How does online training compare with classroom-based training?

Research indicates that online training, when used alone, is not superior to classroom-based training. The overall learner achievement is similar. However, when both mediums are used together, they provide a significant improvement in learner achievement. (Center for Technology in Learning. Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: a Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, US Department of Education, Washington DC, 2009)

Five days after attending a lecture, most people remember less that 10% of what they learned. When learning activities involve seeing and listening, retention increases by 20%. When given the opportunity to learn by doing, people remember 60%-70% of what they practiced.( Raelin, JA. Work-based Learning: Bridgin Knowledge and Action in the Workplace, New & Rev ed., Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2008) Online training has a key role to play in this and can contribute to learner achievement.

To illustrate this in practice, a large organisation wanted to improve the way their employees interacted with people with a disability. An online short course was developed to provide activities that triggered self-reflection and short videos as exemplars of how to interact and communicate with people with a range of disabilities. When combined with face to face discussion at staff meetings, the training improved the organisation’s capabilities and improved its level of service to people with a disability. The key to this learning was not just the integration of both mediums, but also in the design of the online. It gave the learner an opportunity to link the learning to their own context and gave them multiple scenarios to increase their range of experience.

In the example described, the learning was also achieved because the gap between the learners’ existing knowledge and the new learning was not too great. They could relate the learning to their context. It has been my experience that online learning is particularly effective for refresher training or for learning that extends current knowledge. When the online learning is used to deliver learning that is entirely new or out of context for the learner, it should be accompanied by face to face learning, whether instructor-led or through peer or work groups.

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