Gone Digital: The Advancement of Instructor-Led Training

Even with the wave of new technology supporting the remote environment, the question to consider is: Can you effectively train and learn from afar?

The economy has been on the upswing in recent years, and everything from mom-and-pop stores to large organizations are reaping the benefits. To better align with growing business needs, companies are rethinking how they conduct learning to meet employees anywhere and everywhere they engage. Research from Bersin by Deloitte even found that overall training budgets rose 15 percent on average in 2013. This is especially important as the makeup of the workplace shifts. According to the Global Workplace Analytics survey, there’s been an 80 percent increase in telecommuting since 2005. But even with the wave of new technology supporting the remote environment, a question to consider is: Can you effectively train and learn from afar?

In years prior to the boom in telecommuting, the preferred organizational learning mode was instructor-led training (ILT). However, as workplaces become more mobile and self-serving, training leaders are rejiggering their strategies and many are going virtual. How do ILT and virtual instructor-led training (VILT) compare, and is the latter sustainable? Let’s take a look.

Instructor-Led Training

For many businesses, instructor-led training historically has been the way of delivering learning materials. Like a school classroom, it allows for real-time feedback, questions and answers, and on-the-fly modification to suit the needs of each and every learner. It’s been the go-to approach for so long because it’s all about experience sharing. Many even consider these training environments to be the office water cooler—a place where you can build working relationships and uncover commonalties. This is especially true for larger organizations because you can engage with those outside of your vertical function.

Another benefit of ILT is the instructor or facilitator’s ability to control the learning environment. During virtual learning, there are countless opportunities for distraction and it can be hard to gauge attention levels. On the flip side, ILT instructors can easily read an audience, interpreting everything from body language to social cues. This lends itself to a higher level of commitment, as well, thanks to the natural touch point with the trainer.

While personal interaction is a plus, the implementation of instructor-led training can become costly for many organizations. Once you spend both time and money to organize and set a location, there’s an obligation to see the training through to the end. And while it may seem beneficial to break up learning into multiple parts across days for attention and engagement purposes, this can be expensive. More days equal more commitment from trainers and trainees alike. Unfortunately in this day and age, some workers can’t afford an hour away from the office, let alone several hours or a few days.

Virtual Instructor-Led Training

Virtual instructor-led training is not a new concept, but what has changed is the opportunities it brings. Even though “virtual” sometimes indicates a light-years-away reality, it typically offers an environment that’s similar to a classroom in that there’s two-way interaction. Instructors can explain and test skill ability or information retention in a way that’s just as effective. And while the technology links in 2008 consisted of only video, they’ve since transitioned to things such as Google Hangouts and beyond, with polling tools and other whiz-bang features.

As long as the designs of materials presented on videoconference are complementary to the remote worker lifestyle, VILT has the potential to minimize time out of the office. Virtual training also allows for the chunking of content whereby you can dedicate time at your discretion. The obligation here is different because it doesn’t have to be live. As a trainer, you can offer pre-training assignments, as well as post-meeting follow-up, breaking up the workflow without cutting the learning short.

Over time, the ability to run VILT has become easier. While most events will still be live, the technology stack has been simplified greatly and you can do it at no cost if you choose. Specifically, if you’re a small business and you want to expand outside of a particular geography, you can. You may not have a lab or training facility, but you can meet learners where their classrooms are and in a space they’re already comfortable.

Virtual vs. Digital

As mentioned, the word, “virtual,” often brings to mind unforgiving avatars and Second Life. Because the majority of the workplace today has been influenced by digital technology in one way or another, it’s more appropriate to look at virtual instructor-led training as digital instructor led-training. This terminology is more descriptive, enabling, and inclusive, and it represents a mode of business that company executives are working so hard to perfect. In addition, it’s more aligned with the subtle happenings that we may not even think of as learning events, such as Webinars and other association-based experiences.

As organizations dedicate additional training budgets, their strategies still circle around the goal to preserve money and time. Employee productivity, after all, is a key to business, and you can engage workers in a way that’s sensitive to their needs. Think of it as a balanced approach instead of shipping someone overseas to learn. Digital training presents an opportunity to learn, be invested, and to grow.

Take TechSmith in Okemos, MI, for example. On Monday mornings we hold company-wide corporate meetings. Unfortunately, we don’t have the real estate to host more than 300 people in one room. The solution? We live-stream the meeting from building to building and even remotely for those at home. Because it’s live, employees can ask questions and contribute commentary in real time. Ultimately, there’s no excuse not to be involved. Better yet, we record the meeting and archive it on our company portal so it can be replayed and referenced anytime, anywhere, resulting in long-term return on investment.

This is very much like the flipped boardroom concept but for learning. We’re not killing face-to-face—those experiences are important—but digital must be a key part of your overall learning strategy. There isn’t a perfect or right answer, but digital training provides an opportunity for corporations to offer connected learning experiences at a similar or lower overall cost. You’re now in a position to differentiate how employees learn and grow, no matter the environment.

Matt Pierce is customer engagement manager at TechSmith Corp., a software company that provides practical business and academic solutions that change how people communicate and collaborate across devices. A graduate of Indiana University’s School of Education’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology, Pierce has 10 years’ experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training and user assistance teams for TechSmith, and also has run its visual communication Web show, The Forge, interviewing guests from around the world discussing the use of visuals, video, and technology in education, training, marketing, and more. Teach him something @piercemr.