Can Online Training Be Better?

I have to admit, I like delivering online training classes. I don’t have to “dress for success” (or at least not in the same way) and my commute is very easy. I get to teach from the convenience of my home where I have everything I need at my fingertips. My “assistant,” aka Calvin the wonderful wiener dog, appreciates being able to hang out with me while I teach, too.

I know that people will debate whether online training classes are better or worse than in-person classes. I would contend that poor content and training delivery is bad for learners, regardless where it originates, in a classroom or online. Nevertheless, online training requires the presenter to adapt content and change delivery for the online platform. In person, the trainer can gauge the reaction of the people in the classroom and change delivery or content accordingly. When online, the trainer relies on beefed up participation to get real time feedback. Sometimes this goes awry.

Online training has its benefits though. Both the trainer and participants can be anywhere. This broadens the scope of the trainer’s reach and delivers content to people who might not usually have access to that trainer or topic. Most online platforms are easy to access, depending on internet connection, of course. As a trainer, becoming familiar with various platforms and managing the content and delivery with them necessitates a learning curve. Once you’re familiar enough with a platform, you’ll waste less time trying to figure out what to do and more time actually delivering content.

With a broad reach comes the opportunity for participants to network with people outside their usual circle. I know some trainers who actively discourage participants from using the chat or questions functions to communicate with others. I’m not so concerned with that. I see the chat or questions boxes as opportunities to get to know other participants and engage with them. Most platforms will let you save the chat to your computer. That way, you can refer back to it and connect with other participants outside the formal training session.

This leads me to one of the biggest issues I see with trainers presenting online classes. It’s true that participants can engage with each other even if they aren’t in the same room; however, we must be intentional in creating communities of learning when online. This doesn’t come as easily as when you’re in person in a classroom. There is no natural inclination to talk to other people or exchange ideas when you’re attending an online class. The trainer and the students must make an effort to foster community and participate. From the trainer’s perspective, this can be something as simple as asking people to contribute their name and location in the chat box or more complex such as using breakout rooms with small group exercises. The trainer holds the key to unlocking the door to creating community online.

As we wander back to classroom training, will learners follow? The convenience of online training will continue to appeal to people who may not be able or are just unwilling to travel to an in-person class. The trainer who wants to broaden his/her reach beyond a local geography will continue to embrace and utilize the online space. I can see a move toward more “blended learning” approaches that use online training for the knowledge base and in-person workshops for the application of what was learned online. This type of online training could be static, on-demand courses or live instruction.

This still begs the question: When there’s a choice, will people continue to attend online classes? I think so. Online training existed prior to the pandemic, and it will continue to thrive. The difference going forward is the commitment trainers have to improving the online class. Its ease of use and the familiarity we’ve gained over time will make online training a viable alternative to traditional, in-person classroom sessions.

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