Advantages of Web-based Learning
The general benefits of Web-based training when compared to traditional instructor-led training include all those shared by other types of technology-based training. These benefits are that the training is usually self-paced, highly interactive, results in increased retention rates, and has reduced costs associated with student travel to an instructor-led workshop.
When compared to CD-ROM training, the benefits of Web-based training stem from the fact that access to the content is easy and requires no distribution of physical materials. This means that Web-based training yields additional benefits, among them:
- Access is available anytime, anywhere, around the globe. Students always have access to a potentially huge library of training and information whether they are working from home, in the office, or from a hotel room. As cellular modems become more popular, students will even be able to access training in a place that doesn't have a traditional phone line or network connection.
- Per-student equipment costs are affordable. Almost any computer today equipped with a modem and free browser software can access the Internet or a private Intranet. The cost of setup is relatively low.
- Student tracking is made easy. Because students complete their training while they are connected to the network, it is easy to implement powerful student-tracking systems. Unlike with CD-ROMs that require students to print reports or save scores to disk, WBT enables the data to be automatically tracked on the server-computer. This information can be as simple as who has accessed the courseware and what are their assessment scores, to detailed information including how they answered individual test questions and how much time they spent in each module.
- Possible "learning object" architecture supports on demand, personalized learning. With CD-ROM training, students have access only to the information that can be held by one CD-ROM. The instructional design for this type of delivery, therefore, has been to create entire modules and distinct lessons. But with WBT, there is virtually no storage limitation and content can be held on one or more servers. The best WBT is designed so that content is "chunked" into discrete knowledge objects to provide greater flexibility. Students can access these objects through pre-defined learning paths, use skill assessments to generate personal study plans, or employ search engines to find exact topics.
- Content is easily updated. This is perhaps the single biggest benefit to WBT. In today's fast-paced business environment, training programs frequently change. With CD-ROM and other forms of training, the media must be reduplicated and distributed again to all the students. With WBT it is a simple matter of copying the updated files from a local developer's computer onto the server-computer. The next time students connect to the Web page for training, they will automatically have the latest version.
Limitations of Web-based Learning
There are only two real disadvantages to WBT, and both will be overcome in the next five to ten years as high bandwidth network connections become as common as telephones. The first drawback, when compared to live instruction, is the lack of human contact, which greatly impacts learning. WBT is better than CD-ROM learning in this regard. Students can use their Web connection to e-mail other students, post comments on message boards, or use chat rooms and videoconference links to communicate live. While this type of interaction is helpful, and an improvement over CD-ROM learning, it still doesn't have the impact of a live workshop. With higher speed connections and improved conferencing software, one day students around the world will be able to communicate in real time with each other through full-screen video.
The second major drawback is the lack of multimedia in many WBT programs. The use of audio and video are critical to creating compelling metaphors, realistic job simulations, and accommodating different learning styles. Full multimedia delivered over corporate Intranets is possible, and many companies are doing it (see Case Studies in this book for examples). But in most cases, even if students have a high-bandwidth Intranet connection, corporate information technology departments don't want large media files used because it slows down the entire network. The result is that most WBT programs are still comprised of text and graphics alone. Once again, the bandwidth problem will be solved in the near future with advancements in network protocol standards and software compression.
Using Web-based training, like all other delivery media, has advantages and disadvantages. Trainers and designer must carefully weigh these against the profiles of other options on a case-by-case basis.
by Kevin Kruse