Complexity Compromises Learner-Led E-Learning: The Simplicity or Complexity of Course Content Determines Whether Learner-Led E-Learning Is a Good Training Option

By Granger, Benjamin; Levine, Edward | Talent Development, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Complexity Compromises Learner-Led E-Learning: The Simplicity or Complexity of Course Content Determines Whether Learner-Led E-Learning Is a Good Training Option


Granger, Benjamin, Levine, Edward, Talent Development


E-learning has undoubtedly changed the way organizations and educational institutions implement training. Often e-learning grants trainees a high degree of control over their learning. For example, e-learning courses can allow trainees to pace themselves, explore the cotent freely, and skip content that they have already mastered. This approach is known as learner-led e-learning.

We recently conducted a study to understand whether learner-led and highly structured e-learning are equally effective for delivering simple and complex training content. A sample of 297 working and nonworking college students voluntarily participated in our study.

Trainees were randomly assigned to complete different versions of a PowerPoint software training course-one simple course of content that was uncomplicated and familiar to most students, and one complex course that included a large amount of information with interconnected elements that were unfamiliar to many students. Learning was assessed with a multiple-choice post-course exam.

We found that delivering complex content via learner-led e-learning led to significantly less learning compared with the highly structured e-learning course. When the content of training was simple, however, learner-led e-learning was just as effective as highly structured e-learning.

We also discovered that one of the reasons learner-led e-learning impairs learning in complex training environments is because learner-led e-learning consumes more of trainees' mental resources than structured e-learning. The freedom given to trainees in learner-led e-learning consumes resources that they should use to grasp the material they need to learn. …

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