How the Pandemic Affected eLearning

Nicole Boswell
May 13, 2020

-Business Impact

-Formal Education Impact

-The Pandemic Reinforced the Pros and Cons of eLearning

-What's Next?


Business Impact

In the business world, the responsibility of eLearning is often owned by Learning and Development teams that are part of Human Resources in mid-large organizations. Learning and Development teams often own the responsibility of both in-person and online training. The eLearning Industry reported that as of early March 2020, roughly ½ of in-person learning and development programs had been cancelled. This number was even higher in Asia and Europe. 

In-person learning offers some benefits to accessibility to and expert and obtaining real-time feedback. These teams and employees from all organizations had to quickly adapt to eLearning if they weren’t already in the process of doing so. It was a costly and large-scale shift. Some of the common pains were under-resourced Learning and Development teams who couldn’t develop the training in a timely manner or in the quality needed. It was also a rapid shift for employees to learn how to attend virtual instructor-led training. We all had to also learn good “virtual-manners” that led to some embarrassing and even news-worthy pitfalls

There were many stories of success as well. Many teams had already been offering eLearning to employees for many years, and already had robust programs in place to onboard new employees and manage changes. For many large companies that had made the investment into eLearning, the learning aspect of their business was hardly affected. The pandemic only required regular upkeep of existing programs.

One silver-lining is that now the world has shifted to a new normal that better understands why investing in a strong Learning and Development department can benefit their organization. The highly respected and valuable report LinkedIn Learning report released in 2020 reported that executives are now valuing online learning more, and that “for 83% of Learning and Development teams, executive buy-in is not a challenge.” This is large shift in a positive direction to properly resource quality growing in eLearning.

Formal Education Impact

For formal education (primary and post-secondary education), the shock of the pandemic hit a bit harder. Except for some higher-education schools that offered online programs, traditional schools relied almost solely on in-person instruction for students. The dependency on in-person instruction was so strong in fact, that when it first hit many schools had to close for the end of the 2019 – 2020 academic year. 

One of the best representations we have seen of the challenges to schools last year is from this compelling article written by Education Week. The journey for schools included closures, lower teacher morale, rapid implementation of remote or hybrid learning, mental health deterioration, and lower grades.

Because of rapid entry of formal education into the eLearning market, these are some pain points that learners faced:

  • Challenges in accessing content
  • Content not as built out or as high-quality as in-person experiences
  • Challenges interacting with the content and receiving feedback
  • Less access to professors and teaching assistants
  • Limited technical knowledge by teachers and students
  • The digital divide of 1/3 of learners not being ready for remote learning.

Unfortunately, the growing pains had some concerning results:

Now, most schools are back into their regular in-person instructions with some modifications. One permanent change however may be the integration of eLearning components blended into learning. Virtual field trips, etextbooks, and instructional video channels are likely here to stay.

The Pandemic Reinforced the Pros and Cons of eLearning

Given some of the negative impacts of rapid eLearning in the formal education market, it may be surprising to hear its advocacy. There are a few important arguments for eLearning: 

  • Last year was not normal: Mental health, political unrest, and economic challenges may have all contributed to the performance of students last year.
  • eLearning was pushed too quickly on formal education: Formal education didn’t have the same ramp up time as businesses and were less prepared for its immediate adoption. 

The pandemic was like a blacklight to the pros and cons of eLearning. Even for the strongest supporters of eLearning, it’s important to own and acknowledge the cons of eLearning and wisely consider how to improve it. 

Here’s some pros/cons to consider.


  • Learners may feel isolated.
  • Learners manage their own time, attention, environment, and efforts.
  • There is a learning curve for educators to learn the tools, integrate it, and learn best practices.
  • There are new platform/technology dependencies that may frustrate even strong design.


  • Some learners appreciate the flexibility to manage their own learning.
  • It’s cheaper to produce and execute, especially to a widespread audience. Some organizations argue it’s 1/10 the price on instructor led.
  • More accessible to those in remote or distant locations.
  • You can gain a global perspective and wider range of specializations, rather than what’s offered locally.
  • Technology is constantly improving and innovating.

What’s Next?

As of summer 2021, much of the day-to-day life in the United States has re-normalized. But as we all know, life after the pandemic won’t be the same in more ways than just how we learn online. 

Based on the impact of the pandemic and normalization seen so far, this is what is expected next for eLearning:

More Blended Approaches

The pandemic forced many to learn about what resources are available online. Virtual field trips, online math games, free post-secondary courses, and content on YouTube are some examples. Blended learning is a learning approach that combines different delivery methods, such as electronic and in-person learning. We anticipate in the future that formal education will integrate eLearning more and more over time.

User-Generated Content

The media landscape has evolved to an ecosystem of users who are very motivated to interact, share their expertise, and learn from the best. Increasingly, social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube rely on users to provide compelling content. User-generated content will likely continue to grow as a go-to source of information.

Improved Authoring Tools

An authoring tool is a software application used to create eLearning. It used to be that these eLearning authoring tools were only known and used by experienced eLearning developers. Now, many business professionals and even some formal education teachers are finding it a normal expectation to be able to produce “better-than-PowerPoint” content to share for eLearning purposes. We are seeing a new and steady stream of new authoring tools to make the development of eLearning content more accessible for non-developers. One recent example (not sponsored) is Docebo Shape.


The pandemic shed light to the eLearning and the world’s readiness to adopt it. 

Many large businesses were more prepared for a rapid shift to online-only learning. Zoom calls boomed, online courses were built, and instructional design teams went from marginal support to becoming instantly invaluable. Businesses are now valuing online learning more than we have seen in a long time as more employees are working from home.

Formal education as hit more harshly. Unprepared institutions were forced to either shut down or rapidly adopt eLearning solutions that frustrated many. The impacts were not all positive, and many learners and educators struggled for success in the new environment.

There are pros and cons to eLearning. It’s cheaper, easier to share, and can include content not just available locally. However, eLearning can leave learners feeling isolated with little instructor-access. eLearning can be an effective tool to helping others grow but must be implemented with the weaknesses in mind.

Though the United States has largely normalized, we anticipate that in the world of eLearning things will never be the same. Expect to continue to see eLearning more regularly incorporated in any place you learn. You will likely see an increase of user-generated content, and quality online instruction provided by educators using new authoring tools. 



About the Author

Nicole Boswell

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