Curious about the world of online learning? ProfileTree’s Ciaran Connolly hosted Olive Group CEO Brendan Kavanagh to explore the potential of this powerful approach to training.

Olive Group was established in 2006 by Brendan, using his experience in the oil and gas sector. He wanted to bring the most cost-effective methods to the industry through online, mobile and virtual training.

In our Business Leaders interview, Brendan explains more about his career path, and the work of his company, Olive Group. He also discusses digital content and workforce enhancement in the context of his online learning expertise.

To find out more about online learning, check out our full interview with Brendan below, or read on for the highlights.

From the Oil Industry to Online Learning: Brendan’s Career Journey

Brendan’s career has seen huge change over the years, starting with the oil and gas industry, which he worked in for 24 years.

The Benefits of Online Learning

“All the big oil companies suddenly started to retreat when it came to exploration, and they didn’t understand retail. Then you had large independent retailers taking over, who were pushing for cutting edge technology.”

Throughout this time, Brendan helped manage four different companies to grow in the oil and gas space. He sold and bought different companies within that sector before the economic depression hit.

During the economic crisis, Brendan started to consider his options for his future: “In a recession, what’s a good business to be in?”

“In the Republic of Ireland there was a dynamic, which was FDIs (Foreign Direct Investment) expanding…the likes of Intel, Facebook and Google. Not a lot of people realise that outside of the US, that Ireland is probably the largest export of software in the world. So I saw the opportunity for agile learning.”

From this, Brendan decided to tackle one of the largest workforces: manual labour.

“I started with health and safety and blue collar workforces because blue collars are the largest workforce in the world, and are the most regulated. We started to train people in compliance and regulation for the construction industry, and then the hospitality industry, and now retail, manufacturing, sport and pharmaceuticals.”

Digital Impacts Every Industry

Digital content is a shapeshifter, making any industry accessible and – most importantly for Brendan – teachable.

“The great thing is that digital content doesn’t care where it goes. Initially, we started with classroom training, but one of the limitations was how long it took to get people trained, and the cost of the time. 

“The fact that people don’t realise is that 3 hours in a classroom is about half an hour online. So for our clients, we were saving around 80% in the cost of downtime – and it was millions for them. So that’s why we’re so keen to move into online training.”

That being said, Brendan emphasises that “online training is not the whole solution. Blended learning is the solution.” 

By having a face-to-face post-training session, this is what helps people reapply and reaffirm their learning.

Aurion learning: talking e-learning with gavin woods
Online learning does not have to be a challenge, instead it can be tailored to suit the needs of an organisation, something that Aurion Learning constantly seeks to achieve. Image credit: Cedefop

How Online Learning Embraces Every Learning Style

One of the greatest strengths of online learning is its adaptability. Unlike the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional classrooms, online platforms embrace the diversity of learning styles. Whether you’re a visual learner who thrives on imagery, an auditory learner who absorbs information through sound, or a kinesthetic learner who needs to move and interact, online learning has something for you.

Catering to the Eye of the Beholder:

  • Visual Learners:
    • Interactive infographics and animations: Data comes alive with dynamic visuals, charts, and diagrams, transforming abstract concepts into clear and engaging stories.
    • Image-rich presentations and video lectures: PowerPoint slides bursting with relevant visuals and high-quality video content cater to your preference for processing information visually.
    • E-books and online textbooks: Ditch the heavy textbooks and delve into interactive e-books with multimedia elements, highlighting key points and offering visual aids to enhance understanding.

Tickling the Ears of Knowledge:

  • Auditory Learners:
    • Podcasts and audiobooks: Learn on the go or during downtime with engaging audio lectures and educational podcasts delivered by expert voices.
    • Live Q&A sessions and discussions: Participate in interactive webinars and virtual classrooms where you can hear different perspectives and clarify doubts in real-time.
    • Text-to-speech tools: Transform written material into spoken word, allowing you to learn at your own pace and auditory preference.

Engaging the Hands-on Mind:

  • Kinesthetic Learners:
    • Interactive simulations and experiments: Immerse yourself in virtual labs and simulations that bring science and abstract concepts to life, allowing you to manipulate variables and learn through active engagement.
    • Gamified learning platforms: Turn learning into a playful adventure with points, badges, and leaderboards, motivating you to actively participate and apply knowledge.
    • Collaborative projects and group activities: Work with other learners on online projects, discussions, and assignments that involve problem-solving, critical thinking, and hands-on collaboration.

Beyond the Tools:

Beyond these specific resources, online learning platforms often offer additional features that cater to different learning styles:

  • Self-paced learning: Take control of your learning journey by adjusting the pace and schedule to your needs. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for auditory or kinesthetic learners who may need more time to process information or complete tasks.
  • Multimodal content: Most online courses combine text, visuals, and audio, allowing you to engage with information in different ways and cater to your preferred learning style.
  • Personalized learning paths: Some platforms offer AI-powered recommendations and adaptive learning features, tailoring the content and difficulty level to your individual progress and learning pace.
Online vs classroom learning header image
Online and classroom learning both offer major pros and cons. Image credit: John Schnobrich, NeONBRAND

Traditional vs. Online Learning – Strengths, Weaknesses, and Finding Your Path

The educational landscape is evolving, with online learning steadily gaining momentum. But where does it stand compared to the established brick-and-mortar experience? Let’s delve into the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches to help you chart your own educational journey.

Traditional Learning:


  • Structured environment: Rigid schedules and physical classrooms provide a sense of routine and accountability, ideal for individuals who thrive on structure.
  • Face-to-face interaction: Direct engagement with teachers and peers facilitates real-time feedback, group discussions, and collaborative learning opportunities.
  • Socialization and connection: Building relationships with classmates and teachers fosters personal connections and a sense of community.
  • Limited distractions: Physical presence in a classroom minimizes temptations for multitasking and technology-related distractions.


  • Inflexibility: Fixed schedules and locations limit accessibility for students with busy schedules or geographical constraints.
  • Standardized pace: One-size-fits-all instruction might not cater to individual learning styles and speeds, potentially leaving some students behind or bored.
  • Limited resources: Access to specialized equipment, software, or guest speakers might be constrained by physical availability and budget.
  • Travel and cost: Commuting can be time-consuming and expensive, adding financial and logistical burdens to the learning process.

Online Learning:


  • Flexibility and accessibility: Learn anytime, anywhere, with courses available 24/7 and accessible from any device with an internet connection.
  • Personalized learning: Tailored learning paths, self-paced study, and diverse resources cater to individual learning styles and needs.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Online courses tend to be cheaper than traditional programs, reducing tuition fees and eliminating commuting costs.
  • Global reach: Access courses and expertise from renowned institutions and instructors worldwide, expanding your educational horizons.


  • Lack of structure: Freedom and flexibility can lead to procrastination and self-discipline challenges for some learners.
  • Limited interaction: The virtual environment may hinder spontaneous discussions, real-time feedback, and building strong personal connections.
  • Technical dependence: Reliable internet access and technological proficiency are essential, creating potential barriers for some users.
  • Isolation and social challenges: The absence of physical interaction can lead to feelings of isolation and hinder social development for some learners.

Finding your path:

The choice between traditional and online learning is a personal one. Analyze your learning style, needs, and goals to determine the approach that best suits you. Traditional environments offer structure and social interaction, while online learning provides flexibility and personalized learning. Remember, hybrid models combining online and offline components are also gaining popularity, offering the best of both worlds.

Ultimately, the most effective learning environment is the one that keeps you engaged, motivated, and on track towards achieving your educational aspirations.

Real-Life Success Stories in Online Learning

Online learning might have its skeptics, but for many, it’s proven to be a launchpad for personal and professional growth. Let’s meet some individuals who thrived in this flexible and diverse educational landscape:

1. Career Change Champion: Sarah, a former accountant, craved a career in web development. Traditional classes wouldn’t fit her busy schedule, but online courses and coding bootcamps provided the flexibility she needed. Sarah learned at her own pace, honed her skills through interactive projects, and landed her dream job within a year, demonstrating the power of online learning to fuel career transitions.

2. Global Citizen Graduate: David, passionate about international relations, used online courses from prestigious universities around the world to supplement his local studies. He accessed diverse perspectives, engaged in online discussions with global classmates, and even participated in virtual internships with international organizations, enriching his education and expanding his professional network.

3. Overcoming Obstacles: Maya, dealing with chronic illness, found traditional in-person learning physically challenging. Online courses allowed her to study from home, adjust the pace to her energy levels, and connect with a supportive online community. This flexibility empowered her to complete her degree and pursue her passion for writing, proving that online learning can bridge accessibility barriers.

4. Lifelong Learner: John, a retired engineer, stayed sharp by enrolling in online courses on diverse topics, from astrophysics to creative writing. The self-paced format and vast course offerings fueled his intellectual curiosity, challenged him to learn new things, and fostered a sense of community with fellow online learners, demonstrating that online learning can enrich lives at any stage.

5. From Solopreneur to Team Leader: Emily, a budding entrepreneur, used online marketing courses to learn essential skills from SEO to social media management. She applied her knowledge to launch her own business, and by networking with other online learners, she found collaborators and built a team, showcasing how online learning can empower entrepreneurial pursuits.

Problems in The Learning Industry

While every industry has its pros and cons, Brendan believes that digital learning is the most cost-effective, efficient solution.

“I would be very hard on the learning and development sector – they’re not just behind in terms of what’s actually happening in the space – they are leagues behind. They’re still giving themselves pats on the back for using Microsoft PowerPoint. The rest of the world is miles ahead.”

Brendan explained that, meanwhile, in the hospitality industry, there are two problems: “One is a gap in skills, for example one of our partners is the Restaurants Association of Ireland and they have over 4,000 members. There’s a huge shortage of chefs and also in terms of getting trained waiters and bar staff, they are being off-loaded quickly, quite often.

“Digital content is the way, hosted in the right environment, to do that. We also live in an age where we use videos to get our messaging. You have the likes of Netflix, YouTube etc. which are easily accessible, and are what people want.”

In response to this, Brendan challenged his team with a near impossible task.

“For this, we knew that we needed to produce content quickly. It needed to be cutting edge and it needed to be the lowest cost with the highest quality. So we’ve got 600 digital developers and we create video, 2D, 3D, gaming, augmented reality and virtual reality for online learning.”

olive group
With Olive Group’s powerful, easy-to-use, integrated set of learning applications, businesses can induct, train, and develop staff by delivering learning experiences that are relevant, engaging and rewarding. Image credit: Olive Group

So, What is Olive Group?

Olive Group was established in 2006 as a result of Brendan’s experience in the oil and gas sector: where safety was a priority for many organisations but compliance and legislation were an expensive headache. 

This mismatch led Brendan to create a new cost-effective health and safety model that offered a more flexible approach to training.

The concept proved successful, and led to further thoughts on how Olive Group could bring even more cost-savings and improvements to training. 

Hence, the route of online, mobile and virtual training was explored. From this, Olive Group was born. The group boasts a powerful, easy to use, integrated set of learning applications, so businesses can induct, train, and develop staff by delivering learning experiences that are relevant, engaging and rewarding.

Olive Group exists to complete its mission to train employees in a better, more cost-effective way, to aid business transformation across every industry.

To hear more from Brendan on the insights of online learning, see our full Business Leaders interview.

Practical Tips for Thriving in Online Learning

While online learning boasts numerous advantages, it’s not without its own set of obstacles. Let’s tackle three common challenges faced by online learners and equip you with strategies to navigate them smoothly:

1. Time Management Maze:

  • Challenge: Self-directed learning requires strong time management skills. Without the fixed schedule of a traditional classroom, procrastination can lead to last-minute scrambling.
  • Solution: Create a realistic study schedule and stick to it. Utilize online calendars, reminders, and productivity apps to stay organized. Break down tasks into manageable chunks and reward yourself for achieving milestones. Treat your online learning time like any other important commitment.

2. Tech Turbulence:

  • Challenge: Technical glitches, unreliable internet access, and limited device knowledge can disrupt learning and cause frustration.
  • Solution: Invest in reliable internet and ensure your hardware meets course requirements. Familiarize yourself with the learning platform and troubleshoot potential issues beforehand. Seek technical support from instructors or platform providers when needed. Remember, most challenges have solutions, so don’t let tech hiccups derail your progress.

3. Social Isolation Island:

  • Challenge: The lack of physical interaction can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnect from peers and instructors.
  • Solution: Participate in online discussions, forums, and group projects. Join study groups or connect with classmates using social media platforms. Attend virtual events and webinars hosted by your online learning platform. Remember, online communities can be just as vibrant and supportive as in-person ones.

Bonus Tips:

  • Create a dedicated learning space: Minimize distractions and establish a routine by setting up a specific area for your online learning sessions.
  • Communicate with your instructors: Don’t hesitate to reach out for clarification, additional guidance, or technical assistance. Instructors are there to support your learning journey.
  • Take breaks and prioritize your well-being: Stepping away from the screen to exercise, socialize, or pursue hobbies can prevent burnout and increase focus during study sessions.


1. Is online learning right for everyone?

Online learning offers benefits like flexibility and personalization, but it requires self-discipline and time management skills. Consider your learning style, goals, and needs before choosing this approach.

2. How can I stay motivated in an online learning environment?

Set achievable goals, track your progress, reward yourself for milestones, and create a dedicated learning space to minimize distractions. Utilize online study groups and connect with classmates to boost accountability and motivation.

3. What if I lack the technical skills for online learning?

Most online platforms are user-friendly, and technical support is readily available. Familiarize yourself with the platform beforehand, and don’t hesitate to seek help when needed. Many online courses also offer basic digital literacy training to support learners.

4. Can I find affordable online courses?

Many open-source resources and free online courses are available. Consider MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from reputable universities or check for scholarship opportunities. Compare various platforms and choose options that fit your budget and learning needs.

5. How can I ensure I get a quality education through online learning?

Research the credentials and reputation of the platform and instructors. Look for courses with clear learning objectives, diverse resources, and interactive elements. Check reviews from other learners and utilize accreditation information to assess quality.


The future of education is increasingly intertwined with online learning. It’s not just a temporary trend but a powerful tool for lifelong learning, career advancement, and personal growth. Embrace the flexibility, personalization, and global reach of online learning while acknowledging potential challenges and equipping yourself with strategies to overcome them.

Remember, success in online learning lies in self-directedness, perseverance, and a genuine desire to explore new knowledge. So, dive into the world of online learning, conquer your challenges, and empower yourself to achieve your educational aspirations, wherever and whenever the journey takes you.

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