Is face-to-face training a thing of the past? In 2013, Roberta Gogos’ infographic titled “A Brief History of eLearning” offered an interesting review of “eLearning” dating as far back as the 1840s.
However, a more modern interpretation of eLearning is better associated with the introduction of personal computers in the late 1970s (think Apple II), followed by Lisa (Apple’s first GUI interface) and the Macintosh in the early 1980s. It didn’t take long for developers to start adapting content to allow users to access information via CD-ROM drives.
The 1990s then brought us funding for the internet, the introduction of the World Wide Web, and the “Browser Wars.” These were pivotal technological developments that would enable every user to become connected to a wealth of information once limited to schools, libraries and bookstores. We can now access new information with relative ease right at our fingertips or by speaking a command to our virtual assistant (AI like Alexa and Siri). This progress allowed eLearning to evolve. With each passing decade, there has been an increasing expectation that online learning would eventually replace instructor-led training (ILT).
So has it? In October 2019, Brandon Hall Group released a study stating that though eLearning has been around for quite a while, ILT remains supreme. Ninety-four percent of companies said they used ILT and 77 percent were using eLearning. With the highest-performing companies, the key was a blended approach incorporating in-person and online pathways for learning.
As 2019 was wrapping up, the expectation was that this balance would not likely shift much in 2020. Oh, what a difference nine months can make.
Fast forward to today (mid-pandemic era). While we have been forced to online formats during the pandemic, many predict the scale tipping in favor of online learning or a closer blend between the use of face-to-face and online programming even once we come out the other side of this pandemic. A more recently released KnowledgeGraphic from Brandon Hall Group (“The Impact of COVID-19 on Human Capital Management”) noted a significant majority of companies expect their use of online learning methods will remain higher than it was prior to the pandemic.
Breaking Down eLearning
When you hear eLearning, what does it mean to you? Do you think of programs like the Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) certifications? Do you instead daydream about all the awesome Zoom meetings you’ve had this summer? Perhaps you are tallying up a litany of webinar training events you were finally “free” to attend? How would you classify the differences in each type of programming? What were the pros and cons?
The generic term of “eLearning” can be better broken into a few key categories, of which eLearning is one component:
- ILT: Traditional face-to-face setting (i.e. classroom) where the instructor can more easily customize the content and flow with dynamic, collaborative interactions with a group of learners. Because it is live and the instructor is reacting to the learners, the learner experiences may vary between sessions
- VILT (Virtual Instructor-Led Training): Instructor led, but in a virtual setting so it is easily accessible from remote locations and more cost-effective with no travel. It can still be very collaborative and dynamic, though it is harder to manage this virtually. Like ILT, most instructors prefer a smaller group (< 20) to enhance the learner experience. An eight-hour ILT cannot be directly converted to an eight-hour virtual session. The content covered is often simplified overall, broken into multiple small sessions, and will likely incorporate supplemental solutions to support the learner with content not covered live and reinforce content covered between sessions
- eLearning: Prepackaged or recorded sessions (e.g. FTA’s FIRST Certification). More cost effective and easily accessible to multiple learners across geographies at times convenient for them. Allows the user to work self-paced and ensures the content is the same for every user. Challenges include ensuring content is current and brief (~5 minutes to 15 minutes to complete a section or chapter)
- Webinars: Great solution for one or more speakers to talk to a large group of learners, but timing does not allow for the same kind of collaboration as with VILT. Events should be one to two hours and utilize some interaction via polls or chat if possible. They often end with a Q&A for learners to connect with the speakers
- OJT (On-the-Job Training): Live, on-the-job training is very hands-on and collaborative. A great way for learners to practice what they are learning, but it is difficult to ensure consistency in the training experience. It is also restricted to very small teams or one-on-one
- Gaming/Simulations: While the content and environment are predeveloped, it enables the user to work through exercises and games that challenge them to apply knowledge. These are better used as supplements to the other training methods and have been proven to increase knowledge retainment
- Additional Resources: Books, blogs, white papers, articles, procedures, guides, Google searches, etc. are great tools to supplement other training methods. They are easily accessible, allowing learners to expand their knowledge further. They also become a post-training resource for the learner
- Mentoring: Similar to OJT, mentoring is meant for small groups or one-on-one. This is another great way to support and enhance other training methods. It is especially useful in making an online experience feel more personal for the learner
- Zoom, Teams, Slack, Adobe Connect, are great platforms to use for VILT and webinars since they incorporate tools to facilitate collaboration and make the online experiences feel dynamic and personalized