The Internet provides instant access to information, so many companies use online delivery for their corporate training. But as corporate training managers are increasingly challenged with demonstrating the value of the training programs they choose, many are taking a closer look at whether employees who complete online courses are getting value from them. A variety of training approaches are available: which will yield the best value for a company’s investment?
Should online training still be the “go to” option?
The flexibility and perceived cost-effectiveness of elearning have made it a popular choice for businesses across industries. Certainly, online learning is a valuable option for individuals with demanding schedules and for employees who work remotely or are in multiple locations. But it’s not ideal for every situation.
Online learning allows students to consume information at their own pace and can include delivery of content through multimedia, including video and online simulations.
However, corporate training experts have begun to question the effectiveness of online learning programs as they review studies such as the one done at Washington Community Colleges, which shows lower completion and competency rates among students in online courses. The study raises valid questions about whether learners are less likely to retain material presented online versus in person and whether online training can affect the behavior of learners after they complete the course.
An article from the Association for Talent Development asserts that there is no substitute for in-person learning because humans are social animals: we crave social interaction.
Face-to-face learning fosters those relationships, providing more complete communication (body and verbal language) and memorable experiences. In-person, instructor-led learning also enables students to get immediate and personalized feedback, explore topics in depth, and ask questions in context.
No such thing as “one size fits all”
Fortunately, training doesn’t have to be entirely one way or the other. The key is choosing the best approach for the information learners need.
As the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) reports in its examination of the question, teachers who work with engineers prefer online instruction for situations in which the goal is simply to deliver information.
Online is especially beneficial for delivering introductory or compliance-based information (cultural awareness training) or technical skill building materials (learning a software application). Such courses have the added advantages of serving as resources that learners can refer to repeatedly and allowing them to learn at their own pace.
Training managers who choose online courses must ensure that they
- provide content in small, easily “digestible” chunks to facilitate simplified retention;
- include not just content, but context, activities, and a feedback mechanism;
- explicitly state the advantages to the learner; and
- are backed with support in the learner’s physical environment.
However, ASME suggests that when it’s time to dig deeper into critical thinking and problem solving, in-person instruction is a better choice. Corporate training managers should choose a classroom environment if the subject matter
- includes hands-on exercises or role playing;
- requires interaction with an experienced instructor or professional;
- is designed to encourage team building and group work; or
- consists of a large body of material to be presented.
Live webinars can provide a highly effective blend of benefits. Participants in a live webinar can interact with the instructor and receive responses and feedback in real time. And webinars allow companies to deliver the courses to many people in multiple locations cost effectively.
Making the most of your investment
With all the available options, training managers may not have to choose between an online or in-person option. Rather, they can blend the two to get the best of both worlds. For example, a company might use an online format to import baseline, foundational information, then evaluate participants’ understanding of the material in a classroom session in which learners go over tactics and apply what they learned online.
Training managers are no longer constrained by limited options for delivering training. However, they should choose wisely to ensure they’re bringing their companies the benefits they expect from their training programs.