By Eric Wise
Learning and development is a topic that has come front and center for many organizations. The skills gap is increasing across many job functions due to lack of candidates, increased speed of technical change, and roles being automated due to disruptive technologies such as AI.
Organizations now are exploring formal models for reskilling and upskilling their existing workers as well as building effective onboarding pathways for new workers to quickly add skills they cannot easily find in the market.
Deciding to invest in learning and development is a no-brainer, but the devil is in the details—in particular, the delivery format. Today, there is a wide range of options for the delivery of corporate training and workforce learning, each with pros and cons. For your organization to be successful, the choice of delivery format must support your budget, goals, and time constraints.
Live Classroom Delivery
Participants in a traditional classroom model have their learning experience facilitated by an instructor in real time. Often referred to as a “traditional classroom model,” live classroom delivery has three significant advantages over other delivery formats:
- Face-to-face interaction with high-quality instructors and peers keeps learners focused, motivated, and interested, so engagement tends to be higher.
- By collaborating with instructors and peers in-person, you can achieve insights and drive conversations around learning materials in directions more relevant to your business.
- Live environments allow for more rigorous and detailed assessments, particularly when hands-on demonstrations of skills are required. (Online learning, on the other hand, tends to lean on multiple choice quizzes and objective assessments.)
While live classroom experiences can achieve exceptional quality, these programs come at a price. Live instruction has higher overhead, from the cost to the provider of delivery to the time participants spend away from work, on travel, not to mention other indirect costs.
Still, the instructor-led classroom format rated second (70%) below on-the-job training (78%) for leadership development, according to Training magazine’s annual leadership development survey conducted with Wilson Learning Worldwide. Self-paced e-learning was preferred by only 30% of survey respondents, which raises the question: Which format will leaders choose when deciding to reskill their employees?
Live Virtual Classroom Delivery
Modern video conferencing solutions have matured to a level that allows for live instructor delivery to participants regardless of their location. This delivery format shares many of the pros of in-person delivery, while significantly reducing the cost by eliminating travel, lodging, meals, and other expenses.
But virtual classroom delivery risks the potential loss of student engagement. Some learners, when not in-person, can be easily distracted by work or other items. It is also more difficult for instructors to “read the room”—that is, to get a feel for the group dynamic or detect student cues that might reveal when a learner is struggling.
Online On-Demand Delivery
There has been a boom in recent years of online on-demand learning for professionals that need to learn on their own time and at their own pace. This flexibility is far and away the most significant upside to the delivery format while significantly reducing costs since no live instruction is involved.
A 2018 study conducted by Hanover Research revealed that 60% of working professionals who had recently participated in non-degree professional development would consider online classes. But the online on-demand model does have some significant downsides.
First, there is a question of motivation. Individuals who choose this format due to time constraints often find it easy to put their learning on the back burner, which can not only slow the pace of skill acquisition but also make it inefficient if they have to repeat material due to not dedicating appropriate time to practice.
Next, online asynchronous delivery eliminates all real-time collaboration and feedback, which can make the content less relevant to the learner’s job, causing frustration and impacting the pace of learning when a learner has questions and needs to wait for a response from online support personnel.
Finally, without humans involved, the assessment and verification of skills are limited in the online format, with most programs relying on simple multiple choice questions, which is not ideal for evaluating hard skills like programming or probing the comprehension of subjective concepts.
Blended delivery attempts to integrate the best aspects of online and live virtual classroom delivery. In a blended model, a significant portion of the content is delivered in an online format, which allows for some amount of flexibility and self-pacing, while access to live instruction and classroom sessions are scheduled periodically throughout the program.
Due to the mix of low-cost delivery and higher-cost, instructor-led sessions, the overall investment in blended learning does achieve its goal of closing critical skill gaps while maintaining day-to-day responsibilities.
Blended delivery can bring with it a general lack of quality providers and programs. Creating and delivering blended learning experiences requires the provider to have expertise in both online content and virtual classroom instruction. Most existing providers fall solidly into either online or live instruction, and classroom management skills required by instructors to facilitate blended learning effectively are different than those leveraged in live classroom delivery. Thus, it can be challenging to find quality providers with the programs your organization needs.
When choosing a learning delivery model, carefully examine where the learner is currently and where they are going. For learners that already have core competencies in an area and are merely looking to “bolt on” related skills, the online delivery formats can be effective. However, for learners who are looking to transform how they approach their role or transition into a new role, having access to instructors and peers is invaluable to quality outcomes, particularly if you require customized learning content.