Online Training vs. Classroom Training

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I love that technology has opened up a lot of possibilities for training, but sometimes it is not as effective as classroom training. When figuring out what format to use for training, it can be a challenge to pick the most effective method. Not all topics lend themselves well to online learning. Let’s look at the pros and cons of online and classroom training and some ways you can figure out which will work best for you.

Online training

Online training takes away all the time we spend driving to a training location. I have found webinars to be a highly effective way of communicating things like updates on employment laws and other HR topics. If an employee attends these trainings in person, they could lose a half a day of work when you add in drive time. The time spent on a webinar only includes the presentation itself, so the employee can get back to work as soon as the presentation is over. Online training is also a good way to reach people at multiple locations. You could train people all over the world without anyone leaving their office.

While most webinars and online learning opportunities include the option to ask questions via chat and sometimes even by phone, the level of interaction will never be quite what it is when everyone is in the same room. Without being in the same room as your audience, you don’t know if people are distracted by their phones, flipping through a magazine or engaged in other activities while your presentation plays on their screens in the background. For this reason, online training is best used when the participants choose to attend. As I will explain in the next section, I prefer a traditional classroom approach when conducting mandatory training.

Classroom training

Classroom training is useful for topics where you want a high level of interaction and when training is mandatory. Participants at training deemed mandatory are not always enthusiastic to be there. These are the people who might turn into more passive learners if they are getting the information from a computer screen that has no way of knowing if they are engaged or texting a friend.

Although people will still pull out their phones or doodle in a notebook in a classroom setting, you as the presenter have much more control over putting a stop to these distractions. In addition, when you can see your participants, you can also measure the effectiveness of your presentation and adjust it as you go if you notice people starting to drift off into daydreams.

Here in California, employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide harassment training to supervisors every two years. There are a lot of online options that fulfill the requirement; however, this is a topic that is not always effective in an online environment. I have noticed a lot of people who complete the training online do the minimum amount of work required to fulfill the requirement. This means participants are only passively engaged in the material.

When I do classroom training on harassment prevention, I fill it with scenarios that participants need to discuss, questions based on real world examples and ample time for question and answer. Classroom training brings a level of participation among participants that can’t always be attained in an online setting. I am also aware of who is not engaging in the presentation and can address people tuning out in the moment.

How to decide what’s right for your training

Effective training includes both online and classroom components. The key is to figuring out which topics work best in each format. Do not always go with the online option because it seems easiest.

When you have the resources to weigh both options, start by understanding the topic and what you want employees to take away from the training. If it is a straightforward training on a new law or policy, online training is probably a good option. If you have a topic that requires a high level of engagement and/or a high risk of passive participants, classroom training is your best bet.

If you need to train employees in multiple locations and do not want to spend the money sending a trainer all over the place, then online training is obviously the best choice regardless of topic. Build interaction into your presentation. Pause the presentation and solicit questions from the audience. This can usually done via chat or by opening up phone lines. It won’t quite be the same as having everyone in the same room, but it can be a good way to approach online training when bringing everyone together into one room is not possible.

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