Has 2020 been the final nail in the coffin for classroom training?

I don’t know about you, but I love delivering classroom training. You can’t beat the level of interaction that you get with face-to-face training.

It’s priceless watching the change in people’s facial expressions or body language when they put their newly learned skills into practice for the first time without needing any help or guidance.

Can I get the same experience as a trainer with online learning? Can I give the same experience to my learners without that face-to-face connection? Because that is what classroom training is all about, the experience. The experience of learning new ideas, concepts, or skills. The experience of being engaged by the trainer and other learners.

For me, the answer is no.

Now I know that this will get some people’s hackles up – with all the technology we have on offer I know that some of you will disagree. Heck, even I disagree with it sometimes. But when I really think about it, does anything compare?

In this article I will be looking at feasible alternatives to face-to-face classroom training, many of which 2020 has forced us to look at more closely and use more often.

Before we dive in, we need a baseline of classroom training. There are many pros and cons to this type of training, and some depend on your industry or type of office environment. For instance, a call centre would have some different pros and cons than a training provider. So, for this article I have picked what my top 5 are for each method:

Face-to-Face / Classroom training
ProCon
· Ability to incorporate a high level of asynchronous and synchronous interaction
· Able to assess expression/ body language
· Learners bond and can learn from each other
· Controlled environment without external distractions
· Immediate feedback from the learner
· Time consuming and costly to produce and deliver
· Difficult to catch people up who miss part of the course
· Can be difficult to schedule to ensure 100% attendance
· Business performance may drop as employees attend training
· Course has a fixed pace

Now to meet the contenders:

The first and most obvious contender is to take a face-to-face classroom and turn it into a virtual classroom. It makes sense: why wouldn’t a classroom course work if it were just delivered virtually, right? Well, those of you who have delivered virtual training courses know it is just not as straightforward as that. 

For instance, if I had a course which included a 30 minute role play segment, I could easily double the amount of time it would take to deliver the same activity virtually. Or a match up activity, I can run one of those in 5-10 minutes in the classroom, but virtually it may take 10-20 depending on the activity and how many teams I had within the group.

To put it simply, you cannot just take a course written for face-to-face delivery and then deliver it virtually. You need to alter it, maybe even strip it down to its basic elements and incorporate the challenges of virtual delivery including the platform you would use.

When I am delivering face-to-face I use an awful lot of visual cues, from showing the learners something on the screen to checking their facial expressions for comprehension, even making sure they aren’t on their phone while they should be focussed on me. In the virtual world, I can’t see their face so understanding these elements before I build a virtual course allows me to adjust my design perspective and helps me build a great course.

Virtual training
ProCon
· Ability to incorporate some asynchronous and synchronous interaction
· Learners can work in teams
· Learners can learn from each other
· Learners can practise and role play
· Immediate feedback from the learner
· Can take longer to achieve same result
· Course has a fixed pace
· Can be difficult to catch people up who have missed part of the course
· Difficult to assess expression/ body language
· Size of group determines level of interaction

Next on the list is to turn the course into an eLearning module or video. We will look at eLearning first.

Those of you who are eLearning developers will know you can build a course quickly, if you do not want much learner interaction and are not bothered about how the course looks. 

To build something that has real impact takes time, a lot of skill, and that can cost quite a bit of money. Not as much as classroom but still, it can cost quite a bit. For my pros and cons I will use the example of a course created in Articulate Storyline, just because that is the software I use most often.

The same as virtual courses, you can’t just take a face-to-face course and convert it to eLearning. On a virtual conversion, you have your voice and personality to increase the engagement. With eLearning you need to ensure your course is engaging by using interactions, video or even with the colours and layouts you choose.

eLearning
ProCon
· Ability to incorporate asynchronous interaction
· Course can be completed at own pace
· Course can be rolled out to many people simultaneously
· Completion and scores can be tracked using LMS
· Can incorporate many different elements such as video, audio, and practice/scenarios
· Unable to check learner understanding fully
· Time consuming to produce
· Learner unable to ask questions during course
· Risk of learners not paying full attention
· Unable to incorporate group activities

Now for video, there are many different forms of training video. Those which are lecture style, software demonstration and information videos.

For my pros and cons I will focus on information videos. There are many different levels of video out there and it all comes down to budget. You can produce a video, record the audio, and do all the editing yourself or you can enlist the services of a specialised company or consultant to build the video for you. 

How ‘fancy’ it turns out will depend on the skills of the person producing it. I can build a good video which has impact, but it will never be at the level as somebody who can, for instance, build animations from scratch.

The biggest piece of advice with video is to make it memorable.

You don’t have the face-to-face engagement, or the virtual personality or the eLearning interactions. All you have is the voice and the screen. Make your visuals stimulating and make the voice interesting and your video will be a success.

Information Video
ProCon
· Can have a large impact on the learner
· Can be quick to produce
· Course can be completed at own pace
· Course can be rolled out to many learners simultaneously
· Video can be paused and watched multiple times
· Unable to check learner understanding
· No learner interaction
· Learner unable to ask questions during course· Risk of learners not paying full attention
· Unable to incorporate activities

There you have it, what I think are the top alternatives to classroom training; virtual, eLearning and video.

Would I use only one of these to convert one of my classroom courses or online learning? Probably not. I would use a combination as all of them have their strengths and weaknesses.

Back to the question, has 2020 been the final nail in the coffin of classroom training?

I sincerely hope not, I hope classroom training comes back and people do not fall into the trap of just turning everything online. There will be a time in the future where we can get back into the classroom, it isn’t now, it might not be for the foreseeable, but it will happen and I just hope that people don’t forget how much of an impact face-to-face learning can have.

What’s your take on classroom-based versus virtual versus digital?

Do you have another approach I haven’t listed here? 

How have you adapted and what are you doing differently since the onset of the pandemic?

We’d love to hear your views! Get involved in the conversation on LinkedIn.

Kim Ellis Tap.dip

Kim has been involved in training design and delivery for over 15 years, creating face-to-face and digital solutions. She has worked across multiple industries including insurance, healthcare, online bookmaking and higher education. In 2017 GO GINGER learning solutions was established because of her passion for training people in fun and interactive ways. Her goal is for people to have a learning experience which sticks with them. Contact Kim via Twitter or LinkedIn.

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