a Course Management System.
Ability to measure the effectiveness of program: eLearning software empowers administrators to track performance and measure ROI. In addition, monitoring usage by learners is simpler; i.e., the number of downloads per user can be measured.   The amount of work required to get ROI is the same no matter what type of learning program is used. Also, the number of downloads is meaningless -- a much more meaningful measurement is "did they learn?"
Simpler data management. The rapid rate with which new learning products are introduced and older products become obsolete create a challenge for individuals charged with updating libraries. However, if a single version of each product is kept on a host, users get instantaneous access to updated components. Updating a computer based program can be just as daunting as updating a number of paper-based programs. Also, once a learner graduates from the elearning program, they leave with a number of notes, hand-outs, etc. that do not get updated. Indeed, what they learn is not automatically updated.
Cost savings: provides an efficient and cost-effective model for education.   That depends upon a number of factors, e.g. number of learners, contents of the program to be developed, etc. While this was one of the benefits first promoted with elearning, it is no longer the case as an interactive elearning program often is much more difficult to develop than a good classroom based program.


The eLearning Guild. (2002). The e-Learning Development Time Ratio Survey. Retrieved October 27, 2007 from

Laird, Dugan (1985) Approaches to Training and Development. NY: Addison Welsey. pp. 234-235. Based on "A Training Cost Model," (1972), Office of Personnel Management.



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Created January 21, 2001
Updated October 28, 2007


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