Tip #500: When Classroom Training is the Only Way

“You learn more quickly under the guidance of experienced teachers. You waste a lot of time going down blind alleys if you have no one to lead you.”  W. Somerset Maugham

A client recently made a suggestion that a classroom business management training program for the owners of small private medical practices in Africa be made available as online e learning and/or written self-study instruction. On the surface, the two additional modes of delivery made sense in terms of increasing access to the training, which was the client’s intent.

However, there were so many reasons why this was not a good idea, both in terms of the impact on the quality of the learning, as well as on the actual design and delivery of the program:

Quality of Learning

The classroom training program had been designed to introduce the owners to new concepts and strategies for thinking like business owners and managing their practices as businesses.  Resources and discussion were planned to offer examples of best practices.

The classroom setting provided three key benefits:

1.  A Community of Learning

a.  A social setting for individuals, who typically operate in isolation from their peers, to get  to know and develop relationships with each other.
b.  The opportunity to share and learn from each other’s experiences.
c.  The ability to form a supportive network.

2.  Immediate Feedback, Encouragement and Support

a.  An immediate response to questions.
b.  Time to practice both interpersonal and individual skills, and then get immediate feedback concerning the results.
c.  Personal modeling and encouragement from the facilitator.

3.  Learning Activities and Resources Adapted to Individual Learner’s Needs

a.  The chance to have the training tailored to individual needs, including having content presented and taught in different ways to ensure comprehension.
b.  Additional facilitator-provided content and resources as prompted by classroom discussion.
c.  Additional templates and best practices offered by participants in response to individual questions and requests.

Design and Delivery

Converting the classroom training program to an asynchronous online or self-study program was not a simple matter. It would require an investment of a significant amount of time and money.

The classroom participant materials and supplementary PowerPoint slides could not merely be placed online as an e-learning program or provided to participants in written form. The program would have to be completely redesigned for each format.

In addition, both programs would need to have someone who monitored the online activities and read and responded to questions, materials and test results generated by the participants.

Even then, it would be unlikely that either program would be able to achieve the intended goals or benefits of the classroom program.

Other drawbacks to providing an asynchronous online e-learning program included:

1.   Inconsistent or non-existent access to the Internet.

2.   Unless multiple participants were working online at the same time, even chat room communication would be unavailable.

Additional drawbacks to both modes of delivery included:

  1. Participants would learn in isolation from their peers.
  2. Participants might work at their own pace, but if the training methods were not suited to their learning styles, there would be no other options for learning,
  3. While participants are in a classroom, they must be present and focused on the learning. Few individuals, whether owners, managers or staff, have the ability to work through a self-study program during work time without multiple interruptions. This assumes that work time is allowed for such activities.
  4. The likelihood of participants completing the courses at home would probably not be very great, given their family obligations and other business interests- as well as the possible lack of computer access at home.
  5. Self-directed learning, either online or in a correspondence course, often gets deferred and frequently set aside, due to other time demands.

The best option that I could offer in order to make the training accessible was to house the training program on the web and make that available to any organization with onsite training capabilities. The complete program package would include: the participant materials, PowerPoint slides, and very detailed facilitator guides. It might possibly be augmented with brief training videos that explained participatory learning and modeled how to facilitate the various activities.

What do you think? Was I thinking like a dinosaur unwilling to move from my comfort zone of classroom training, or were my arguments sound?

May your learning be sweet.



I received two responses:

I personally am so fired up on this subject, you stuck a nerve and now I know I do not feel alone. E-learning to me is a lazy and cheap way of training adult learners. Not only is this type of learning put on the back burner but users very rarely get anything out of it and I bet most speed read and click out of a module as quick as they can. I despise this type of education and believe it does a disservice to the student and the organization. So many managers always think training can be completed in a second that they don’t stop to realize not everyone they hire has knowledge of what is being taught, therefore the capacity for learning and applying is minimal. There is something to be said about in class instructors, for one we can gauge how an audience is doing, we can make analogies that better explain in their terms how it will apply to them. Excellent caring trainers can answer questions on the fly, to help students understand what they are learning. Workflow can also be incorporated into class room training and needs to be. I have many more thoughts on this subject as it really irritates me if you couldn’t tell.

Another response:

I might have told you I’m offering a workshop on human communication theory here at the office. I call it ‘Foundations of Effective Communication.’ It’s been great hearing about how the workshop has helped people! Anyway, because I’m located in Andover MA it’s only been offered here. I have had people from other sites say they want to ‘dial in’ to the meeting. But I try to explain that that venue would not be effective for participants, and it would have a pejorative effect on the classroom experience too. I’ve also been asked to provide it as synchronous online training through some meeting tool. But I’ve had to explain that I would have to re-design the whole thing for that delivery method. And I don’t think it would be as effective, and anyway who wants to be in an on-line meeting for 5 hours. My solution is find it in your budget to fly me out there.

All that to say, I sympathize.

I will add that my ‘real job’ includes how-to training on the procedural steps to navigate web based applications. I have found that on-line training is excellent for that, even better than classroom since people can refer back to it multiple times to review the right steps. I use Camtasia to create movies with a voice-over script. But an excellent 5 minute online movie can take me a week or more to complete, I write out the audio script word for word.

Maybe the difference (and I’m sure there’s plenty of info out there on when to use which) is the technical procedural stuff does not require any decision making. The user must simply execute the right steps in the right order. Whereas the communication training, and business management, has so many variables and decisions. People working together live in this case is ideal.

Thanks for getting me going on a Monday morning!  [Janis Taylor]

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