Web-based training

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In his 2000 book, Norton defines web-based training as “any purposeful application of web technologies to the task of educating a human being.” (Norton, 2000). Jolliffe, Ritter and Stevens 2001, further describe it as the access to and distribution of organized learning materials through the internet, using web browsers and web servers to enable access and distribution respectively (Jolliffe, Ritter, & Stevens, 2001).

Web-based training (WBT) is a form of computer-based learning that relies on an internet connection to share content and support communication. In its origins, this type of practice relates to distance learning as it mostly does not require face-to-face interaction between the learner, or trainee, and the instructor.

This type of training is becoming more popular due to the availability of internet access and the fact that the bidirectional information flow available over the web creates a good environment for a training system. With the web working as a learning delivery tool, the possibilities of interaction between peers and with the learning system are huge. Most web-based training programs focus on applying those possibilities to help understanding and learning.


  • One of the first Web-based systems was WEST (Web Educational Support Tools) developed at University College Dublin in 1995 (?). It later evolved into the high-end commercial product TopClass System that is still sold. WEST back then contained already most of the features of a typical learning management system.


The learning possibilities supported by web-based training require some subdivisions. The first of them considers the formality of the training taking place. In informal web-based training, the learner is interested in a specific topic and searches materials about that topic online, guiding and regulating his or her learning. In a formal web-based training there are a set of predefined activities that should be completed by the learner. Usually, those activities are defined by an instructor. Formal WBT training must be part of the learner’s formal education, it must belong to a recognized course that the learner is enrolled in. Formal WBT systems are designed courses that use the web as a distribution and execution platform. Formal WBT courses may be "pure" when all interaction occurs online, or they can mix online activities with face-to-face communication, we name these courses "blended courses".

  • Informal: learners set off to learn a subject by themselves, usually looking for materials online.
  • Formal: learners enrol in a predefined training course, which has a structured form of distributing the material.
    • Pure: all content is made available online and all communication happens through the web.
    • Blended courses: some content distribution and some communication happen through in-person meetings.

Regarding the nature of communication, there are two kinds of activities within a WBT system. In the synchronous communication environment, learners work together with instructors and other learners in real time. This type of situation does not require that everyone is physically present at the same space but needs that all participants are online at the same time. In the asynchronous communication environment, learners work individually on their respective tasks and can submit them to receive some assessment. It does not require that learners and instructors are online at the same time.

  • Synchronous: real-time communication, learners and instructors are all available and communicating at the same time. Example: online chats, video calls.
  • Asynchronous: delayed communication, learners and instructors message each other at different moments. Example: Forum, e-mail.


WBT courses can use a lot of different toolsets to support learning. Some of the popular ones are:

  • Discussion forums: where learners ask questions and propose discussions. Usually, all learners and instructors have access to discussion forums.
  • Chats: a real-time conversation environment.
  • E-mail: this type of communication usually happens between learner and instructor.
  • Video conferences: synchronous communication. Video conferences relate to classroom lectures.
  • Video recordings: asynchronous communication. Instructors tape explanations or lectures to prepare course material. Learners record their exercise solutions for evaluation.

Computer-based training and web-based training

WBT is a type of computer-based training as its learners also need a computer, or similar device, to access the course materials. Besides the equipment, WBT learners must have internet access (this is not a requirement for CBT). One of the advantages of WBT is that it should be platform independent. As long as a web connection is available, the learners should have access to the training. This is not always true from other types of CBT, in which learners may need specific programs to follow the course activities.


WBT is accessible, flexible and makes use of universal technology. Learners can access information from wherever they are, and there are no physical barriers to separate instructors and learners. In WBT all information is centralised and is distributed to the learners making it easy to update and improve materials. By having learners work at their own schedule and pace, it is easier to implement adaptive learning techniques.


WBT is global because the web is global. However, there are impediments regarding cultural differences, language, infrastructure that may limit the success of a web-based training course. When designing a WBT course, it is important to take notice of internet connection limitations. For example, a high-quality animation takes longer to download, and it may not be essential to a successful interaction with the learner. Another challenge is to maintain engagement and to motivate users, WBT courses have high dropout rates, and their satisfaction rates perform lower than in-person classes. According to recent studies on e-learning, learners that enrol in web-based courses tend to abandon those more often than learners enrolled on regular, in-person courses (Levy, 2017). One relevant factor that helps to explain the higher dropout rates is the learners’ satisfaction with e-learning. This means that when learners that are not satisfied with the web-based courses they tend to abandon the course. The challenge that remains is how to increase the learners’ satisfaction and prevent dropouts.


See e-learning


  • The Online Learning Handbook: Developing and Using Web-based Learning, Alan Jolliffe, Jonathan Ritter, David Stevens, 2001, Psychology Press, 2001

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