Online learning: The Advantages and Disadvantages of E-Learning

Covid-19 and the digitalisation of the world has massively increased the popularity and necessity that is e-learning. E-learning is booming as almost every topic, no matter how niche, can be accessed online and in your favourite sweatpants. Author and e-learning researcher Donna J. Abernathy says:

„Online learning is not the next big thing, it is the now big thing.”

Some advantages of e-learning may seem obvious, but what are the disadvantages and for whom is e-learning suitable? In this article, we will discuss both the pros and cons and present some tips for better learning success with a glimpse into the future of e-learning.


What is the definition of “E-Learning”?

E-learning, also known as online learning or electronic learning, refers to the acquisition of knowledge through the use of electronic technologies and media channels. In a simpler language, e-learning is defined as “electronically enabled learning” that range from the countless “how-to” videos on YouTube to e-learning platforms of universities or entire online study programs and digital masterclasses. 

In general, e-learning is carried out on the Internet, where learning materials are available at any time and any place. 


What are the 5 biggest advantages of E-Learning?


The first advantage of e-learning is flexibility in terms of time and place. Learning content is usually made available in short modules and can be paused at any time. Whether you log on while commuting, at work or during your free time- the learning material can be easily made part of your daily routine. Even if you miss a live online workshop, written summaries or a video of the session is usually available to be downloaded. E-learning is therefore ideal for people working or in education, or simply people who want to know more about their favourite hobbies or interests. 


The organization of teaching content at universities is almost unimaginable without platforms such as Moodle and Blackboard, but online courses also save vast amounts of time in the private sector. Without physical limitations, anyone with Internet access can simultaneously access learning opportunities – provided that the servers are stable to withstand.


Since e-learning packages adapt to the individual learner, the time required to complete a course is significantly reduced. Conventional courses are designed to meet the needs of the entire group. But rarely does a single person need everything that is offered to the group. And, of course, there is no need to travel to the course.

Low Cost

An e-learning package can be reused as often as the user wishes without additional costs. In addition, there are numerous free course offers as well as “freemium access”. Since e-learning usually allows more course participants at the same time, it is often less expensive than conventional learning offerings.


E-learning takes place wherever you want! All you need is an internet connection. Learning materials, tutorials, transcripts – everything is stored in digital cyberspace and cannot be lost with a good backup.

These advantages alone show the near-unlimited potential of e-learning. Nevertheless, there are also numerous reasons why traditional learning methods are far from obsolete. 


What are the 5 biggest disadvantages of E-Learning?

Internet connection

The most obvious problem is certainly a lack of Internet access and this still affects over 40% of the world’s population. There can be problems with high-speed Internet, insufficient data volume or connection problems that cannot be fixed straight away.


If you can learn anytime and anywhere,  it is so easy to procrastinate. For many, learning in a separate environment is an important factor to discipline as well as being in the same room with other people that are learning with you awakens ambition and openness to new ideas.


There is much more to discover on the Internet than just the learning material. Moreover, you are usually online on your email account or social media at the same time. In addition, partners, roommates and children tend to disturb and make noise at home. It requires a lot of planning and concentration to stay focused in such an environment.

Social isolation

Working at home, learning at home, living at home – the social aspects of life are still important for children to gain social intelligence and develop healthy relationship patterns.

Practical knowledge

While teaching theoretical knowledge online is feasible, many people still find the training of practical skills unsatisfactory. For example, during an online dance lesson, your arm position can’t be corrected, and steps while dancing can only be observed to a limited extent and movement sequences can only be controlled inaccurately.

Despite the drawbacks, experts can agree: the advantages will override the disadvantages and will only improve in the future. 

10 Tips for Successful E-Learning

1. Set intermediate goals

Realistic learning goals enable you to keep an eye on the success of your e-learning and to keep your motivation to learn high. After all, every participant, no matter how eager to learn, needs a sense of achievement time and again. So read your online course requirements carefully, make notes that are closely related to your goals, and review them thoroughly each time. 

2. Evaluate the course

Imagine that you have already set reasonable learning goals. But what comes next? The next necessary step is to research the existing e-learning proposals on the market in order to select the proposal with the highest added value. So try to research the ratings of other learners, or use free trial versions.

3. Create an ideal learning environment

Whether you want to study in the office or in your living room, make sure that it is quiet, organized, distraction-free and available at all times. Also, ask friends, relatives and colleagues to respect your “learning mode” and turn off your phone.

4. Develop a learning plan

Procrastination is the worst enemy of online learners. So be sure to stay organized and not fall behind in your online class. At the beginning of each week, create a to-do list of tasks that need to be completed by the end of the week. This is a great way to prioritize your study plan and not lose track of what you need to do.

5. Integrate your e-learning into your calendar

The goal must be to make e-learning a routine that has a fixed place in your weekly schedule. Therefore, it is also important to enter concrete times in your calendar and thus give the learning progress the necessary priority in your everyday life.

6. Slowly increase the level of difficulty

The best way to do this is to increase either the number of tasks or their difficulty. It doesn’t matter which method you choose, as both will lead to the goal. The important thing is that you yourself continue to grow with the task.

7. Review, revise, repeat

Regular revisions of things you have already learned not only improve your memory but also promote a general understanding of your field of interest. No matter if you work with flashcards, keynotes or your own summaries, the learning success will be noticeable and upcoming tasks will be easier to solve.

8. Find a learning group

Not all e-learning courses allow for an exchange with other course participants. Even if this is not the case, you can participate in discussions in relevant forums and thus find allies. Why? When you work in a group, you get alternative views on difficult concepts, have a higher motivation to achieve better results and can always ask someone.

9. Look out for interactive courses

The eye learns as well. A big advantage of e-learning is the enormous range of preparation possibilities. Simulations, appealing graphics and audio-visual teaching aids help to understand difficult content better and increase your willingness to learn.

10. Take continuous breaks

Performance often decreases with learning progress or you reach a learning plateau and motivation suffers. Therefore, planned breaks are extremely important. Make sure that your breaks do not take place in your learning environment. Especially physical activities help to keep a good balance, refill your energy reserves and return to learning with a clear mind.


The Future of E-Learning

Observing the disruption of the entertainment industry through streaming services, one gets a first insight into what the e-learning sector is about to face. Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video are working with long-term package models that provide access to movies and TV shows at the touch of a button.

E-learning and especially corporate e-learning is currently in a similar state. On the one hand, we have well-known course providers who offer an extensive catalogue of standard courses. On the other hand, we have providers who offer a white label solution that puts the customer’s branding on the existing, ready-to-use content. In the midst of these two players, there are custom content creators that offer a personalized learning experience.

The next game-changer is also already in the starting blocks. By 2022, the market for augmented and virtual reality is expected to exceed the $200 billion mark and make devices affordable for private households. The possibilities for integrating AR and VR in e-learning are endless. From developing designs that transport learners to the insides of automobiles to helping medical students understand the intricacies of the human body, AR and VR will play a vital role in enabling a whole new learning experience. The question remains to what extent it will still need humans as teachers at all. Companies like IBM are leading the way in the development of advanced AI and deep learning solutions. Based on a study published in the International Journal of Advanced Education and Research, the share of AI in the e-learning sector will increase by about 49% in the next 5 years and further improve performance. However, the human being as a teacher still remains indispensable.


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15 September 2020

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