Debunking 4 Common Myths of Online Learning

Posted by Guest Blogger on February 22, 2017

Tablet with word cloud including "Myth" "Reality" "News" "Information" etc.


Intrepid is pleased to present this guest blog from Emily Hoffman, Chase McMillan, and Justin Hale of VitalSmarts:

Online learning gets a bad rap—and deservedly so. For decades, eLearning courses have been clunky, ugly, awkward, difficult to use, boring and just plain ineffective. As teachers of face-to-face, interpersonal skills, we at VitalSmarts (a company with a 30-year history of face-to-face corporate learning) saw the live classroom as the only place where complex interpersonal behaviors could be taught well. But slowly, we watched as online learning platforms started leveraging best practices in learning design.

So, we ditched our role as skeptic and became converted to the idea that we could build an online course that would deliver a high-quality and effective learning experience—especially for modern learners.

Leaning on our decades of experience in designing award-winning training and taking cues from the most innovative and effective online learning experience platforms today, we looked at and debunked four common myths of online learning.


Myth-Truth #1

This is the most common myth of all. But as it turns out, not all learners are created equal. In the classroom, slower learners fail to grasp key concepts while faster learners disengage when the instructor slows the pace.

Online, participants can learn new skills at their own speed, spend time with challenging concepts as needed, and even review content they’ve already covered—leading to increased engagement, shorter time to application, and less time away from their job.

Data also shows the modern learner is distracted. Each day, they check their phone eighty-five times and their email fifteen times. Online learning addresses (if not mimics) these constant distractions with bite-sized modules delivered through a variety of modalities from videos to discussion threads to quizzes and games. And with micro-learning, learners can easily pick up where they left off.

The spaced nature of online learning also better accommodates workforces that are remote or can’t carve out the full days required for classroom training. Because while convenience is key, the supreme benefit of spaced learning is skill mastery. Research shows transference demonstrably improves as people digest and apply small amounts of learning over time.


Myth Truth #2

Most assume online learning is only preferable when you need to train a large workforce quickly and inexpensively. When you have more time and money and can prioritize effectiveness over scale, that’s when you turn to the traditional classroom. We politely but firmly disagree.

Instructor-led courses tend to treat learners as a monolithic group—forcing people to learn in specific ways through rote modalities. On the other hand, online learning can be mapped to the learner with a variety of pathways and tools. Visual learners are drawn to videos, auditory learners lean on podcasts, and hands-on learners gravitate towards role plays and journaling sessions. This level of flexibility and control allows learners to move through the content at a comfortable pace aligned with their learning style and scheduling demands.



When it comes to learning, engagement is measured by attention, not aptitude. Facilitators do their best to juggle the demands of both teaching and keeping people engaged. But with a large class, that juggling act is challenging—to say the least. Not to mention, the accountability a facilitator creates typically ends the moment the learner walks out the door.

 While keeping an online learner engaged presents new challenges, there are also benefits. Moderators can view each learning activity a learner has (or hasn’t) completed, signaling learners’ progress through the course. Moderators can also follow up with learners frequently to offer encouragement and coaching—all while holding the learner accountable to applying the skills outside the classroom.



When teaching interpersonal skills, many practitioners see social learning as imperative. We agree. Online learning is optimized for social learning—especially when it matters.

In a traditional classroom, learners interact with a handful of peers and may get a smidge of personal interaction with the instructor. In online learning, a cohort of learners can discuss the application of a skill in social threads. When a learner practices a skill, they do so for the rest of the class to observe. Conversely, learners can also see how the other members of their cohort apply the same skills. Rather than a handful of social exchanges, online learners experience dozens and dozens of interactions.

Additionally, the spaced nature of the course allows course moderators to give feedback to each individual learner—this type of one-on-one coaching is at the heart of effective learning.

 Equipped with traditional classroom training, live instructor-led online classrooms, and now the online asynchronous class, learning professionals have a powerful arsenal to meet their learners when and where learning will be most powerful.

To access a webinar recording on this topic, visit "Crucial Conversations Online: Debunking the 4 Myths of Online Learning."


Emily Hoffman, Chase McMillan, and Justin Hale are the creators behind Crucial Conversations Online as well as trainers and leaders at VitalSmarts. Crucial Conversations Online turns traditional online training on its head by harnessing the latest instructional design behind modern learning to deliver a flexible, social, and interactive experience that translates into real behavior change.

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