11 April 2024 | Dr Jo Kandola

The pros and cons of e-learning vs face-to-face DEI training

There are clear benefits to both e-learning and face-to-face training when it comes to DEI – but how can you decide which is going to be the best option for your learners? We look at how the two types of delivery measure up.

As business psychologists, one question we often get asked is: ‘which method of diversity and inclusion training is more effective – e-learning or face-to face?’

This might seem a simple question, but there’s no straightforward answer. Research including a study by the University of Illinois suggests that there is little difference between self-guided online learning solutions and in-person training in a classroom setting when it comes to achieving learning outcomes, and there are clear pros and cons for both. The answer largely depends on what’s going to work best within your organisation, and it doesn’t always have to be a case of learning face-to-face vs online – there’s always the opportunity to have a blended solution that combines both.

What is online DEI learning?


Online diversity and inclusion training consists of educational programmes that are delivered through digital channels such as webinars and e-learning modules with the aim of creating a fairer, more inclusive and more equitable environment where individuals feel valued and respected and are empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and talents. Online DEI training is largely or entirely self-guided and typically makes use of video and interactive content to support and consolidate learning.

What is face-to-face DEI training?


Face-to-face diversity and inclusion training has the same ultimate objectives as online DEI training, with the main difference being that participants gather together in person in a physical setting, such as a classroom or conference room. The learning sessions are typically facilitated by a professional trainer and are focussed around discussion and reflection exercises, and can also involve activities such as role-playing, group activities and brainstorming sessions.

The pros and cons of online training for diversity and inclusion

So how do the two compare? We’ve looked at the pros and cons of e-learning vs face-to-face to see how each method measures up and help you decide on the best-fit solution.


One of the main disadvantages of face-to-face training is that large-scale rollouts are extremely expensive.

An organisation with 2000 employees who wanted to train everyone would need to run 100 workshops, probably attracting a price tag in excess of £150k. On top of lost working hours, paying for travel and accommodation can also be an issue for employers when a lot of people are travelling long distances and from multiple locations. Add to this the fact that attending in-person training sessions can also create personal costs for home-based staff who need to arrange care for dependents, and the costs really do begin to mount.

By contrast, rolling similarly effective e-learning out to all 2000 employees would cost in the region of £25,000 – a mere fraction of the cost of face-to-face training. The savings are enormous.

The verdict: Online diversity and inclusion training provides the best value for money.

Reach and consistency

In order to achieve inclusive behaviour change at scale, you need to be able to train as many of your people as possible – and it’s both logistically challenging and highly time-consuming to do this through face-to-face sessions.

A major advantage of online learning is that it enables you to reach all of your employees in every area of the country and even across the world, and it also means that the content and overall messaging that people receive is consistent. Good online learning platforms also allow you to have a large number of people learning at the same time, making it possible to up-skill a lot of people to the same level in a relatively short period of time.

The verdict: Online DEI learning is the clear winner.

Personal contact

Face-to-face clearly has the upper hand here – and it’s fair to say there’s been an increased appetite for personal contact in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For some people, in-person training workshops may offer the opportunity to engage and connect with people that they rarely see, and the excitement and other positive emotions we might experience when attending a face-to-face training session can open our minds to any new ideas and possibilities that the training presents. Research also shows that having support from our peers and co-workers can greatly improve our learning engagement and satisfaction.

But while online learning is by necessity self-guided, that doesn’t mean it has to be a solitary experience. Digital platforms are increasingly incorporating features such as live chat, social media sharing and competitions to help us stay connected with fellow learners and build virtual learning communities, so the opportunities for social interaction when learning online are growing all the time.

The verdict: Face-to-face DEI learning wins by a nose, but online provides opportunities for social interaction too.

Learner control

A huge benefit of online learning for DEI is that it puts participants in control of their own learning environment and experience, which is important for a topic that many people find challenging. Online courses give people the flexibility to decide when and where they learn and let them focus on the inclusion challenges that are most relevant for them and build the skills they need. They also give them a safe personal space in which to explore how inclusive they are.

There’s also the opportunity with e-learning to repeat or re-visit content or course materials. What may be a simple concept for one person to grasp could be challenging for someone else, and online learning enables us to spend more time on things we might find tricky by re-watching videos, re-doing quizzes and assessments or accessing additional resources to support further exploration.

The verdict: A clear win for online diversity and inclusion training.

Engagement and learning transfer

Trainer-led sessions also mean there’s far less temptation for learners to try and ‘multi-task’ in the background and far fewer distractions. Crucially, too, having the chance to try out and get feedback on our inclusive behaviours and strategies – known as experiential learning – makes us far more likely to apply what we’ve learned in the real world.

However, it’s also the case that we all have different learning styles. Many people dislike role-playing exercises and find group discussions intimidating and may therefore benefit more from a self-guided learning process. Online DEI platforms today can leverage an ever-expanding array of functionality that includes interactive video, gamification, augmented and virtual reality, interactive quizzes and digital tools to keep people engaged and motivated to learn. Online learning that uses robust behaviour change methodology can be extremely effective, with data showing that 89% of Kandola+ learners become more inclusive as a result of going through our programmes.

What’s true for either option, however, is that unless people understand why they’re being asked to do it and how it supports both personal and organisational objectives, there’s always the chance that some people will view DEI training as a box-ticking exercise – so clear communication about the aims and benefits is going to be key to achieving real, lasting behaviour change.

The verdict: A tie.


It’s true that there’s no digital substitute for having an on-hand expert to respond in real time to specific questions from learners. Face-to-face interaction gives the trainer the chance to read the group’s mood, gauge how receptive they are and adjust their delivery to ensure that everyone participates and benefits. This can be particularly helpful for diversity and inclusion training, where topics such as bias, prejudice, exclusion, discrimination or harassment can be challenging to explore in a group setting.

However, in-person training sessions are unlikely to deliver the same penetrating individual insights that can be achieved using insight tools or provide learning content that’s tailored to the individual. Advances in technology mean that intelligent next-generation e-learning is becoming increasingly sophisticated, with tools capable of pinpointing specific areas for development, providing personalised content and measuring learner progress, so the scope for individually tailored online DEI learning experiences is growing all the time.

The verdict: A win for online learning.

Time commitment

One big disadvantage of traditional DEI learning is that people with a higher workload may struggle to commit to a session that will take them away from their role for most of the day. Other people may find it hard to sustain their attention for a long period of time and feel overloaded with information, which will in turn affect how much they retain.

Research shows that shorter, regular sessions are far more effective for DEI training than long ‘one-off’ workshops – but this can be difficult to achieve with face-to-face delivery, particularly for larger organisations. Online DEI training, on the other hand, makes it very easy to deliver regular cycles of bite-size, modular learning that’s easier for learners to fit in around other commitments, with none of the accompanying costs and logistical headaches.

The verdict: Online is the clear winner here.


Online learning has a clear advantage for people with mobility issues, and it also makes it easy to provide additional support for those with visual and hearing impairments in the form of subtitles, transcripts and other accessibility features. Certain neuro-minorities and people with anxiety problems can also find in-person training stressful and overwhelming, making online learning an attractive option.

Online learning is obviously going to be far more effective for those who have a higher level of digital proficiency and, of course, good internet connectivity, access to a computer, laptop, phone or tablet are key. This means that anyone who doesn’t use these forms of technology as part of their job or has limited digital skills will need their employer to arrange access, and may also need additional support when navigating the online platform to ensure that they aren’t disadvantaged.

The verdict: Digital learning wins on accessibility.

Data-driven insights

A big advantage that online DEI learning has over face-to-face – and one that’s often overlooked – is that it presents the opportunity to collect a lot of valuable data to help shape your wider diversity and inclusion strategy, as well as enabling organisations to evaluate the training and see that their investment is leading to the outcomes they want.

As well as gauging participation and engagement and showing how learners’ skills have improved, our online digital platform collects aggregated, anonymised data to help organisations understand what drives their employees to be inclusive, where their strengths and development areas are in relation to behaving inclusively and levels of unconscious bias within the organisation. This data can be immensely useful in helping organisations to develop a focused diversity and inclusion strategy that’s centred around the areas that will bring the most benefit.

The verdict: Online wins.

Online or in person - what’s best for your DEI learning?

Finding the right DEI learning solution will depend very much on what you are trying to achieve as an organisation, the nature of your learners and your available resources and budget – and we’re here to help you decide.

At Kandola+ we’ve got 40 years’ experience of helping people to identify and tackle their biases and build inclusive working cultures. Contact us today to find out how our digital DEI learning programmes can help your organisation.