There is a great debate going on in many organizations. Is it time to move away from traditional classroom training to online or virtual training for their employee development? When questions like this arise, many are left with more questions than answers, such as how will this impact learner engagement? Will it be worth the investment? Will the changes we need to happen become a reality?
Like most things in life, when looking at one thing versus another, there are always pros and cons to each. We’ve taken out the guesswork for you with our list of benefits and drawbacks of online learning vs. classroom learning for your next corporate training session.
Even before COVID-19 has forced many employees to work outside of the office, there has been growing interest in corporate training programs moving to a virtual platform. In fact, a 2020 study conducted by LinkedIn found that 53 percent of L&D professionals surveyed expect to spend more on online learning globally this year.
Pros of Online Training
- Collaboration with Colleagues: Online learning sessions allows you to bring together employees who typically do not work together due to geographical restrictions. With employees spending an average of 14% of their work week communicating and collaborating internally, and across different office locations, an online learning session that is delivered live, is a great opportunity for employees to make new connections and collaborate in ways that may otherwise not be possible.
- Timely and Scalable: Virtual learning is an ideal option for training large groups of employees, very quickly. As everything is done online, there is no need to roll out the training in small groups in a given location over time. No matter where employees are located, online learning allows them to join in and obtain the new skills and knowledge they need.
- Cost-Effective: Online training removes the cost of facilities, travel, meals, and could also include reduced or no cost for print and program materials. These costs can add up quickly when looking at training and development opportunities for employees, especially if participants are geographically dispersed.
Cons of Online Training
- Typically Focuses on Knowledge Transfer: Many online training and development programs focus solely on knowledge transfer with passive videos narrated by a mechanical voice, overly academic articles, and endless quizzing. To overcome this, look for a solution that has participants personally and actively involved in their own learning through experiential learning, peer-to-peer discussions, practice, and application of new skills.
- Technological Requirements: Virtual training requires hardware (computers or tablets), a stable internet connection, and software (Learning Management Systems, Learning Platforms, and video conferencing). If these tools are not frequently used in the day-to-day business of your organization, it can be stressful, costly, and time consuming to get them up and running reliably.
- Lacks Live Learning and Active Participation: Passive, self-guided learning where participants listen, watch, or read information, has a few disciplines it lends itself decently to, such as technical training. Unfortunately, it typically has very low retention rates, as most people only remember about 10 percent of what they read or hear. Ultimately, this puts your online learning investment at risk.
Traditional, classroom learning, is a proven approach for many organizations when delivering training for various areas of employee development. This type of delivery of training involves a facilitator delivering the content which may be the preferred approach based on the types of learners in attendance and program topics as it allows participants to actively ask questions and receive help on applying the learning.
Pros of Classroom Training
- Hands-On Activities and Face-to-Face Connection: Classroom training by its very nature lends itself to employees to develop their teamwork skills through discussions and hands-on activities which are more difficult to facilitate in online training. Face-to-face interaction and collaborative activities allow participants to develop new skills as well as relationships with their colleagues.
- Dedicated Focus: It is all too easy to get distracted when working remotely. With dogs barking, kids running around, and the endless sound of email alerts, it can be hard to stay focused on the task at hand, which is participating in an online training session. When training is delivered in a classroom setting, it allows participants to step away from their busy day-to-day stresses and tasks and solely focus on learning the content presented.
- Proven Approach: When making an investment in training, you naturally expect to see a return. That’s why choosing traditional, classroom training can feel like a safe choice as you know from your past experience that it has the potential to deliver the intended results.
Cons of Classroom Training
- Difficult to Scale: Given the fact that classroom training requires everyone to be in one same location at the same time, it can be both cost-prohibitive and time consuming to scale training across a dispersed workforce. Unlike online training where the number of participants can be sizable at one time or delivered on-demand, classroom training requires smaller groups, thus requiring many sessions over time, which can add up quickly.
- Travel and Accommodation Costs: When bringing employees together in a classroom setting, there can be additional costs such as travel, accommodations, meals, and facilities rentals that are not needed with online training. These additional costs can significantly increase the cost per employee for training.
- Scheduling: Pulling all employees to attend a day of training may not be an option for many organizations, especially if they are working on the frontline with customers or on the production line. In addition to the inability to “stop business” for the day, organizations running shifts may find it hard to deliver training to all employees in a given time frame.
Online vs. Classroom Corporate Training: Which Is Better For My Company?
The answer is: it depends. It depends on your employee population and the content being delivered, and the training resources your organization has at its disposal. As outlined above, both delivery methods have their pros and cons. In the end, it will come down to what your team feels is the right choice for your learners at the given time.
However, no matter if you choose online or classroom training there is one common consideration - learner engagement. Learner engagement will not be achieved through stilted presentations, videos narrated by mechanical voices, and endless quizzing all of which can be found both in-class and online. To ensure learner engagement, a practical training solution provider will incorporate experiential learning as to allow participants to learn by doing. This type of immersive learning allows participants to work together to overcome a challenge while learning valuable new skills in the process.