The value of face-to-face learning interventions in an ever digitalising world
By Jacky Morgan, Senior Training Facilitator and Executive Coach
The value of face-to-face learning in an era of blended learning, online learning and other forms of non-human learning interventions is a subject that frequently arises.
To be sure, there are real savings of both time and money when training is delivered online instead of in a classroom or in a one-to-one coaching/mentoring situation. However, beyond price a major concern for most organisations when choosing training delivery methods will always be the effectiveness of the training ― and it is here that face-to-face learning is, and quite possibly will always remain, the most effective way to ensure training is most likely to ensure understanding and retention.
As this debate continues in the L&D industry, I would like to propose that face-to-face workshops should always form part of an organisation’s learning strategy.
Here are seven key benefits of face-to-face interventions:
- In a ‘classroom’-based situation there are fewer distractions. This means learners can better focus on the content by being able to step back from their day-to-day tasks and gain perspective and headspace to consider new ideas, possibilities and ways of doing things.
- A well-run workshop stimulates flowing, real-time discussion that will often evolve into an active and lively debate (when there is significant rapport developed between participants). Giving learners the permission to challenge the content and create/validate their own interpretations are key to any journey of self-discovery and deeper exploration of a topic.
- Face-to-face learning allows the facilitator to pick up the body language of the cohort, including non-verbal cues, which can indicate a lack of comprehension of the content. The result is that any misunderstanding can be overcome quickly and effectively.
- A facilitator in a formal learning environment can quickly tailor, construct and personalise the learning to ensure its relevance for the individual’s immediate workplace challenges. It also allows the facilitator to improvise, creating scenarios that allow practical, relevant application.
- Training held with others from learner’s organisation can help build stronger and more functional working relationships. A ‘closed course’ is a collaborative environment and can often lead to teams of learners creating their own internal, informal support network. As well as this, the process of working together to solve problems can break down existing silos, bond employees together and, importantly, embed the learning and improve transfer to the workplace because they speak the same language and can hold each other accountable for putting the skills into practice.
- And we cannot forgot that our learning styles determine how we like to learn. Kinaesthetic learners, for example, prefer to experience and practice their skills. And when they are able to immediately experiment with new tools, practice new language techniques and try out new approaches ― while receiving immediate feedback from a facilitator/coach ― their sense of self-efficacy increases, often leading to much quicker performance improvement.
- Last but far from least is one of my favourite justifications for a face-to-face session: the ability of the facilitator to encourage optimum learner motivation. A good trainer can assess the participant’s level of intrinsic motivation early, then work to move them from a stage of ‘pre-contemplation’ (i.e. “I do not need to change or do anything new”) to a stage of ‘preparation’ (i.e. “I am ready to learn and apply new skills and I can see the benefit for me of doing so”) (Prochaska, 2001). So, the value of face-to-face facilitator-led learning may not only be the knowledge transfer but also an increased learner readiness. Hence the value of adopting a blended approach; with both a formal face-to-face session and a series of asynchronous (self-paced) activities.
Much of the literature purports that classroom training is not dead, and I agree. However, I believe most traditional classroom-based, instructor-led training might have slipped into coma and perhaps should not be resuscitated. But face-to-face facilitator-led workshops that are well designed, developed and delivered using the latest learning theories, behavioural change methodologies and motivation techniques are still alive and kicking!
And a key element, I believe, in all successful face-to-face learning is a carefully constructed process that helps learners to determine their current level of motivation for learning a new skill, and a method that will help increase their intrinsic motivation. This requires an environment that uses Self Determination Theory (Neimiec & Ryan, 2009) as a framework for increasing and sustaining intrinsic motivation.
We need to:
- Allow learners to have a sense of autonomy during the session, and put them into the driving seat of their own learning experience
- Respect learners’ need for ‘competence’ and ensure their self-efficacy is built during the day so they leave the classroom feeling capable and proficient
- Create a sense of relatedness in the learning space so that learners work together, respect each other and support one another in a safe, confidential space.
No, classroom training is not dead. To the contrary ― when it’s designed effectively and takes into account the varying needs of individual learners, it is critical to the process of learning, development, performance improvement, change and personal growth.
A Transtheoretical Approach to Changing Organizations. Janice M. Prochaska; James O. Prochaska; Deborah A. Levesqu. Administration and Policy in Mental Health; Mar 2001; 28, 4; ProQuest Health and Medical Complete, pg. 247
Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Christopher. P. Niemiec and Richard m. Ryan. University of Rochester, New York, USA, 2009