While it's challenging to accomplish face to face training with physical distancing concerns, online and remote training is still an option. According to the COVID-19 L&D research report from Fosway Group, 94% of organizations are changing their corporate learning strategies in light of the pandemic. There was already an emerging trend toward online and remote training. LinkedIn Learning’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report indicated that, 59% of learning and development professionals invest more in online learning than they did three years ago. More than a third of them also spend less on in person training.
Is Online Training better than face-to-face?
Online training is no longer new. It has been around for decades. The question is whether online training is better than face-to-face training. There is still a rigorous debate over which learning modality is more effective. Many researchers have found that online training is no better or worse than face-to-face training ( Neuhauser, 2010 ).
The answer is that it primarily depends on the subject being learned and the quality of the training design and delivery. The training should have relevant and measurable outcomes. Employers want to see a return on investment. In some cases, online training is better. In other cases, skills that require more tactile feedback such as those in the trades, face-to-face training is preferable.
Positive Attributes of Online Training
There are some costs associated with online learning such as maintaining and administering learning management systems. Even with those expenses, online training tends to be more cost effective Strother (2002). Costs associated with training spaces, travel, and time away from work are greatly reduced. Besides being cost effective, online learning can be chunked into bite-sized parts that facilitate better retention. It is also predominantly self-paced. Learners can access and re-access the material until they retain it. Online learning also requires learners to take more ownership of their learning, which means that they control their own development by staying engaged and doing research on their own. Online learning is also becoming more accessible as more people gain access to technology and the Internet. The reduction of space and time constraints is probably online learning’s biggest benefit.
Positive Attributes of Face-to-face Training
Research has found that employees tend to prefer the social interactions during training sessions. Most people also prefer the ability to get immediate answers to questions and have more fluid exchange of ideas. They also prefer more contextualized learning, which means making the content more relevant based on each employee’s experiences and situations. It is difficult to address specific challenges a learner is having trouble within an online setting. As technology has advanced, so has online learning. Now learners can expect various forms of media such as audio, video, forums, and instant messaging to increase social interaction in online courses. Advances in virtual reality helps with hands-on concepts and self-directed learning tracks allow more flexibility. Even so, learner satisfaction tends to be lower with online learning.
Blended learning might be a better solution because it can maximize the benefits of both face-to-face and online training. With blended learning, learners engage in both online and instructor-led training. Hewett, Becker, & Bish (2019) found that the human interaction elements of blended learning led to more active behavioral engagement, higher cognition, and emotional investment that online learning alone. Reavley et al. (2018) found that participants in blended learning courses were more likely to find the activities relevant and applicable. They found the courses to be more satisfying overall.
What is the Solution?
Since the health and safety concerns from COVID-19 place employees at high risk, online training is a viable option to fulfill training needs. However, blended learning is the solution for organizations who want the best results possible. With the improvement in video conferencing technology, face-to-face learning doesn’t have to mean meeting in-person at a physical location. The instructor-led interaction can be accomplished using software such as MS Teams, Go2Meeting, and Zoom. Using professional instructors who are highly skilled in video conferencing and online course design and delivery translate into the best return on investment for employers.