Online learning vs. traditional learning: and the winner is...!

The debate between online learning versus traditional education grows each year. The Corona crisis made it even more relevant, as employees in many countries were forced to work from home. So, suddenly all the learning activities had to take place online. But is it a good substitute for traditional learning? Let’s have a look at the differences, similarities, and conclude who the winner is!

Online learning vs. traditional learning
Content Manager & HR Officer
Posted on
Updated on
Reading time 5 minutes

Table of contents

  1. What is online learning? 
  2. What is traditional learning? 
  3. What are the differences between online and traditional learning?
  4. Are there any similarities?
  5. And the winner is …?

What is online learning?

Online learning is exactly what it sounds like: it takes place over the internet. It is a form of distance learning. It’s interchangeable with the term e-learning. An LMS typically stores the training content, which is accessible anywhere and anytime.

What is traditional learning?

Traditional learning takes place in a classroom setting

Traditional learning takes place in a classroom setting. There is a trainer who moderates and regulates the flow of information and knowledge. Then, the trainer expects the employees to deepen their knowledge through written exercises at home. Nowadays, technology is incorporated in the classroom more and more. However, in face-to-face instruction scenarios, the primary source of information is still the trainer.

What are the differences between online and traditional learning?

If you are deciding between online or traditional learning, it can be helpful to consider the below comparison:

Online education

Traditional education

It happens online

It happens offline 

Anytime, anyplace

Forced in a schedule and place 

Flexible pace

Imposed pace 


Together with your colleagues 

Supports an independent learning style 

Learning from and with each other 

The primary source of information is online content

The primary source of information is the trainer 

Limited interaction 

Extensive interaction between trainers and colleagues 

These are the obvious differences, but there are also differences in terms of costs and participation rates. Let’s expand a bit on these points:

Participation rates

Although high priority may be given to continuous education in organizations, many times, it is not fully implemented. Employees who take part in the training set up by their managers can feel rushed. Why? Because time is limited, especially given our to-do list that grows each day.

Online learning then comes to the rescue. In fact, a survey [1] of over 700 corporate learners, found out that 87 percent of them preferred to take online courses during work hours. It takes less time than face-to-face learning, and they can easily squeeze it into their daily tasks.

Online modules are often more affordable than in in-house training


Setting up traditional training is valuable, but also expensive. Online modules are often more affordable than in in-house training. Why? You don’t have to deal with additional costs like travel expenses, training facilities, hiring a trainer, or printing training materials that come with in-house training. In 2019, U.S. training expenses amounted to $83 billion! Of this, 29.6 billion was spent on these additional costs. The overhead to operate online training programs is much lower.

The economic argument shouldn’t be de only decisive factor in whether you choose online training over traditional training for your company. Read more about the other compelling advantages and disadvantages of online learning.

Are there any similarities?

Although there are more differences than similarities between face-to-face and online learning, what they have in common is that they are both effective.


Online learning is a full-fledged alternative for classroom training

We can’t say that online learning is more effective than traditional education, or vice versa. It certainly depends on the learning topic and how its effectiveness has been measured. But overall, it seems that online learning is a full-fledged alternative for classroom training. There is good and ample evidence that employees generally learn as much as online as they do in traditional training.

And the winner is …?

We would love to call a winner, but we can’t. It wouldn’t be fair to either of the learning methods because both have their pros and cons. Which learning method is right for your employees or organization depends on many factors:

  • What’s your budget?
  • What’s the learning topic? Is it practical-based or knowledge-driven?
  • What do you want to achieve with the learning? Improving skills or keeping your employees up-to-date about company standards?
  • How much time do you want to spend on training as an organization? And how much time can employees spend on training?
  • What’s your employees’ motivation level?
  • Do you have employees of various ages? Do you primarily work with millennials, or is the majority of your workforce from the baby boomer generation?

Maybe choosing one over the other is too rigid. If you want to combine the best of both worlds, then you should certainly consider blended learning.

What we do know is that we can offer you a complete LMS to set up continuous training in your organization. With Easy LMS, you can create and manage effective training courses, check their knowledge with exams, and generate custom certificates. Our tool will help you keep track of your employee’s progress, and our automation options will save you time.

Useful resources

  1. Athabasca University 
  2. Training Mag
  3. Harvard University 
  4. eLearning Industry

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is online learning?
    Online learning takes place over the internet. It is a form of distance learning. It gives you access to the learning content from any place and at any time.
  • What is traditional learning?
    Traditional learning happens face-to-face in a classroom setting with one trainer and a group of learners. It’s fixed to schedule.
  • What are the differences between traditional and online training?
    Online vs. offline; any place, any time vs. forced to a schedule; flexible vs. imposed pace; alone vs. together; limited vs. extensive interaction; content vs. trainer is the source of information.

Get started with Easy LMS

Request a free demoorStart your free trial

Dig deeper

How to set up online training courses

How to set up online training courses

Giving an online training with our course builder is an easy way to motivate your employees. It’s not only an easy tool for the participants,...

Read more