The effectiveness of e-learning according to scientific research


How effective is it to use e-learning in training courses? Is the learning efficiency really higher if we also provide e-learning for our course participants? Can you indicate when e-learning has added value and when not?

In this blog an (over) courageous attempt to draw valuable and hopefully nuanced conclusions about the effectiveness of e-learning from the jungle of scientific research.



The question about the effectiveness of e-learning comes from different angles. It makes no difference whether you train professional drivers, nutrition assistants or marketing managers. Also, the HR manager (or Head of Training) who is responsible for the internal training we see sometimes struggle with the above questions.

Has scientific research been conducted into the effectiveness of e-learning?

Yes. The number of articles published in the field of e-learning is large. Very broadly defined, you encounter more than 100,000 results with “e-learning” in the title. Various studies have also been conducted into “effectiveness of e-learning”, for example 316 articles in Google Scholar.

The studies logically focus on different areas of attention. Some examples:

  • “An Assessment of the Effectiveness of e-learning in Corporate Training Programs”.Link
  • “Effectiveness of e-learning in continuing medical education for occupational physicians” Link
  • “An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of e-learning system as Support for Traditional Classes” Link
  • “The effectiveness of e-learning and its implementation in medical education”
    (Dankbaar MEW. The effectiveness of e-learning and its implementation in medical education. Dutch Journal of Medical Education 2009;28(5):212-222.). Link
  • “An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of e-learning system as Support for Traditional Classes”. Link
  • There are also studies that specifically address the effectiveness of certain e-learning systems such as Blackboard or Moodle. In short, enough food for thought.

    Is e-learning more effective than classroom education?

    From a meta-analysis of nearly 300 studies into the effectiveness of e-learning, the results appear to show many similarities (Dr. Grateful). The overall conclusion is that e-learning is at least as effective as traditional education. Thus e-learning is a fully-fledged alternative to contact education. The research focuses in particular on education for adults and secondary education. Do you want to achieve even better learning outcomes? Then choose a “blended learning” (e-learning and classroom), which leads to a better result than just classroom education or online education only.


    The large-scale research at Columbia University also shows that both e-learning and blended learning on average yield better learning outcomes than just classroom education. The learning outcomes of a blended learning trajectory are a lot better than just classroom education, the difference between only e-learning education or classroom education is smaller.

    The literature also shows the conclusion that it is more useful to do more research into the effective use of e-learning. The research question on the over-all effectiveness of e-learning has already been answered positively in science in many studies.


    What determines the effectiveness of e-learning in particular?

    Dr Dankbaar’s research highlights seven factors that play an important role in whether e-learning is successful or not. The factors are Necessity, Consistency, Proximity, Control, Involvement, Guidance and Communication.

    I will briefly highlight two factors. The factor “Necessity” deals with the question of usefulness and necessity. In short, what is the business case? This can be the time and money savings you realize, but also the uniform transfer of knowledge can be of great importance. Also the possibility that the student can go through the curriculum in his own time and at his own pace is an important advantage of e-learning. The necessity in fact describes the “Why”, why are we going to invest in e-learning?
    The factor “Consistency” deals with the way e-learning is embedded in the organization. Has the relationship between e-learning and contact education been properly considered? Are the employees well included in the launch of the e-learning modules? But the didactic quality of the curriculum is also covered by this success factor. The lesson content logically determines the quality of the e-learning. A good didactic structure and layout clearly has an effect on the learning efficiency. The literature shows that poor collaboration between an e-learning developer and the trainer (or knowledge carrier) can also form an important barrier.
    The internal drafting of clear guidelines that the course materials must at least meet will benefit the didactic quality.

    For a complete description of all factors, I refer to the sources (scroll down).

    Can you indicate when e-learning has added value?


    The use of e-learning is of added value in almost all training situations. With the use of e-learning at least as good learning results can be achieved as with traditional, classroom education. According to the scientific studies, this conclusion seems to apply widely, both for regular training and for workplace learning, as well as for the transfer of knowledge, skills and behavior.

    The benefits of e-learning such as cost reduction, learning at your own pace and opportunity and uniform knowledge transfer can therefore be used to the full.


    Can you indicate when e-learning has no added value?


    There are several factors that can be attributed to which e-learning has little or no effect on the learning outcomes of the student. This is the case if the “hygiene” factors are not in order. Think of technical problems with the e-learning system where no good support is provided, an unclear navigation of the e-learning system or simply incorrect and inconsistent teaching material.

    In order to take advantage of the advantages of e-learning, it is therefore necessary in any case to present good teaching material. The degree of interactivity of the teaching material also plays a role. For example, an interactive video provides a better result than a non-interactive video. An interesting research in the framework is, for example, article “Instructional video in e-learning: Assessing the impact of interactive video on learning effectiveness” by Dongsong Zhang, Lina Zhou, Robert O. Briggs, Jay F. Nunamaker.

    Last but not least, a clear and stable functioning e-learning software is a must for a pleasant learning experience, fortunately these systems are available. ?

    Example of an interactive video at procademy.

    Which sources have we taken as the basis for this blog?


    Fortunately, several studies are available that provide an overview of the scientific research results into e-learning. The following studies have been studied for writing this blog.
    • “The effectiveness of e-learning and its implementation in medical education”
      (Dankbaar MEW. The effectiveness of e-learning and its implementation in medical education. Dutch Journal of Medical Education 2009;28(5):212-222.) Link
    “On the basis of a discussion of two comprehensive meta-analyzes, in which learning effects of instruction with e-learning are compared with classroom instruction, the conclusion is drawn that e-learning is a fully-fledged alternative to classroom training. This applies to instructional forms that focus on knowledge, skills or behavior; for initial training or workplace training; for a wide (not exclusively medical) terrain. E-learning can be used independently or in addition to contact education.”


    This research was carried out by Dr. M.E.W. Grateful e-learning program manager at the Erasmus MC and chairman of the NVMO’s e-learning working group. This research is interesting because it offers an overview of the existing scientific insights regarding e-learning as well as recommendations for successful implementation of e-learning in medical education.
    • “The Effectiveness of Online and Blended Learning: A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature” Teachers College Record, 115, 030303 (2013). Link
    “This meta-analysis was designed to produce a statistical synthesis of studies contrasting learning outcomes for either fully online or blended learning conditions with those of face-to-face classroom instruction.”


    This research was published in 2013 and carried out at Columbia University. The research is interesting because it compares the results of both e-learning only, blended learning and pure classroom education. The results of 45 different studies were included in this study.