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Self-Paced vs. Instructor-Led: Which Learning Method is Better?

Self-Paced-vs.-Instructor-Led
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The global e-learning market is a billion-dollar industry and is projected to grow even more in the coming years. Like work from home, e-learning has become a vital part of everyone’s life.

And it’s not just because it’s comfortable; e-learning is affordable and convenient for all kinds of age groups.

But how did an industry which was struggling to disrupt the traditional education system suddenly see an uprising in the past few years? 🤔

Most of us would credit the Covid-19 pandemic for this surge. But experts suggest there’s more to it.

E-learning offers three vital components of the learning ecosystem: Flexibility, Accessibility, and Affordability.

However, the e-learning space is divided into two learning management systems (LMS): Self-paced and Instructor-led. While both learning models have their advantages and limitations, it’s a debatable topic among learners.

Down the lane, we have discussed the rise of online education post-pandemic. With that, we have also looked upon and shared our views on the two major LMS of the e-learning industry.

How Online Education Has Been on the Rise Since 2 Years

How-Online-Education-Has-Been-on-the-Rise-Since-2-Years

Education is no more limited to books, schools, and institutions. Although, before the pandemic, the three were considered the most vital aspects of the education system worldwide.

But when the economy crashed, it created the largest disruption of the education system in history.

At the peak of the crisis (2020), around 1.6 Billion learners in over 190 countries were school deprived for about two years. 

This called for a global emergency in the education ecosystem 🆘. The change in the outlook of traditional education models and learning methods was echoing worldwide.

To our surprise, Google searches for online learning materials soared by over 100% across the world from mid-March to mid-April 2020 alone.

Luckily, digitalization was around the corner and was rapidly paving its way to various industries like manufacturing, logistics, health, and banking.

Considering the high demand and need of that time, the education sector revolutionized itself by providing e-learning solutions to learners.

Today, the educational sector has collaborated with several online platforms providing distance learning courses and has over 180 million registered learners using massively open online courses (MOOC) from platforms like Edx, Udemy, Coursera, and more.

As of April 2022, more than 5 Billion internet users worldwide – and around 60% of them have indulged in some form of online learning.

The revolution had such an impact that around 57% of US learners are now more optimistic about e-learning than before the pandemic. You can imagine the shift in mindset!

online-learning-statistics
Source

However, the e-learning market was soon diversified into two learning models: Self-paced and Instructor-led learning, it became hard for students to decide which route is right for them.

Here’s some clarity on self-paced and instructor-led learning.

Self-Paced Learning Model

Self-Paced-Learning-Model

Self-paced learning model allows learners to learn at their own pace and comfort. A way of learning that is loved by students and corporate offices.

These learning models work independently with recorded presentations and pre-built learning activities (articles to read, exercises to complete, etc.).

Participants can consume the course videos (and related materials) at their own pace, place, and time.

Moreover, no live instructor is involved in this method, so you can take your time to learn the topic and repeat complex topics without anyone bothering you.

As per reports, the global Self-Paced E-Learning market is projected to reach $10,960 million by 2027, from $6,312 million in 2020, at a CAGR of 8.2% during 2021-2027.

Advantages of the Self-Paced Learning Model 

Advantages-of-the-Self-Paced-Learning-Model-

#1. Flexibility

The biggest flex of the self-paced learning model is its escape from time-bound learning.

Think about it: Typically, a class lasts for 60 minutes, and you need to understand everything taught within those 60 mins. That, too, at the speed of your instructor.

A major benefit that learners get from self-paced courses is control of what, when, and where they want to resume learning. 

This becomes a significant advantage for employed individuals who wish to learn and upskill themselves without hampering their in-office jobs and day-to-day routine.

#2. Affordability

Self-paced learning models offer better ROI when it comes to finances.

Firstly, they are available at a lesser price than instructor-led courses. And secondly, they need to be purchased just once and then can be used to train multiple batches of employees or students. 

You can often find these courses at heavily discounted prices on e-learning sites like Udemy.

#3. Scalability

Self-paced learning models are not tied to any number of seats. It’s independent of all time and space barriers.

You can use these learning models to train an unlimited number of prospects. Moreover, you can even repeat topics you find hard to consume at once. 

#4. Structured and Organized

Most of us would agree that self-paced learning models are well-organized to be easily understandable by novice users. 

Cutting out the fluff which instructors make when addressing a group of learners, self-paced courses offer training materials that are broken up into brief yet precise portions.

Moreover, every portion has a set of how-to blogs, lesson summaries, and test assessments attached to them. So, you can learn whatever you want in a precise and organized format. 

Instructor-Led Learning Model

Instructor-Led-Learning-Model

In an instructor-led training model (ILT), a person, typically an expert in the field, guides a group of learners through a series of modules and activities in face-to-face/screen-to-screen meetings or workshops.

This method is similar to traditional teaching methods; the only change is that the training happens face-to-face in a virtual space rather than in a physical classroom.

At the peak of the pandemic, over 90,000 schools in 20 countries used Zoom – a cloud-based video conferencing service, to conduct online classes.

These classes were instructor-led, with a teacher or instructor assigned to every batch of students.

Advantages of Instructor-Led Learning Model

Advantages-of-Instructor-Led-Learning-Model

#1. In Real-time

Unlike self-paced models, instructor-led learning models have time restraints ⏳.

Simply put, the learning takes place in a real-time environment without any pause, play, or skip buttons.

More or less, this learning model functions similarly to daily office meetings. You have employees onboard, a manager (or teacher) to train you, and a moment of happy interactions before you get yelled at for not completing your homework (or task). 😉

#2. Better Human Interaction

Compared to self-paced LMS, these learning models are better at providing interactive learning.

This method generally involves a lot of engagement with the instructor or the co-trainees. Since the classes are happening on real-time video, you can engage, converse, and build relations on the go.

Basically, you get a full-fledged classroom-like environment in the comfort of your home. 

#3. Practical Training

With the advent of AI and VR technology, instructor-led classes aim for close to real experiences for learners.

They include several apps and software that can be used to curate leadership activities and practical labs to showcase subjective learning in the best way possible.

#4. Detailed Learning Material

Let’s face it; you can’t replace the skill set of a live teaching professor with that of recorded sessions.

Besides, the course content provided by ILT is comprehensive in nature. It’s highly detailed and has in-depth information related to any topic.

For subjective topics, perhaps ones with more open-ended themes, where thinking, evaluation, and creativity are paramount, it’s hard to beat instructor-led training.

Self-Paced vs. Instructor-Led Learning

Self-Paced-vs.-Instructor-Led-Learning

Both these learning models come along with their set of brilliance and limitations.

Self-paced learning allows students to design their own learning experience. And it’s not limited to adjusting the pace of learning but also according to their own interests and learning preferences.

Instructor-led learning, on the other hand, is time-bound, giving less flexibility to the learners but providing a worth-learning experience.

Besides, some instructor-led courses have multiple trainers who teach in rotation or shifts. Due to the variation in instructors’ teaching styles, some participants may not understand a topic in the same way.

While this is a significant drawback of ILT, self-paced courses are free from such variations. Even if they allow various presenters, you won’t feel a difference in their teaching methods as the content is scripted and tailored to the audience.

But that doesn’t stop self-paced courses from carrying limitations. In fact, self-paced models have critical physiological limitations. 🧠

Since no one monitors the progress and learning speed, participants tend to avoid regular participation in the course. Also, with no trainer to clarify doubts, participants often feel left alone to find clarifications.

Let’s quickly summarize the key difference between self-paced and instructor-led learning models.

ParametersSelf-Paced LearningInstructor-Led Learning
DefinitionConstitutes of pre-recorded videos and learning materials.Offers live training and learning opportunities with an instructor.
FlexibilityAccessed and consumed from anywhere and anytime.Courses are rigid and have scheduled timing for batches, just like regular classes. 
Time BoundHas no time restraints; you can complete the course in a day/week/month, up to you.Has time restraints; you need to complete the course under a certain time frame and with other learners.
Human InteractionHuman interaction is minimal; you can see the instructor but can’t interact as it’s a pre-recorded video.Maximum human interaction; you are face-to-face with the instructor and can communicate with them in real-time.
Scope of LearningLimited to the content of recorded videos and pre-written blogs or resources.Has a comprehensive learning approach. Participants can explore more than the course by interacting with the instructor and other mates.
AffordabilityCost lesser than instructor-led models.Instructor-led models are generally costlier.
ScalabilityThese models can be easily used to teach multiple batches at their own pace of learning.Has limited seats dedicated to every instructor; to increase the batches, they need to hire alternate instructors? 
Best for UseFor courses with an objective nature, where you need to understand processes.For subjective topics, perhaps ones with more open-ended themes.

Now that we understand the difference between the two learning models, let’s see a few courses that leverage each of these models.

Self-paced Courses: Examples

Udemy, a leading e-learning platform, offers diversified self-paced learning courses in the digital marketing Industry. It has over 5,00,000 learners from this specific industry. You can imagine the demand !🤯

Digital-Marketing-Courses

Due to the number of participants and the scalability of self-paced courses, Udemy offers these courses at feasible pricing. Regarding quality, most of these courses have 4+ star ratings from tens and thousands of participants who took the course.

Udemy offers tons of courses for in-demand topics related to web design, WordPress development, and more from real-world industry experts.

web-design-courses-by-udemy

Instructor-led courses, on the other hand, are less diversified. 

Instructor-Led Courses: Examples

Let’s take an example. The AI courses and training from Udacity offer training in batches. It has scheduled batches that start on a specific date; if you miss the date, you may wait in queue for the next batch. 

artificial-intelligence-course-by-udacity

The Amazon training classroom is another example of an instructor-led learning model. It’s typically for corporate employees who want to upskill while working. It offers live classes with instructors who teach you in-demand cloud skills and best practices using a mix of presentations, discussions, and hands-on labs.

aws-classroom-training-program

Author’s Note: Self-Paced or Instructor Led?

In the article, we saw how both learning models are apt depending on the participant’s learning comfort. But what type of learning is best for you?

To answer the above question, ask yourself these four things before making a choice:

❓Do you have time restraints

❓Can you learn without an instructor supervising you

❓Are you willing to find answers to your questions online

❓Do you want to learn a course of objective nature

If your answer to all the questions is affirmative: Self-paced learning models are an excellent choice for you. 

However, if you have a broad topic to cover and you can dedicate specific hours to learning, an instructor-led course can do wonders.

My choice? I would choose the third option – Blended learning.

Yes, that’s a thing. Many successful online courses today take a blended learning approach, where learners study a portion of the course in a self-paced environment while enjoying all of the benefits of flexible timing, immediate access, and lower cost of learning.

Mixed amongst the self-paced activities, learners then can also register for scheduled live instructor-led workshops or webinars for those activities where you just can’t beat live interaction with an expert teacher and fellow learners.

And this, in my opinion, is a very logical solution to the prevailing online learning structure that can benefit and fit the needs of millions of students out there.

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