When googling which training delivery method is better, e-learning or class-room delivery, you'll find that there's a hot debate about which of the two is most effective. The advocates of class-room training will say that putting learners into a room where they can interact with each other and the instructor is the better form of delivery. And the advocates of e-learning will say self-paced learning with engaging and interactive new technologies is more effective. And you know what? They're both right. That is because the answer to this question is: it depends. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question (bummer!). The end.
Just kidding. Both training methods have their strengths and weaknesses, and very commonly even within a single organization, both methods are used side-by-side. So how to decide which delivery method to pick for your next training project? In this post we'll discuss decision criteria that can help you determine which delivery method is best suited for your situation.
Decision Criterion #1 - The Target Group
The most important decision criterion is your group of learners. Who are they, what is their age, how much work experience do they have, how much affinity they have with technology, etc.?
For example, if you're training a group of college students, you can assume that they can easily navigate online systems and are well acquainted with consuming digital media. Therefore, they will have no problems with signing into a learning platform and taking an online course. Whereas, if you're training a group of people with very limited IT affinity, assigning them an e-learning course will probably create more questions than answers (but not on the learning topic).
Decision Criterion #2 - The Learning Objectives
What training delivery method suits best also depends on your learning objectives. A widespread framework for setting learning objectives is Bloom's Taxonomy. Bloom's taxonomy is hierarchical, meaning that one can only reach the next level if the previous level has been achieved. This model starts with remembering, followed by understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and finally creating.
Now, the higher your objective is on Bloom's hierarchical taxonomy, the more challenging it will be to evaluate the learner's performance through an e-learning format. For example; if you ask learners to create a plan for something, there is no single right or wrong answer, but there are thousands of right answers. For a human being that is an expert on the topic, grading such an assignment isn't difficult. But, for a computer, it is (at least for now).
On the flip side, the lower your objective is on the taxonomy, the easier it is to evaluate in an e-learning format. This could free up a lot of time for the instructor. Time that could be better spent on creating additional training materials, rather than grading hundreds of dull right/wrong answers.
Modern technology has made it easier than ever to evaluate learner performance, and therefore the tipping point for using e-learning is continually moving upwards on Bloom's scale.
Decision Criterion #3 - Deadlines
How much time you have to prepare the training can have a huge impact on your delivery method. If you are on a tight schedule and have to train a group of learners on a topic in (let's say) a week, it may be worthwhile to consider off-the-shelf e-learning courses. There are many e-learning providers out there that have created high-quality e-learning content for generic skills (i.e. employee skills needed across a large group of companies). The turn-around time for implementing such a training can be very quick; in many cases you can start training the very same day.
If there is no off-the-shelf training available for this urgent training project, then a classroom delivery might be faster to prepare than creating your own e-learning course. Generally speaking, preparing training material for e-learning is more time-consuming than for a classroom training session. During a classroom session, you can adapt to unexpected outcomes immediately. If your learners know more than you anticipated, you can skip a slide. Or if they find it more challenging than anticipated, you can explain your concept with another example. With an e-learning, you need to consider all possible outcomes beforehand, and be prepared for all of them.
Decision Criterion #4 - Repetitiveness
If you are asked to prepare a training session that is supposed to take place very often (e.g. new-hire training in a contact center), then you really may want to consider e-learning. Even though preparing an e-learning can be more time-consuming (and therefore more expensive) than a classroom training session, the time saved not having to deliver the same content over and over should easily make up for the initial investment.
If you have to deliver this training every single week, you will soon reach the point where the cost per learner will be significantly lower when delivered via e-learning. This will also free up time for the trainer (that would otherwise have spent a day in a classroom) to support learners that need it, or create new training material to further increase the skill-levels of their workforce.
Decision Criterion #5 - Learner Availability / Flexibility
A very obvious constraint of classroom training is, well, that you need a classroom. The room availability in your organization may be limited or the availability may not overlap with that of the learners. In any case, you are going to need to plan ahead to make sure your training session can take place. That, by definition, makes your training less flexible.
With e-learning, learners can take their course where and when it suits them. Whether that is on the couch at home, or at their desk in the office. And because most e-learning courses today are divided in small digestible modules (called learning nuggets or micro-learning), learners can easily participate in between two tasks.
So, the more flexibility you need, the more likely that e-learning will suit your situation.
Decision Criterion #6 - Scalability
How large is your group of learners? Is it a one-time training for a group of 5 people. Or do you need to train thousands of people that are located across multiple sites, potentially even located in multiple countries? This should have a very strong influence on your choice of delivery method.
E-learning is the most scalable learning delivery method out there, so when your training needs to scale, e-learning is most likely going to be your weapon of choice.
Decision Criterion #7 - Budget
Ideally, you have the possibility to determine the budget depending on the type of training you need to deliver in order to achieve your training goals. But, in practice, the available budget is often constrained and you need to work your way around it. If you're on a tight budget, you have to get creative in finding an effective training solution that doesn't break the bank. The best way to save on your budget is by utilizing training that's already out there. Because creating a training program is time-consuming and, therefore, expensive.
There are many off-the-shelf courses (both for e-learning and class-room) that you can use, which would cost a fraction of the cost compared to creating them yourself from scratch. If these courses don't cover your entire training need, you would only have to create a part of the material, thereby saving a lot of money.
Conclusion / TLDR;
If you're asked to prepare a training session to achieve a certain training goal and are unsure what delivery method would be most effective, we advise you to take the following criteria into account;
- Target group - Some groups simply do better with certain types of training
- Learning objectives - Depending on your goal, a certain delivery type would be more appropriate
- Deadlines - if you're in a rush, consider off-the-shelf training
- Repetitiveness - if you need to do this training every week, a lot of time and money could be saved with e-learning
- Learner Availability/Flexibility - the more flexibility you need, the more likely e-learning will be your friend
- Scalability - the more scalable your training solution needs to be, the less applicable classroom training will be
- Budget - When your budget is limited, consider off-the-shelf courses, before reinventing the wheel