Online Learning and E-learning Delivery Modes: Which is best?

In last week’s post, we discussed developing a common language around online learning. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s consider the pros and cons of the various delivery modes.

In-person Learning

In-person learning offers many advantages for learners and instructors, including social connections and the practice of social interaction, a controlled environment for testing, fewer distractions for learners, and less preparation for instructors. However, learner interest in in-person learning is decreasing. For example, in higher education, the percentage of students taking online classes increased steadily over the past 20 years, while at the same time, the number of college students nationwide decreased. According to the AACSB (a certifying body for business programs), in the 2020-2021 academic year, 45,038 students were enrolled in Online MBA options in the U.S., compared to 43,740 in full-time programs. In-person learning is expensive in terms of bricks-and-mortar space, the time and cost of commuting, and lost enrollment due to a limited geographical area.

Asynchronous Online Learning 

Learners take asynchronous online courses because of the convenience of participating anytime from anywhere. However, once enrolled, online learners can become dissatisfied with the experience (Moskal, Dziuban, & Hartman, 2010) and sometimes feel disconnected from others (Slagter, van Tyron & Bishop, 2009).

Synchronous Online Learning

With increasing bandwidth and the development of more powerful and readily available applications, like Zoom, synchronous delivery became a mainstay during the pandemic. However, a three-hour Zoom lecture is different from a three-hour face-to-face class. In the article “Video Killed the Teaching Star,” Jonathan Zimmerman writes about the challenges of pandemic teaching and video-based environments. Zimmerman notes that the typical college professor lacks the media personality required to hold learner interest to the same extent that they might in the traditional classroom. According to Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, long hours and zoom sessions result in tiredness due to excessive close-up eye gaze, increased cognitive load, self-consciousness from staring at oneself in the video, and decreased physical mobility.

Hybrid Learning

Hybrid learning, or the combination of various delivery modes, would offer a viable solution to the challenges of FTF, asynchronous, and synchronous delivery. For example, Northwestern’s Kellogg school has adopted a “roomies and zoomies” model that combines FTF classrooms with faculty and students present and remote learners attending lectures via Zoom. However, hybrid learning that incorporates required FTF and virtual attendance at a specific date and time may negate the flexibility of online learning. Another hybrid model gaining traction is Bisynchronous delivery, or the combination of asynchronous and synchronous delivery is heralded to increase the quality of learner interaction and engagement and reduce dropout (Martin et al., 2020). However, Olson and McCracken (2015) note that adding synchronous sessions to an asynchronous course is unlikely to improve learning outcomes. Instructors need support on how to blend synchronous and asynchronous learning strategically.

Hyflex Delivery

In hyflex delivery, learners choose how they want to complete their coursework: FTF, remote, or both. This is a post-pandemic response to the need to address learners who wish to return to the classroom at least partially. Challenges with the hyflex model include increased resources required for designing and maintaining classes in various delivery modes and the need to monitor learner attendance and performance across platforms.


Martin, F., Polly, D., & Ritzhaupt, A. (2020). Bichronous online learning: Blending asynchronous and synchronous online learning. EDUCAUSE Review, September, 1-11.

Olson, J. S., & McCracken, F. E. (2015). Is it worth the effort? The impact of incorporating synchronous lectures into an online course. Online Learning, 19(2), n2.

Slagter van Tryon, P. J., & Bishop, M. J. (2009). Theoretical foundations for enhancing social connectedness in online learning environments. Distance Education, 30(3), 291-315.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Given your personal learning needs, which delivery mode works best for you? Why?
  2.  Although most of the research in online delivery modes takes place in higher education, how does this translate for workplace learning? Which modes are you using in your organization, and which might you be interested in trying?


  • This is interesting because it is hard to picture how all of them can be used in industry. I have seen each used in industry except HYFLEX delivery and I think each one can have significant benefits. However, I believe HYFLEX delivery is not a viable option for industry because of the resources, time, and additional budget it would take to make it an option.

  • As a student, I enjoy the mix of working on my own and attending synchronous sessions to ask questions and hear what my peers are thinking. Hyflex is an exciting concept that might be difficult to manage in a corporate environment without dedicated technical support like a producer and investment in equipment that can make the experience beneficial for everyone. I think this model even has application in secondary education for students that need alternative classroom environments for various reasons without the need for alternative schools. It will be interesting to see where technology takes us in education in the next 10-15 years.

  • This was a great article and I didn’t know of the HYFLEX delivery and thought it was interesting . I especially enjoy the Synchronous Online Learning as well. Once the pandemic hit , different elements of learning became a necessary fixture into your 8 hour day. This article really gave me a great overview and really enjoyed the examples.

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