Recent global events has seen a marked increase in the use and development of virtual training platforms and interventions. With many folk being forced to work from home, the need for training to be conducted in that environment has gained increased relevance and many see the use of virtual training as the solution to training development problems.

 To others, it is a remote, impersonal and digitally convenient training option that provides cheap but ineffective training that does little to enhance the capabilities of employees. Does the convenience of virtual training make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction that conventional training provides? Can an intervention that provides simultaneous training for over 100 employees really be beneficial at the individual level? Can learning at the kitchen table, or on the train into work really be better than a dedicated training environment?ONline training

Are virtual lessons THE solution or A solution? To get a better understanding, let us look at some of benefits and pitfalls of virtual learning?

ADVANTAGES:

Subject matter expert: Irrespective of company location, the subject matter expert, can be made available at any time to provide training. This means that companies with offices spread all over the world can enjoy training that is collaborative and standardised across the organisation.

Flexibility: The convenience and flexibility of on-line classes are challenging to outshine. On-line classes can be conducted anywhere from the home to the office from the coffee shop to the park, even while travelling. There is no need to coordinate classroom availability, consider road traffic or travel problems, or the working cycle of employees.

Budget: An on-line class can cost a fraction of a regular classroom-based training activity.  There is no limit to the number of trainees that can attend a training session, and the cost tends to be based around the training package rather than a price per delegate.

Interaction: Interaction with on-line classes, is straightforward, using either a chat facility or voice over a microphone. Indeed, for smaller classes, video interaction enables one-to-one chats to happen in real-time.  

Measuring Success: Most virtual classes provide a capability to track and monitor success, either through on-line testing, polling activities, or directly measuring the speed, accuracy and understanding of e-learning activities. This provides learning and development units to enable training to be adapted to learner knowledge, to make adjustments to the speed of delivery, and to ensure that the required degree of knowledge has been assimilated by the learner.  

DISADVANTAGES:

Impersonal: Despite the face of the trainer being in front of you, that is not a real person, it is an image. It is a virtual existence and, while there may be up to 100 people sharing that existence, they are all virtual. The human is a social animal and needs interaction with other humans. The virtual classroom can become a lonely place.

Solo learning: Despite the interactive qualities that a virtual classroom provides, it is still a one-by-one process, only one person can speak on the microphone at any one time, and chat messages are presented to the trainer chronologically. The time taken for responses can be excessive, and this can add significant problems for students that did not understand a concept that needs further explanation.

Self-discipline: Any training professional will tell you that students looking at mobile phones or laptops during training can have a severe impact on knowledge acquisition. In a classroom, a delegate on the phone is easy to spot. In a virtual classroom, the delegate could be using the phone, so there is a great need for delegates to be disciplined to do the one task, namely attend the on-line course. 

Sadly, our brains do not work like that, and that one pop-up message is impossible to ignore, and the training becomes a secondary concern to the delegate.  

Knowledge transfer: The primary aim of any training intervention is to transfer knowledge. Knowledge can be explicit, that knowledge found in books, directives, and instructions, or tacit, that knowledge that is difficult to articulate, is achieved through interaction and practice, but explains how things get done within the organisation and are the key to organisation success. Explicit knowledge can easily be transferred virtually, but tacit knowledge requires personal interaction, is contextual and learned through informal behaviours and procedures. 

Tacit knowledge is essential to organisation success but is unachievable in the virtual domain.

Technology: A virtual class is only as good as the technology supporting it. The increasing use of virtual training tools has highlighted the needs for greater security, adding another complication to an already tricky IT problem. But the on-line class is dependent upon the device that the delegate is using and having one student on a large desktop computer while another is using a smartphone, will limit the interaction capabilities of the class and interfere with the learning process.

Training Limitations: Some virtual classes provide excellent training opportunities, especially those that skill-based, such as learning how to write Excel spreadsheets or learn computer programming. However, some skills, especially soft skills, will require face-to-face learning to enable the whole learning cycle to be explored. While soft skill training can take place at the theory level, for example, body language, negotiation skills, leadership, to name a few are inherently human to human skills that need live interaction to take the training from theory to practice.

THE SOLUTION

Training is a holistic experience and must be viewed that way. Virtual training and face-to-face training both have their advantages and disadvantages, and these must be seen as complementary training methods, not either-or methods.

During a training needs analysis meeting, a training provision specialist will be ideally placed to advice on the best way to achieve the training needs. Blending e-learning with conventional classroom training has always been the preferred solution to most training requirements, but blended solutions are rarely used. The increased use of virtual learning has opened the door for many to experience virtual learning for the first time, and it is an exciting and exploratory time. 

But, ultimately, the tool that is at the end of the training pipeline is the human, and the human has not changed for many millions of years. The human has the same social needs, the same learning needs, and is susceptible to the same distractions, diversifications and desires as it ever was. We need to use all methods available to satisfy those needs. There is no ‘right way.’ We now have more tools with which to meet human learning needs, and we must ensure that we focus on the best tools to use for the job.