Anyone connected with learning and development programmes will recognise that classroom training is on the decline. Pressure on budgets and alternative delivery options have changed the training landscape.
Distance training (e-learning and virtual classroom learning) is gaining ground, in 2014 nearly one-third of all employees took part in distance based training experience. There has also been a steep increase in webinars (in the last 12 months, Cegos has delivered over 700 – for example).
The sudden proliferation of mobile devices and tablets (in Europe ownership has increased fifteenfold in the last three years) means that mobile devices are becoming the essential item for a new generation of e-learning known as mobile learning or m-learning.
However, the key question to ask is: Will we be able to do everything remotely one day?
The gradual emergence of the flipped classroom model
The growing quality of e-learning tools for knowledge acquisition makes it possible to rethink the distribution of knowledge and coaching, and move towards a flipped classroom model. This model combines:
- time spent learning key content or knowledge: through webinars, e-learning modules, online documentary resources or MOOCs;
- time spent putting the knowledge acquired into practice and carrying out applied projects: delivered as classroom training or virtual classroom training, with interaction between learners and between learners and the trainer or tutor.
Blended training courses have become common practice, using a mixture of classroom and virtual learning. Both elements have a key role to play.
The value of classroom learning should not be overlooked. At Cegos, we believe that there are several arguments in support of classroom learning:
Spatial relocation – For the learner, there is a major benefit to stepping out of your everyday work environment. It is a good way of allowing oneself to think differently, to change perspectives on a subject and get out of their comfort zone.
Temporal relocation – By relocating away from the day to day working environment, learners can give a subject their full attention in a “sheltered” environment: typically two continuous days to focus on a subject with no outside demands or interruptions is the optimum.
Group dynamics – Learners can discover that they share the same work-related needs and the same difficulties. Understanding that they are not the only one in that position helps create a feeling of mutual trust and assistance, where learners support and encourage each other.
The benefits of a virtual classroom
Improved video conferencing technology (video systems and enhanced bandwidth quality) along with wider access to mobile computing is undeniably making distance communication easier. It has many advantages:
- It saves time by cutting down on the need to travel
- Trainees remain at their workstation, making it easier to maintain business continuity and handle any work-related emergencies
- It reaches employees in different geographical locations.
- It is more accessible to people with limited mobility
- It brings knowledge and skills up to date as soon as new information has to be disseminated
- It lowers the logistics costs
Classroom versus E-learning
At Cegos, we believe that there should be no debate about classroom versus e-learning. The real question is synchronous or asynchronous.
The best solution is a mixture of the two in customised training paths that factor in the objectives (work-related and learning objectives), the target audience, the constraints and the resources available.
The choice of the means employed comes at the bottom of the list and not shape the training programme’s design. The array of methods available allows for a multitude of programme designs, tailored to match the type of learners and the course objectives.
The possibility of blending synchronous and asynchronous learning makes it possible to focus more specifically on workplace situations when participants are together.
Create better classroom sessions by incorporating distance learning solutions
The shortened duration of classroom courses could be a risk if no changes were made to the training practices and programmes.
If the classroom training is part of a flipped classroom arrangement, the trainer needs to check beforehand that all of the learners have been able to learn the key content. This can be done through an online questionnaire to evaluate the learning outcomes, for example. Otherwise, the risk is that the trainer will have to squeeze both the learning and the coaching into a very tight timeframe.
Although it is always necessary to work on learner inclusion at the beginning of the course and reassure participants about the objectives, the programme and the course ground rules, these activities can be handled differently so that the learner gets down to active learning more quickly.
In blended programmes, which unfold over a longer period, the classroom sessions will increasingly aim to form or consolidate the community of learners, which will continue to exist outside the classroom course through a forum or some other discussion and crowd-sourcing portal.
This becomes a key moment for this community, because everyone starts to learn together and measure everyone else’s progress and hence their ability to contribute.
It would be a mistake to overlook, digital learning solutions. By bringing them into the classroom, the trainer adds a type of application with which learners are increasingly familiar. This unfailingly streamlines communication and helps learners understand the teaching instructions necessary for effective learning.
Classroom training is still relevant today, and we even think it is increasingly valuable because it lets participants get instant answers to the specific problems they are grappling with.
The incorporation of digital solutions has also made it richer and more open, and its pedagogical engineering gives the learner a real emotional experience that will embed the knowledge acquired on a lasting basis.