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Trends in Learning Part 1: Survey Says…

Everyone knows that when given a choice, most people prefer face-to-face communication. And, of course, that goes double for learning. Right?

Well, not so fast. In a recent weekly poll on BA Times, results revealed that a staggering 67% prefer “Self Learning”! That includes 42% of the respondents preferring “On Demand” and almost 25% preferring “Live Online.”

brockmeier 09192017 1This survey suggests that given a choice, people prefer to learn online and alone. Of course, the sample size is limited and may be skewed by being conducted thru an online portal. But, it does point out a continuing trend. Interestingly, a colleague and I were talking recently about how much we like facilitating virtual classes. That is certainly not a sentiment I had several years ago when I started doing online teaching.

As organizations have practiced delivering online learning, and students have consumed online learning, we’ve all gotten a lot better at making online learning experiences work well. Even without considering the technology changes that have occurred in the last five years, online learning is easier, more enjoyable, and more beneficial than it used to be.

Still, these numbers seem inconsistent with what I have heard from students over the years and what I’ve held to as conventional wisdom about training modalities. The survey inspired me to review what’s to like and not like about the various modes of delivery to get some perspective on how and why preferences have evolved. Below are some of my observations about the three primary modes of delivery that are most common: Live in-person; Live virtual (online); On-demand virtual.

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Live In-Person

What’s not to like about live, in-person learning? It’s rich with human interaction. This is the easiest environment in which to exchange complex ideas, work through problems that require give and take, and learn from each other. Other students or team members are right there to give you feedback on the spot. You can really get to know them. You can even share snacks with them!

Obviously, a skilled facilitator is key to making in-person learning a positive experience. However, it takes effort on the part of participants to make this work, as well. Particularly when team dynamics are challenging, which they often are, team members must tap into their reservoir of soft skills to work through them. It is hard to escape difficult team members when working together in a classroom setting. Live training is the closest to real life and perhaps has the greatest ability to help transfer skills from the classroom back to the job.

Not to mention that you can’t mute the instructor or step away from your seat for a few minutes to take a break on your own time – at least not without causing considerable distraction. Also, in-person classes are typically done in longer chunks of time, often full days. That’s a long time to remain focused and get along with others.

It used to be that training was a break from the daily grind. Perhaps as more people work offsite and often at home, a day of live training may be less of a break and more of a day of hard work getting along with others.

Even with the demands of live, in-person learning, it’s a great mode for learning. There are benefits beyond learning the topic of the course. For novice professionals or students who are in transition, the immediate and personal feedback within the classroom experience helps build confidence. All participants, including experienced professionals, benefit from the interactions with others or hearing other perspectives. The ancillary learning that comes from sitting at a table face-to-face with others is invaluable in live, in-person classroom environments.

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