Training and Certification

Online Training vs. Instructor-Led Training

August 29, 2013

Bita Beigishah

Online Training vs. Face to Face TrainingAdvances in technology have both increased the need for training and the options available for delivering that training.  Over the past decade, various eLearning platforms have joined traditional instructor-led training methods. eLearning typically refers to the use of technology to deliver courses and materials for the learner to complete at his or her own pace.

The primary advantages to eLearning or online training over instructor-led classroom training are generally listed as:

  • Reduced cost
  • Increased flexibility
  • Content consistency
  • Increased relevancy

As more companies strive for all of the above in their day-to-day operations, could it be that online training will take over as the future of professional training? Let’s take a closer look at each of these advantages compared to instructor-led training.

Online Training Costs Less

The best example of the cost savings for online training is the vast reduction in travel expenses.  Students are no longer required to fly, drive or otherwise commute to a classroom. They are able to complete their courses at their desks. Even in cases where a instructor-led training session takes place at the employees’ workplace, employees lose more time away from their day-to-day tasks than they do when engaged in an online training environment. This loss in productivity increases the cost of training to the company. Finally, courses delivered online via a learning management system save the repeated cost of an instructor or trainer. Once developed, an online training course can be delivered over and over to hundreds of people.

However, spending training dollars on employees can also be an advantage to a company.   It is often reported that employees in some industries, health care and customer service in particular, feel valued when their employers spend the money to send them to instructor-led training sessions.  The perception that the company values training enough to send employees and remove them from their daily tasks explicitly for training encourages employees to concentrate and place a greater emphasis on the training session and its content.

Online Training is More Flexible

The flexibility of online training is also cited as a major advantage over instructor-led training. For many online training options, employees are able to sit at their desks and log-in to a course at any time during the day. In such online training situations, employees can continue to answer emails and phone calls, take meetings and generally not interrupt their day-to-day tasks. There is virtually no impact on their work time.

The contrasting view, however, is that training worth offering to employees warrants their full attention. When employees attend a classroom training session,  their focus is on the content.  Learners may be more likely to master content when removed from their work environment.

Total Consistency

Consistency in content and delivery is another hallmark of online training. As stated, an online training course can be developed once and then delivered identically to two or ten-thousand learners. An online training course can be carefully and expertly created with up-to-date content and then consistently delivered over and over. Additionally, a quality online training course will benefit its audience by delivering the instruction of one subject matter expert to many learners. An online training course does not depend on the skill or finesse of a particular trainer and it will not suffer in the hands of an unprepared trainer.

However, proponents of instructor-led training use the other side of this very argument to advance their point.  While not every trainer will deliver content in the same manner every time, good trainers will adapt their content to each group of learners. A good trainer evaluates the level of knowledge of their classrooms and focuses on the content for which students have a greater need. In addition, good trainers adapt their course to the specific goals of each classroom of learners. Learners in a instructor-led training session may be more likely to walk away from the training with the skill sets related specifically to their jobs.

Offers Relevant Content

Finally, online training is often chosen because of the ability to keep course content current.  The fast pace nature of technology often means that training content changes frequently and on short notice. Changes to online training can be made and published quickly. One change to master content can be distributed to all learners in a matter of minutes. Contrast this process with traditional instructor-led classroom training, which often involves traditional textbooks or manuals. Change to printed materials can take considerably longer than a few minutes!

What instructor-led classroom training offers in the way of adaptability is the chance to interact with an expert instructor. In the case of technical training in cyber security, good instructors adapt their training delivery to include revisions and updates. instructor-led training also comes with the added benefit that learners in a classroom can learn from each other. Students seeking the same training in a classroom situation have the opportunity to exchange ideas and information on the course subject matter, as well as other aspects of their professions.

Which is Really the Best?

Online training makes a valuable contribution to professional training, in that it provides an affordable, flexible option for companies without a large training budget. Online training is adaptable to the learner’s schedule, and it is easy and fast to update. However, instructor-led training will continue to play a significant role in professional training. Advantages still exist for spending the money on instructor-led classroom training as employees tend to feel valued and may place greater emphasis on the training as a result. In addition, more significant learning and retention is known to occur when employees leave the demands and distractions of their offices behind to interact personally with subject matter experts and peers.

It really can’t be said which is best because it really comes down to what your organization needs to be trained on and what budget you have to work with. Once your training needs can be outlined then it will be easier to decide which training measure is truly the best for you. 

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