ELearning vs Classroom Training

Published: 5th July 2021

Decades ago, the concept of improving skills and gaining certifications solely through online modules would have been unimaginable. Today, digital learning has become an equal alternative to classroom training. In some instances, eLearning even has the edge over the traditional face-to-face format, especially for companies who need to train hundreds of employees, clients, collaborators or partners with different workloads and schedules. 

With all the buzz around Learning Management Systems (LMS) that offer on-demand programmes, does classroom training still have a place in corporate education? 

To answer that question, it’s best to look at the one major aspect that separates the online from the physical classroom: the human presence. What effect does having an instructor physically present and teaching have on how we learn?

The Human Touch

The majority, if not all, of your learners got their formal education through traditional classroom teaching. Taught by teachers face-to-face from primary school to university, it’s not a surprise that many instinctually perceive physical presence to be indispensable to learning. 

Yet several studies are slowly unravelling that long held belief. An 8-year longitudinal study found no difference in performance between traditional and online students. Instructors can still connect with online learners and foster trust and meaningful interactions through the myriad of channels they can use to respond and engage learners. 

It’s clear that presence doesn’t hold quite the same weight as it previously did. Unbound by the walls of a classroom, how else is eLearning pulling ahead of traditional training?

No Geographical Boundaries

Advocates of classroom training cite social interaction as one of the advantages of the method over eLearning. A decade ago, when plodding and intermittent broadband connections made video calls impossible, that would have been true. 

But today, we live in a time of lighting fast fibre broadband and wireless 5G internet. Video calls are no longer a luxury for the few who could afford high speed internet, but an integral part of the communication chains of small startups and large megacorporations alike.  

Learners can participate in discussions no matter where they are in the world–all you’d need is a stable connection. You don’t have to fly teams or stakeholders out to training conferences to enable collaboration between different hubs. Modern LMS’s also offer mobile-compatibility, further removing barriers between learners and the training material.

Adaptive and Scalable

Re-skilling or up-skilling employees takes a month, give or take, according to research by IBM. Half a decade ago, it used to take only three days.  

A month of pulling out hundreds, if not thousands, of employees for training seminars or conferences is not feasible. But neither is leaving skills to become obsolete. Work is constantly changing, with the knowledge base for specific skill sets ever expanding. Learners need to learn to stay competitive and look to their companies to provide constant opportunities to learn. eLearning platforms give them a way to do that without having to choose between completing the day’s task or improving themselves.  

It also allows companies to scale training across any number of learners, whether they’re employees, customers or your channel partners. Using the same materials means the quality of training remains consistent, even as the business expands. Companies can also quickly change the course material to reflect any shifts in strategy or any additions to their products or services.

Higher Upfront Costs, Greater Long-Term Savings

An LMS is virtually a perpetual library of resources that stay accessible to anyone, at any time. Such an expansive system will cost a considerable amount to set up and maintain. However, the upfront setup fees are relatively smaller compared to the recurring costs of in-person training workshops. Between the price of hiring instructors, renting event locations, and the logistics of arranging transportation and accommodation for learners, workshops can easily end up costing north of £20,000. 

And that’s money that can easily go down the drain, should the organisation fail to reinforce skills learned after the workshop. Or, when learners leave. When skilled staff move on, they take the competencies they’ve learned with them. Companies then need to run again through the costly gamut of hiring instructors and scheduling training for new hires.

LMS: What We Still Need to Get Right

If online learning can teach as well as traditional classroom methods, and at a more affordable price, then why are in-person training sessions still in place? 

Much of the critique against current LMS platforms are levied at the design of the courses, not the modality itself. The efficiency of your system is only as good as the design of your platform and courses. That means that everything, from the branding to the design of the interface, needs to be planned ahead and around user experience. Most negative experiences with LMS’s can be traced back to interfaces that aren’t user-friendly, deliver content in a rigid, linear fashion and have poor integration with third-party systems. 

There’s also the rapport that makes face-to-face training engaging. The charisma that can make even the toughest topics interesting may not translate online, which means instructors, whether of recorded or live content, have to find another way to keep things interesting. 

Fortunately, modern learning management systems offer plenty of ways to keep the discussion lively, from interactive 3D models to the gamification of content. The formatting of your materials will also be crucial. Bulleted content, bold or italicised headers, and how you snip your paragraphs will take the place of an instructor’s dynamic movements inside a classroom setting. 

Presence is powerful. eLearning is proving that there is still a way to recreate its effects outside of the classroom, whilst allowing companies to keep training flexible and cost-effective.

Evolve your training programme today with the help of Wahoo Learning’s end-to-end solution. Our powerful customisable and open-source LMS Totara Learn comes with COMPASS, a comprehensive suite of Wahoo Learning add-ons to expand functionality. Contact our training experts to book a demo today.

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The author - Lloyd Smith

The author - Lloyd Smith

Lloyd is the Managing Director of Wahoo Learning. He has a passion for the learning technology industry, particularly the latest innovations and technologies.

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