Training isn't a one-horse race anymore. Before the advent of automation, digital workplaces, and mobile technology, learning and development professionals had few options, with almost all of them falling into the in-person camp.
Online learning has been trending up in recent years, with innovations and quality of life updates almost making it harder to not incorporate it into your training delivery strategy.
But, even when it brings in higher stats for things like retention and engagement, eLearning can't always be the first choice – especially for certain skills that can only truly be taught by hands-on demonstrations and tests. In situations like this, such as for a paramedic's practical learning, online training can never fully replace its in-person alternative.
I've found benefits (and negatives) for each of these delivery mediums throughout my career, so let's jump right into things and walk through a compare and contrast of the main differentiators.
Online training is accessible anywhere, anytime
As in-person learning has been around for as long as we can all remember, let's start off with the newcomer.
Mobile e-learning solutions give users the freedom to choose when and where they want to learn. It also lets you progress at a pace that is comfortable for you, the learner - not one that is comfortable for the facilitator.
Compare that to in-person training where scheduling a group can be a nightmare: Conflicting schedules, winter weather, and last-minute cancellations are real considerations organizers must contend with. On top of that, sometimes work just gets too busy for a group of learners to be released from their work responsibilities to attend a training session.
Today, you don't have to plan your day around a certification seminar or a live training session: You can pick up your training right in the comfort (and convenience) of your home office or a personal workspace.
Because of its easily accessible nature, online learning materials actually result in more learning.
But, don't think this is always a clear-cut case of 'in with the new, out with the old' – you don't have to completely drop one approach for the other. Some things are simply better taught in person.
In-person training is hands-on and interactive
Compared to online training, classroom-based learning is literally hands-on. You can usually find time either during or after the session to have your questions answered directly by the instructor, and you have a whole room full of opinions and knowledge to draw from.
In short, you can miss the personal, hands-on interactivity of learning when you're online. And you can’t replace the physical, hands-on approach for building certain skills. Take paramedics as an example: I've spent the bulk of my professional career in emergency medical services settings, and you can't emulate an in-person placement shift with online training.
When using equipment or practicing a psychomotor skill, supervision and access to certain tools are necessary for many types of jobs and positions. It’s extremely difficult for trainers to replicate the same level of interaction and relationship in a virtual environment.
Face-to-face learning also offers people the opportunity to have organic conversation and build relationships in a more traditional way, enhancing their learning experience and boosting retention.
Cost efficiencies of online training
But, all of these perks like instructors, equipment, and classrooms add up to a cost that can be quite surprising. The cost of in-person training has to consider transportation, dining expenses, accommodations, and more.
With online training, not only are those real costs eliminated, countless hours of time-on-task can be recovered because users can progress at a rate that they are comfortable with to accomplish the objectives. In group sessions, everyone progresses at the same rate. Imagine you have 100 employees and 50 of them only need 30 minutes to learn the same material takes others a full hour. Why not recoup that time and have them spend it more strategically.
Online training can also reach a wider audience and the material can be reused time and again. Instead of hiring those expensive lecturers to speak to a small group, you can offer full courses that can be accessed repeatedly by individuals or groups within an organization – at their leisure and when they need it.
Online training is flexible
You can’t beat the flexibility of asynchronous learning.
Online training allows learners to progress at their own pace that’s comfortable for them and at a time that's comfortable for them. Some people might prefer to complete a program in small segments while someone else prefers to progress through all at once – and that’s completely fine. Some people may learn best in the morning while others prefer to engage in learning while on a quieter evening shift - also completely fine.
Traditional in-person training has a more rigid, formal schedule. In the past, all trainers have at some point alienated a certain group because the timing or pace didn't align with the need. The learners who finish quickly often disengage or cause distraction, while the ones who take longer can feel rushed.
In-person training can lead to information overload
Participants in training sessions might be years removed from their last formal training. This can make those marathon training sessions quite a challenge.
When I’m running a training session, we try to stick to 45-minute lectures if we aren’t doing any hands-on activities. Short, targeted lectures keep people focused and don’t bury them with information. Information overload can lead to poor retention and a lack of enthusiasm to continue learning.
Not only are some training sessions long and intensive, but they’re also often one-and-done. What happens if you have a new hire a week or two after an expensive in-person training? Wait until the next year? Re-do training for just one person? This type of learning is not sustainable.
Pick and choose or only use one: There's a place in both for online training
Today, online learning is engrained as a part of the typical workday for most employees, and is baked right into the employee experience.
Keep the classrooms booked as necessary and list the sessions that have to be done in person, but be sure that you're making training as accessible and accommodating as it can be by providing appropriate learning activities online.
As iTacit's Business Development & Solutions Expert, Ben has years of learning delivery and leadership experience. He focuses on keeping up with the latest best practices and growing his understanding of them to help iTacit's clients and professionals.