There are lots of logical reasons companies consider converting live learning experiences to e-learning. Maybe more employees now work remotely or internationally, making in-person training challenging to organize. Perhaps their staff wants more say on where and when they learn new skills. And it’s hard to overlook how creating an engaging e-learning course once is often more cost-effective than running a live one multiple times.

Since e-learning can support a wide variety of learning experiences, any instructor-led class can make this switch, right? Well—not quite.

E-learning is an incredibly flexible format, but there’s no single training approach that works best in every situation. That’s why it’s good to know the signs that a live learning experience might be difficult to fully convert to e-learning.

Red Flag 1: The live course depends on off-the-cuff stories, insights, and guided discussions from the facilitator

When a subject matter expert facilitates your course, there’s a lot they can add to it. Their experience allows them to deepen the content, guide discussions in meaningful directions, and handle tricky learner questions. When they add the same things to a course regularly, you can pivot that content to e-learning by simply transcribing what they share and weaving that into the course.

But when the stories, conversations, and insights change significantly from class to class, with facilitators shifting things on the fly based on learner questions or comments, it’s tougher to migrate that experience to an e-learning course. That’s because it’s time-consuming—if not impossible—to capture the myriad facilitator additions in these situations, add them all into a single e-learning course, and build a way for learners to only see the additions that matter to them.  

Red Flag 2: Learner experience levels vary significantly, so facilitators have to adjust the content each time they present

Some courses pull audiences with wildly different experience and skill levels. Maybe one group is all experts who just need a refresher, while everyone in the next class is brand new to the content. Or, maybe another group needs extra information on the sections they use most on the job. And sometimes one class may have all these different learner types in the same group. In these cases, facilitators need to make significant adjustments to the difficulty and focus of the content each time they present to avoid boring their audience or leaving them behind.

If those changes are as simple as providing a beginner and advanced version of each section of the course, e-learning can give learners the customized content they need by using branching. But if your facilitators find they’re delivering countless different versions of the same class, then e-learning on its own likely isn’t an efficient solution.

Red Flag 3: Each class asks wildly different questions

If learners regularly ask the same questions in the live class, that’s easy to solve with e-learning. Just weave the answers into the course content or include them in an FAQ resource. And if learners typically don’t ask many questions, they won’t miss a live Q&A when the course moves to e-learning.

But if they ask lots of questions with little to no repeating themes from class to class? That’s a red flag that it’ll be challenging to cover everything your learners are curious about with just asynchronous e-learning.

Red Flag 4: The course includes important hands-on or group activities that are hard to replicate digitally

E-learning can provide effective alternatives to many different hands-on and group activities. For instance, a group exercise might shift to reflection activities or an interactive scenario. And hands-on activities might transform into video tutorials or simulations.

However, some activities don’t translate smoothly to the digital world. For instance, an exercise where learners practice navigating team conflict with each other would be difficult to replicate when someone’s learning on their own. Physical skills, like swimming, aren’t easy to pick up just from a video. And complex recreations, like flight simulators, might be possible to create digitally, but cost- or time-prohibitive for a particular project. In these situations, e-learning may not be a fit for what you’re trying to accomplish.

Red Flag 5: The main benefit of the live class is to network and build connections with peers

Some live classes don’t require much connection among learners to succeed. In those cases, someone might never interact with another attendee but still get the exact experience they need.

That said, there are other courses—like leadership training or professional development—where building bonds with colleagues and peers is a crucial benefit. The connections classmates form with each other could lead to solving future problems, collaborating on cross-functional projects, or even access to new career opportunities. And unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to replicate these connections with e-learning alone.


E-learning is capable of taking most live courses and transforming them into new, engaging digital experiences. But there are rare cases where other training formats are a stronger fit for supporting your learning goals and audience. That’s why it’s handy to use the red flags in this article to determine that at the start of your project rather than discover it midway through. And if you don’t see any of those warning signs, then you and your stakeholders can rest assured that your live course is a good fit for e-learning.

That said, even if you see the signs in this article, that doesn’t mean you have to write off e-learning entirely. You may just need to use it in tandem with other learning formats. With a blended learning approach, you can use e-learning where it makes sense for your content and add in other training formats to round out the experience.

Think blended learning could be right for your project? Then check out these articles for tips on what to do next:

Have any red flags you’d add to this list? We’d love for you to share them in the comments below. And be sure to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning!

Steve Flowers
Bianca Woods