Instructor-Led vs Online Learning

There are many options available when it comes to Microsoft Excel training. Course offerings can be divided into two categories: classroom training and online learning. But which method will work better for you? In this article, we’ll take a look at the differences as we explore instructor-led vs online learning!

Why Do You Need Excel Training?

We’ll start by figuring out why you need Excel training.

If you’re looking for work and you’re not an Excel wiz, taking a course will help a lot. An Excel course from the continuing education department of a recognized college or university is a fantastic credential to add to your resume.

If you’re already working – and you’re interested in climbing the corporate ladder, next-level Excel skills can help you shine! Knowing how to use the core features in Excel is one thing, being able to analyze data and visually represent key metrics in charts and tables can make management-types sit up and take notice!

Armed with the knowledge of why you want to take Excel training, let’s figure out which delivery method is going to work better: instructor-led vs online training.

Man seated at a desk behind two laptops speaking with a microphone
Instructor-Led Training

Instructor-Led Training (ILT)

Instructor-led training, or ILT, describes the style of training most of us are familiar with. It’s the traditional method of instruction where learning takes place in a classroom – like a college or university.

When done well, this approach to training is very effective. The instructor presents various concepts, demonstrates how to complete tasks, and responds to participants’ questions using relevant examples.

ILT Advantages

Instructor-led training might be old-fashioned, but it’s still preferred by many.

Here are a few reasons why:

It Involves Making a Commitment

In my opinion, one of the biggest advantages of instructor-led training is that time is specifically set aside for the course. If you know you have Excel training next Tuesday from 9:00am – 4:00pm, chances are you’ve added the session to your calendar, and you’ve blocked off time for it.

It’s Interactive

Participants can ask questions and get answers in real time. No e-mails, no message boards… Actual communication with a real human being… who’s standing right there!

It’s Social

There is a different energy to instructor-led training. Participants are able to interact with the trainer and learn from each other. There are opportunities to ask questions and discuss concepts to promote learning.

It’s Adaptive

An experienced trainer can adapt the presentation to the skill-level and personality of the group.

ILT Disadvantages

While instructor-led training can be a very effective way to deliver training, it does have a few drawbacks.


Instructor-led training generally costs more than online courses. Developing and distributing training materials, the instructor’s salary, travel costs for participants, time away from work. There is a cost associated with every aspect of ILT.


If an in-person course is scheduled during work hours, it may disrupt participants’ normal routines. Organizations may have to modify work schedules and make sure essential work is completed by other employees.

Laptop with image of woman conducting eLearning course
Online Learning

Online Learning

Online learning describes any scenario where training is delivered remotely, over the Internet. Courses could be delivered in via live, webinar-style training sessions, or they could be eLearning courses offered through training portals like Udemy or Skillshare.

Remote Training with a Live Instructor

Courses offered with a live instructor in a webinar format are able to replicate some of the elements that make instructor-led training so effective.

This delivery method involves inviting participants to attend a scheduled event. Participants can interact with the instructor and each other but the extent that they’re able to participate will depend on the platform being used.

Most software used to facilitate virtual meetings allow participants to use a video camera and microphone for conversations. Screen sharing and chat windows are also the norm. To learn about our remote training offerings check out Online Training: Excel Skills for your Distributed Team.


Courses delivered via eLearning are generally prerecorded segments made available online. Courses can include video, images, discussion boards, activities, and quizzes.

Online Learning Advantages

Generally, anything that was listed as an advantage for instructor-led training is an area that online learning has replicated, albeit in a slightly different format. Anything that was listed as a disadvantage in ILT is an advantage in the online learning world.

Here’s what I mean:

Participants Learn When It’s Convenient for Them

eLearning courses are available 24 hours a day from anywhere there’s an Internet connection. You can use a laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet to connect and take the course. And many live webinar style courses make recordings of sessions available to participants afterward. Convenience is a big advantage with online learning.

It’s Interactive

Many online Excel courses include features that allow participants to interact with the instructor. If the training is delivered in a virtual meeting, participants may be able to ask questions and share their screens with the instructor. eLearning courses often include message boards.


Most of the time, online training costs less than classroom training. From the training company’s perspective, there is a one-time development cost. Beyond that, an unlimited number of participants can take the course meaning training costs can be amortized over a much larger group of participants.

Online Learning Disadvantages

In an ironic twist, online learning’s biggest advantages also turn out to be disadvantages.

Lack of Commitment

The very fact that you can take an eLearning course whenever it’s convenient means that, for a lot of people, it won’t be a priority.

Think about it.

If your manager says that your company is bringing an instructor in and 10 people from your department are taking Excel training next Tuesday from 9:00am – 4:00pm in your office’s meeting room, you’ll likely show up. You’ll set aside time for the training, you’ll hopefully focus on the task at hand, and learn some new Excel skills.

If the company enrolls everyone in your department in an eLearning course and asks them to complete the training whenever it’s convenient, how many people in your group will actually complete the training?

I’m not saying that NO ONE will complete the training, but you have to be motivated and focused on learning – and that’s one of the biggest obstacles to learning online.

Perceived Value

Oddly, the lower cost of online learning means a lot of people to perceive the training as having less value.

Once again, an example might be useful.

If your organization has contracted a consultant to provide Excel training to dozens of employees, the organization has likely committed thousands of dollars to the initiative. They’ll want a return on that investment. They’ll encourage people to show up, pay attention, and in an ideal world, the organization would assess the effectiveness of the training using performance metrics.

If you buy access to an inexpensive eLearning course as an individual, how much value are you going to place on it?

I’m not saying that eLearning courses are of lower quality than similar instructor-led courses, but the lower cost of online learning can result in people perceiving it as less valuable.


So… which approach to training wins? Is instructor-led training better than online learning?

It depends.

You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? ; )

Instructor-led training provides a structured approach to learning. The interactive and immediate nature of ILT works well for complex topics. It’s a good approach to training any time participants have questions about a topic or would benefit from immediate feedback. Additionally, ILT promotes cooperation within a team.

Online learning works best for scenarios where travel costs would be prohibitive. Organizations with a distributed workforce find that online learning works well and helps keep training costs down.

Are you a social butterfly who learns best in a traditional classroom setting or are you a motivated self-starter who needs the convenience of a ‘learn anywhere’ solution?

By Michael Belfry

Working as a full-time training consultant, Michael provides Microsoft Office courses to government and private sector clients across Canada.