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The big face-to-face versus online training debate

Blog posts | 30.04.2020

Sally Tutill

Nurture Marketing Specialist at Kineo AU

This really has been a hot topic for HR professionals over the years. This time, albeit global conditions have forced the issue, we believe there is a clear winner.

Since the eighties, the knowledge economy has grown exponentially, generating high-skilled jobs, public access to the internet, and the way we process information. With resources available from anywhere, and at any time, the growth of online learning has been rapid.

Whilst many of us have been readjusting to working in isolation due to COVID-19, the entire digital landscape has transformed itself. In this relatively short time, we have seen more than 4000 new technology companies emerge online. Organisations with physical business offerings that spotted an online alternative early on, reinvented themselves quickly. Some of these new digital leaders will see their online presence grow beyond ‘build back’ and propel them into the future.

Josh Bersin is an expert analyst in HR transformation. He has said that we are in the middle of The Big Reset. And that this is forcing a new way of thinking about work, life, business, and leadership. He adds: 

"Well now we’re going to make digital work thrive: we have no choice. New tools, rules, and norms will be established, and these will be with us for decades."

Online training was ahead of its time and is already widely used as the chosen workplace training medium. Digitisation and Personalisation have positively impacted the learner experience, along with the introduction of intuitive tools that provide data driven analysis for evaluating learning outcomes.

We know that elearning is comparatively cheaper than face-to-face training, also presenting more flexibility—and reliability—to the learner. The best of breed online courses are rich, immersive and effective learning experiences.

Is an exclusive online training experience the best approach for our workplace training?

Face-to-face or classroom style learning is preferable with some topics that require more of a blended learning approach. Firstly, let’s look at the pros and cons of each training style.

Elearning Pros

Online learning can be taken anywhere and at any time and only requires an internet connection. This is not possible with traditional classroom structures. Many courses are now also mobile enabled and combine text, graphics and video to create a unique learning experience. The learning can reach many individuals and is consistent, everybody receives the same content. In addition, intuitive analytics tools can predict current and future learning gaps, recommendations for extending that learning as well as standard completion rates and pass marks.

Blended learning is a mix of both online and face to face learning and blended learning. It leans more towards an online approach and activities such as ‘virtual classrooms’ and ‘discussion forums’ support online learning modules. This staggered ‘learning intervention’ style has proved to be highly effective for knowledge transfer as it’s a great way to reinforce new information. Discussion forums and related activities will help embed the newly acquired knowledge and this social learning element will support and enrich the user experience.

Credentialing is a form of recognised training certification that validates the course quality and provides recognition of that learning. It may also provide endorsement from professional industry bodies and credentialing is a popular way of demonstrating learning progress across social profiles, such as LinkedIn.

Cons of online learning

Elearning can feel isolated. Elearning also requires more self-motivation and time management skills. If technical connection issues occur, then accessing the online learning resources can become difficult. Where there is no accreditation, the quality of the course content can come into question. There is a strong potential of additional work required and a lack of transformational power.

Pros of face-to-face training

Individuals can exchange ideas and questions with one another providing another valuable learning medium that online environments cannot replicate. Direct interaction with the educator is also beneficial. In particular, this mode of learning is highly suited to a young audience yet to join the workforce.

Cons of face-to-face training

A classroom setting can stifle learning by allowing dominant personalities to take the bulk of the discussion environments. Quieter individuals become limited in their communication options for exchanging ideas and information.

So, what is best?

There are both advantages and disadvantages to all types of learning environments. A combination of online and classroom learning to convey subject matter to individuals will be the best training approach.

Kineo’s Senior Learning Designer, Shaheen Hijara talks to us about designing successful learning programs. She states that it does more harm than good when thinking whether to take a face-to-face or digital training path. Shaheen highly recommends that instead, organisations should ask themselves:

  • What's your learner profile? Who are they, what are they like, what do they like?
  • What are the objectives for the learning - what change in behaviour should the learning achieve

The impact of these learning interventions will ultimately come down to the effort the individuals put into their professional development and these will transcend the overall experience.

As we start to look at life after COVID-19, old traditions that no longer serve us can be left behind. This is a perfect opportunity to embrace new adaptable ways of achieving our goals. What will you do first? Will you be braver in business, focus on career progression and leadership, or tackle personal challenges and realise new and fulfilling passions? We all realise each of these components should be developed and form an even focus, as part of a healthy work life balance.

If you’d like to discuss your learning strategy ambitions, we’d welcome the opportunity to discuss your needs and challenges.


Sally Tutill

Nurture Marketing Specialist at Kineo AU

Since the year immemorial Sally has exercised an avid passion for creativity with words, images and Pilates.  She is most content in the workplace when crafting enticing messages that inspire and engage.