Is It Time for Corporate Learning to Go Back to the Classroom?
by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator
As concerns about COVID-19 diminish (whether justified or not), learning professionals are faced with difficult question: Should employee training return to the classroom? In early 2020, the learning and development industry hit the brakes on classroom training and, over the course of the next year, replaced many classroom programs with virtual or asynchronous online alternatives. Some of the alternatives proved highly successful; others left learners less than satisfied. This fall many HR and learning professionals will begin planning programs and budgets for 2023. Is now the time for moving programs back to the classroom, or have we learned a better way to do our learning and development?
First, let’s review what we’ve learned about virtual and online replacements for classroom learning:
Positive factors about virtual and online training include:
- Properly designed and implemented, it can be highly effective.
- But it must be properly designed and implemented! Just porting a classroom class into a virtual or online format rarely works well.
- Virtual and online replacements can be cost-effective – no more travel, hotel rooms and meals, maintaining classroom space, etc.
- Virtual and online courses are often more time efficient – no travel time and the same amount of training can often be presented around a learner’s work day, thus preventing them from falling behind by being out of the office
- As much of our workforce continues to work from home, virtual and online allows learners to maintain their usual schedule.
- Proper use of virtual tools can help learners who are reluctant to participate in a classroom to become actively involved.
- Many learners have expressed a preference for virtual and online learning.
But, we’ve also been reminded of some disadvantages:
- Even two years into the work-from-home era, learners still have technological barriers to fully participating in virtual and online learning – slow internet connectivity, difficulty getting microphones to connect in different platforms, security settings that need tweaking, lack of familiarity with the various learning platforms, etc.
- Difficulty in verbal interactivity – while some learners love the use of chat, polling, and other virtual tools, many miss the opportunity to simply sit and talk as part of the learning process.
- A key benefit to in-person learning events is social interaction with others in your company whom you may not see on a day-to-day basis, yet this is more difficult in virtual sessions.
- While some enjoy virtual group activities, many find difficulty in interactive collaboration in a virtual environment.
Given these, where should learning professionals go with their training plans? Enerdynamics suggests the following:
- Set aside any bias you may have toward one or the other.
- Think about benefits to the learner, not what is easier for you to administer.
- Study the results of training you have offered over the last two years for clues as to what has or has not worked and why.
- Think closely about the purpose of each course.
- Identify which courses require hands-on interaction with equipment or those that require high levels of learner-to-learner collaboration and interaction.
Overall, we believe that much of corporate training will never go back to the classroom. Rather than trying to force everything back, L&D professionals should focus on continually improving virtual and online learning opportunities. But for those courses that truly need to be in the classroom, learning professionals can find ways to use hybrid approaches – teach some material online and keep the classroom time limited to hands-on and collaborative activities. Like much in our lives, learning has changed dramatically in the last two years, and it is time to build a new learning paradigm.
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