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Which is better, e-learning or blended learning?

Both constructs are constituted at too high a level of granularity to really make a difference for human learning. To say this more simply, it’s not whether it’s e-learning or blended learning that matters. It’s the learning methods that are used in designing these learning interventions that matter.

An e-learning program can be well-designed or poorly designed, depending on what learning methods are utilized in its design. It’s the same with a blended-learning approach. A learning intervention that utilizes meaningful repetitions will produce better learning outcomes than one that doesn’t. A learning intervention that provides realistic retrieval practice will be more effective than one that doesn’t. The key is to know how learning works, and design accordingly.

Imagine being asked the question, “What type of vehicle is going to get better gas mileage, trucks or sports-utility vehicles?” Such a question suggests a poor understanding of the causes of gas mileage. A person with a basic understanding of gas-mileage factors wouldn’t even ask such a question.

The implications for this are as follows:

1. If someone tells you they have a great learning intervention because it’s a blended-learning program, you are entitled to be skeptical. If they are trying to sell you this learning intervention, you are entitled to chuckle quietly—although we recommend nodding slowly and gently with sad empathetic eyes.

2. If you have to purchase or design a learning intervention—and you’ve been thinking that all you need to do is determine which media or which technology to use, please find someone who understands human learning to help you focus on learning methods and outcomes.