WBT – What is Happening?

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The real value of e-learning and specifically WBT has somehow become entangled into this morphed methodology of creating asynchronous courses (WBT that is fully self-contained – everything is in it), following an ILT (instructor led training) approach.  It is seen quite often in people building their own courses, but some online learning vendors have – for whatever reason – become entrenched in this philosophy that is how WBT should be, and frankly they are plain wrong.

Premise of E-Learning – WBT (Web Based Training) Courses

Many people are new to field and as a result may not be aware of the premise beyond WBT (which is the same as online learning courses), and its advantages over ILT (Instructor led training, aka classroom training).

Why E-Learning over ILT (Instructor Led Training)

  • Learner has complete control – Self Pace  – They can go on their own pace and not the instructor’s pace to cover the content
  • Learner can go into the course as often as they want, when they want and as many times as they want;  you cannot achieve this with ILT, unless you bring back the instructor or pay to send the person to re-learn the information.  ILT courses are offered at specific times, which may not be optimal for the employee to attend or is unable to attend for various reasons.
  • Increases comprehension and retention at a higher rate than ILT.  Studies have shown that on the average a person retains 8-10% from an ILT class/seminar/workshop.   If you had the ability to go into a course as often as you want, as many as times as you want, to learn and re-learn the information, your retention will increase – thus E-Learning is in the 90% rate.
  • Learning styles can be achieved – all learning styles. If a course is built correctly, regardless of the information presented, you can meet all learning styles. Sadly, in ILT this often is not met.  Worse, in ILT – scenario based learning in the corporate sector is rare, and yet it is easy to build and launch in WBT, and frankly increases comprehension, retention and synthesis (which you want).
  • Learners are not afraid to make mistakes. In ILT regardless of the size of the class, learners are often afraid to ask questions for fear. Small group communication research has verified that this occurs even in the smallest group settings (4 or less).
  • WBT is non-linear, ILT is linear – THIS IS HUGE!

Non-Linear versus Linear

The biggest problem facing WBT is the misunderstanding of the real power of WBT. Whether it is a result of rapid e-learning authoring tools – and people using just PowerPoint to create and upload their courses, or being unsure what to do, it has enormous ramifications on your learner and the true premise of WBT.

We have come to learn, via our schooling that we follow a “linear” process. That is we go from A to B to C to D and so on.  For many of us, we follow this approach when we read a book.  Academia loves “linear” (I should know, I was a former educator myself), and Corporate loves it as well.  Why?  Because it is the method people use in ILT.

We have an agenda. It says at 9:00 we are going to learn What is a Widget, then we will learn How to Create a Widget, next Widgets that are Blue or whatever.. it follows a path and all the learners MUST follow that path.

Non-Linear eliminates that approach, and thus is the key to WBT

Non-Linear says that if I want to go A to C or G to Y, I can.  I do not have to follow a path. I am not forced to go in a straight line to learn. For example, lets say you have a Microsoft Excel course and you want to learn how to create labels.  In a linear approach you would start off in Basic Excel course and go through the various sections – in order before getting to the area you really want to learn.  Not so with non-linear.

In the non-linear approach, I go right to “creating labels”.  I learn it and I avoid having to go in a straight path. If I want to learn how to save a file, I can do that. And if I want to go linear, I have that option, but its an “option” not a requirement.

If you are a sales person and want to learn how to pitch, why start at “what is sales”?

Non-Linear enables the learner to go in as often as they want, as many times as they want and if they want to go to that specific drilled down topic or section 75M times they can.

In the non-linear course approach, you must have the following – otherwise it fails to achieve its goals

  • Table of Contents – You can have it by sections or better yet, drill down under the sections with specific topics, giving your learner more options
  • No lock downs – That is to say, the learner does not or is required to follow a linear learning approach, even though the course is online.  There is an exception** (see below)

That’s it.  You can add things of course, practice scenarios at the end of each section, or just practice scenarios as a section.  You can create mini modules – sections that are courses themselves with drill down and no more than 10 minutes – if someone want to know how long it would take. (Learners want to know. Why? They are use to ILT and this is how long the seminar/class/workshop is going to be – time wise!)

Quizzes and Assessments

You can still follow the non-linear approach for this method, by offering your learners the ability to bounce around and then bounce into a quiz or assessment. However, the goal at this point is for them to learn the information, so ideally if you want to have a quiz or assessment, you can do a lock down within the course at the end of course, and have the learner then take your assessment or quiz.

If you must live by the quiz at the end of each chapter, you can still achieve this by a lock down prior to them completing the last page of the section, before taking the quiz, BUT they should still have the option to bounce around.

What is your goal?

Is it for the learner to learn the information, comprehend, retain, synthesize and utilize? Or is it for them to do some of those tasks but have to memorize to verify the synthesis component?  Personally, I like practice sessions or scenario sessions at the end of each section, where a learner can go in, they are provided a “Real World or Real Life” scenario and based on what they learned in the section, need to incorporate it to succeed. There is no grade. The purpose is to learn. It eliminates memorization.

In all the years I have been involved with e-learning (since it began as web based in the 90’s), I have found that learners love the scenario based learning option – and you can tie it to specific job roles or skills if you so choose.

Everything I just mentioned above can be achieved with any rapid e-learning authoring tool or even if you choose to create a PowerPoint turn it into Flash and stick it online.

**Lock Downs – The Exception for Some

Locking down parts of a course

Can be seen in compliance or certification training by an accreditation organization (that your company is following or its employees – say CEs) or HR specific training – such as Ethics, Sexual Harassment, Policy.

A non-linear approach will still work if you use lock downs, so that they cannot go to the next chapter/section until they complete and pass the quiz/assessment.

If you have only one final assessment or quiz, you can set it up so that they can go anywhere they want in the chapters/sections, but they must complete them all before they can take the final assessment

Pre and Post Assessments

You can create a pre-assessment to identify a person’s strengths or areas of improvement, but it really comes down to subject matter. Sometimes PA’s are great, if you have multiple courses on one topic – and they use levels – say beginner, intermediate or advanced; and the learner needs to know which one they should go into.

You can also follow up with a post-assessment.  However,  if the real goal is to enable them to jump around and learn on what they want to learn, they may never get to your post assessment, since they may focus only on specific sub-sections or chapters of interest and not the entire course – which people often base their post assessment on.


How often have you taken a sexual harassment course or some other course and click through the pages as quick as you can, just to get to the quiz? What about you get to the quiz and then find out you can take it as many times as you want, until you pass?  How relieved are you?

Which brings me to the point, what is the benefit of that type of a quiz – repeat, repeat and then pass it. How does this benefit the learner again, if they have unlimited opportunities to pass it?

What about the benefit of a course, similar to the above, but it adds the bonus of timed per page, so you have to stay on the page for x minutes and cannot move forward.

How many of you go and do something else and then come back or surf the net and then come back to the course, so you can click to the next page?  How about the ol’ skim method, going to the end of the page, reading it and waiting to click to next page?

Have you ever done this? I know I have, because the course is boring, in-effective in learning – and follows the awful linear approach. Worse it adds timed and assumes that you are going to sit there and stare at the page until the time changes to move forward.

Lastly, how often have you waited until the very last moment of final day – if the course has to be completed – and is required by your company to do so – to take the course?

If you do this yourself, what makes you think the end user – your learner – isn’t doing the same thing?

End of the Day – WBT

Asynchronous courses are used over 95% in the corporate sector while synchronous based courses are used over 95% in Academia.

For asynchronous either:

  • Hybrid the two (ILT and WBT),  add some other learning tools – paper, media – audio, whatever and see the real bang for your learner.
  • Or just create WBT- but follow the non-linear approach

As one former employee who had never taken WBT said to me, “I loved the approach of going anywhere I wanted in the course and as many times.  I learned what I wanted to. It was great”.

Personally, I love hearing learners say “it was great”, rather than “it stinks”.  What about you?

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Craig — Thanks for another great post! So glad to see some attention given again to the value of effective asynchronous WBT, and how to achieve it.

    I did pause when I read your comment that certification preparation is an exception to the non-linear approach… It seems to me that someone obtains certification by passing a test, rather than demonstrating they’ve covered X amount of content (clicked through a specified number of screens, for example).

    So if it all comes down to passing the test, why not let the learners zip right to the quiz sections of the lessons or modules if they want to see how well they already know the content?

    Or — better yet — offer a pre-test that determines the content they must see and content they have the option of by-passing, because of what they answered correctly or not?

    I’m a follower of Dr. Ruth Clark, who asserts that learners aren’t distinguished by “styles of learning” (hearing, seeing, etc.), but by levels of experience: every learner comes to a set of content with a different level of familiarity.

    In the case of certifications, a learner could have been practicing in the field for many years but has just decided to take the certificaiton exam. He or she has much more experience than someone very new to the material, so being able to see how ready they are for the test (and directing them to any content they need to refresh) is probably the best learning environment you could create for them.

    What do you think?

    1. You are absolutely right. However, there are many corporate side of folks who want that extra issue due to compliance training – audit trials – so that is where the certification comes into play. Personally, I’m a fan of jumping around, and ditching tests and using practice – SBLs, because that is what works.

      Sure, pre-assessments can be done to assess – but then it gets back to the whole goal of WBT. If I want to jump around, what is the advantage of a pre-assessment? That said, one way to move that about..is to have a pre assessment prior to them going into multiple courses on that subject, if you have multiple levels – say beginner, intermediary and advanced. Then the assessment can identify what course to select.

      I have seen people do a pre-assessment for the course, to identify areas of strength and improvement, so the end user knows what to focus on. Some people love that. In the end it comes down to subject matter. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Craig — Thanks for clarifying. Reading your comment made me realize how unfortunate it is that so many certifications and licensures are based on test results (Q&A about knowledge) rather than practice (demonstration of learned skills). I’m with you — testing really isn’t an effective measure in many cases, but — as you say — audit trails are required.

    Associations that offer certifications feel a deep responsibility to get it right so when they say that the audiologist or other professional has been “certified” a particular set of skills have been confirmed in the learner. Audit trails are important, but are just part of the story (unlike corporations, which often just want to be able to hold up proof that X number of employees sat through harassment or OSHA or other training).

    Transitioning certifications and recertifications (renewals) from ILT to WBT has been a slow and gradual process — for all the reasons you mention.

    Thanks again for providing your insight on this, Craig!

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