Put your hand up if you love sitting in a conference room for a multi-day training session. Anyone…? No? Regardless of how entertaining a trainer is, how snazzy a PowerPoint slide deck looks, how interested the crowd is in receiving the information, and how relevant the topic, adults are just not wired to learn solely by sitting in a classroom. Still, an element of ‘seat-time’ is required. This, along with industries doing more with less, has created an environment ripe for change when it comes to educating employees.
So, how do you create an effective training experience rich with content and interested participants? As a result of new research and historical data, training methods are evolving, with a huge push towards incorporating hands-on activities.
According to Karen O’Leonard, author of The Corporate Learning Factbook, the amount of classroom-based, instructor-led training in U.S. companies has recently dropped below 50 percent, accompanied by a rise in virtual classroom events and online self-study.
Today, there are many learning management systems (LMS) available in both industry and in public-school systems across the U.S. These LMS provide online learning to people of all ages. Distance learning—the education of students who may not always be physically present at a school—is not new. In fact, it dates as far back as 1840 when Sir Isaac Pitman, a British educator, famous for developing the most widely used form of shorthand, taught his system to students via the mail. Proven to be a successful form of learning, this delivery method spread to The University of London and was referred to as the “People’s University” by novelist Charles Dickens because it provided access to education to students from afar and those who couldn’t afford schooling.
Fast forward to today – most, if not all, universities and public schools offer distance learning. In fact, kids as young as ten-years-old can take classes online and self-pace their learning in an environment suitable to them. History proves it works and industry has gradually followed suit.
However, research from the Center for Creative Leadership shows that even when online training is well designed, it is effective only about 20 percent of the time.
So, now what? Let’s look at the two concepts below, draw out the positives of each, and combine them into a concept called Blended Learning.
With in-person training, a knowledgeable subject matter expert engages the students on a specific topic. He or she can be flexible with the agenda to ensure the material presented is understood. The instructor can stress a point, clarify a thought, or change the presentation altogether if needed. Computer-based training cannot do that. Humans can be flexible in every situation and just a quick safety/ergonomic reference: that is the main reason our industrial workers have not all been replaced by robots! Hence, a good instructor is trained to read and react to the crowd.
The trainer also can interact directly with attendees on an individual basis and address questions on the spot. Fielding questions in a group setting creates learner-to-learner interactions (learning and communicating among peers) because it’s highly likely that more than one attendee has the same question.
Lastly, instructors can lead hands-on activities. These individual or group practice sessions are the best way for adults to grasp a concept. We learn by doing (aka kinesthetic learning); this is especially effective when we can practice what we learn prior to implementation.
Online Learning Advantages
Without a doubt, the main advantages of this method of delivery are the time and money saved during the education process. There is no need to coordinate multiple people’s calendars (and a conference room) for multiple days. That in and of itself is a win-win! Securing event space, the cost of meals and the time away from “work” can add up to a pretty nickel. If you have ever been tasked with this administrative duty, you know what I’m talking about. Offering an on-demand training option can alleviate those burdens for both the administrator and the learner. The time savings for the trainee alone is evident—often a two to three-day training course can be reduced to four hours of online content.
Inside the e-learning model, the learners move at their own pace, and if needed, can watch a module more than once. To keep the learner engaged throughout the course, content developers include quizzes, matching games, multiple-choice questions, interactive content and video. Combined, these generate an effective learning experience.
Because this method of learning can reach anyone with access to a computer, be delivered in multiple languages, and reach a broad audience efficiently, the cost benefit outweighs that of instructor-led training. The consistency of the message with e-learning also ensures each learner is receiving the same information, every time – undoubtedly creating a more effective way to share the vision of your company.
Best of Both Worlds?
After laying out the pros and cons of each method, it becomes apparent that both have issues the other can solve. Perhaps blending the two together yields the ideal training solution. By now, you may have heard of the approach called the Blended Learning model.
Blending Learning is best described using the Flipped Classroom concept. In school years past, teachers lectured as we sat at our desks, and homework was assigned at the end of each day. I recall sitting at the kitchen table hurrying to complete the assignments so I could go do the things I really wanted to. Today, with the use of connected devices, educators leverage technology to push the content to be completed at home via web-based platforms, leaving the classroom time for completing and reviewing the homework. This allows students to learn outside of the classroom and the subject matter expert (teacher) available to assist them during the hands-on practice of those new skills in the classroom. This immediate feedback and coaching strengthens the participants’ confidence and ability to perform.
Because of mounting research findings, this concept is being embraced by industry because the hands-on application aligns with principles of adult learning: learn by doing, affected by experience, problem-based, and learn what is practical. If you are struggling with educating your workforce efficiently and effectively, it might be time to investigate alternative educating methods. By many accounts, Blended Learning provides the best of the digital world and the human touch.
Jeff Sanford, director of consulting and ergonomics engineer for Humantech, leads a team of ergonomists to develop, manage and sustain global ergonomics programs using software solutions for Fortune 1000 companies across a broad spectrum of industries, including food and beverage, automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical, and steel. Prior to joining Humantech, he worked as a divisional ergonomics engineer within the seating systems division of Lear Corp.