Skillsoft Blog

Classroom Training vs. Online Training – Which One is Better?

Classroom Training vs. Online Training - Which One is Better?

By Laura Rexford

As I reflect on recent conversations, industry research, data analysis and my own experiences related to elearning maturity, a lyric from an old U2 song begins to play in my mind: “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.”

What prompted that thought was an impact study conducted on a sales training program with the goal of 80% of trainees successfully selling a new product within 30 days after training.

Two versions of the program were created and compared: a classroom training version and online training version.

When results from the distinct programs were compared, the classroom version yielded the desired impact – 80% sold the new product in 30 days. When the value of these results was balanced against costs, the program yielded a 150% ROI. In contrast, the online version drove only 20% of the desired sales in 30 days, but when balanced against costs the ROI was 450%. The final question posed in the study was, “Which one is best?”

Even with limited information, it is clear that both versions individually exhibit a noticeable imbalance of efficiency and effectiveness.

The classroom-only training generated the desired results in the timeline expected but the cost to achieve the desired results lowered the overall return on investment by 300% compared to a digital approach.

With only elearning, the organization hung onto the benefits delivered and drove a higher ROI, but the sales force did not make as many sales in the time frame desired.

For me, the analysis simply stopped short of the finish line. At this point in elearning maturity and in light of resource constraints, a growing emphasis on continuous learning and ongoing demand for business results—a better question emerges:  How to combine the strengths of both programs to save money and get the impact desired?

The fundamental purpose of online learning is to take effective, yet resource-intense, offline workplace learning methods and improve them with technology for greater speed, wider reach and lower cost without sacrificing results. The whole notion of organizations choosing one or the other, classroom vs. elearning, is off track.

Abundant evidence accumulated by the U.S. Department of Education,, KnowledgeAdvisors via the Challenging the Status Quo paper, and a host of other credible sources worldwide demonstrating elearning, when developed using any of the usual instructional design frameworks, is an effective delivery method.

It’s time to turn attention to answering the right questions to conquer the real issues. Questions like:

  • How to combine the strengths from both elearning and classroom to save money and get the impact desired?
  • What goals will be set to help make the shift toward more efficient operations in L&D?
  • How can L&D tell its story to executives and get credit for the value it delivers?
  • How can we innovate to create a better balance of efficient operations and effective content?

Aren’t you ready to move on from “which one” to “how to?” Has the allure of binary thinking like “which one” put unintended limits on your innovation?

Tell me, what will it take for us to move on from the fruitless “which one” to a united, integrated “how can we grow” conversation? Please post your thoughts below or find me on Twitter @LauraRexford.

Laura Rexford is a Manager, Client Loyalty at Skillsoft.

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