eLearning, face-to-face, or virtual classroom? There are a number of methods for conveying information and all of them have pros and cons.
But in the real world, when the time comes to lay down the budget to achieve those all important learnings and, ultimately, business objectives, it’s a nice feeling to know you’ve analysed the situation thoroughly before you make that all-important allocation.
In choosing one of these three methods you first need to isolate the factors involved. There could be dozens of these factors, but here are the ones that crop up time and again:
1. Coordination of schedules
The more learners you have, the more conflicting schedules you have. The more conflicting schedules you have, the greater the need to move to a method of training that allows you to best coordinate these schedules.
From this standpoint, eLearning is the clear champion, since it allows a type of learning called asynchronous; the other methods require a coordination of schedules, so if coordinating schedules is important to you, and will present a problem, eLearning is going to be the way to go.
2. Distance to travel
Another key factor is how far your learners need to travel to attend what would otherwise be instructor-led training. For example, if you run a multinational company, and have learners in New Zealand, the UK, Germany, and the USA, learning face-to-face is going to present quite the economic obstacle.
From this standpoint, both eLearning and the virtual classroom are going to be in the running.
3. Need for asynchronous learning
Closely related to coordinating the schedules of multiple people is allowing a single person to be able to juggle his or her own set of scheduled activities with the need to take the learning program. If a person is bouncing from meeting to meeting and has deliverable upon deliverable constantly due, (and who doesn’t these days?) how are they going to manage to squeeze in the time for your learning program?
From this standpoint, if we assume your learners are heavily scheduled, then neither virtual classroom or face-to-face are going to fill the bill, and eLearning is once again the champion.
4. Nature of material
One of the most important key factors in determining the type of learning is the nature of the material. Do you simply want to convey a series of facts? Or are you more interested in process-based learning, where learners need to be placed in scenarios – role-playing scenarios – for true learning to take place?
A classic example of process-based learning is sales training, where salespeople would have to interact with a series of ‘tough customers’ in a real-time setting. This type of training is extremely difficult to pull off with asynchronous learning, and even if it can be done, you are looking at quite an expensive training program.
From this standpoint, if we assume the material is going to heavily involve process-based learning, you are essentially looking at face-to-face or virtual classroom. This is going to be especially true if you need to pair people off, or have them work in groups, or if you’re going to need to have extensive discussions from person to person.
5. Nature of the learners (sophistication, fear of computer, isolation)
Even in this post-Internet age, you still are going to come across learners who simply are not as Internet-savvy as you would think. Some people need more of a ‘touchy-feely’ approach to learning, interacting with human beings in a specifically human context.
From this standpoint, if you have many learners like this, you are going to be looking at face-to-face training, with virtual classroom probably a distant second.
6. Number of learners
How many learners do you have? The more learners you have, the more unwieldy it is to train vast groups of them in a classroom.
From this standpoint, if you have many learners, say 200, you probably want to explore the virtual classroom and/or eLearning options.
How much money do you have to spend on your program? Of course, budgets are always limited, and because they are limited, the expense of flying people to classrooms and/or hiring instructors every time you want to initiate a learning session could be financially prohibitive.
From this standpoint, if you have a low budget, you’re probably going to be looking at an eLearning solution. This, however, is not always going to be the case, depending on the circumstances. For example, if you only have five learners, and you are only going to be training them once every three years, you’re probably better off doing face-to-face sessions.
8. Teaching effectiveness
Some training is so mission-critical, you need to have the most effective training that you can have, and simply launching training because it happens to fit people’s schedules or that it’s more achievable from a budgetary perspective isn’t going to cut it.
In this case, you are going to be looking at face-to-face training, with virtual classroom probably a distant second. This won’t always hold, depending on the nature of the material, but as a rule of thumb face-to-face training, interactive style, is going to give you more educational bang per minute.
9. Learner preference
Another not insignificant variable is simply the preference of your learners. To be effective, learning has to be engaging, and if your learners insist on one modality of training, such as face-to-face, offering them a different modality isn’t necessarily going to fly very well.
10. Due Date
Finally, one has to consider the time of development. eLearning is going to take longer to develop than normal classroom training (as a rule of thumb) and virtual classroom training is going to be a little bit slower than face-to-face training, but still faster than eLearning.
From this standpoint, if you have a very tight budget or timeline, you are going to be wanting to move to face-to-face training, at least for starters.
That should give you an overview of some of the most important factors related to the choice between eLearning, face-to-face learning, and the virtual classroom. Of course, in the real world, there are a number of conflicts to be resolved, but at least you now have a grasp on what the main issues are, and how they are going to affect your learning program.