Why virtual training is now better than face-to-face
Classroom-based training has traditionally been regarded as the gold standard of learning, but in fact for today’s workplace, virtual training offers many more benefits, provided it is designed in the right way.
We are used to thinking that face-to-face training is the ideal; it’s expensive and intense, but it is the luxury we would all love to pay for if we can. As we are getting more accustomed to virtual working and we are getting more adept at designing and running virtual programmes, however, we are starting to see the surprising benefits of this new way.
With virtual training it is possible to source and include world experts... such possibilities would ordinarily be out of the reach and budget in traditional settings.
Virtual training has shifted from being an innovative option to consider, to being the only real possibility at the moment. Not only that but, for all of us, the virtual world has become more familiar. Our skills and confidence have increased, and our expectations of what it is possible to achieve remotely have transformed. I can clearly remember my own team stating categorically that we couldn’t operate virtually. We were wrong! There are many teams around the world in a similar position, so the opportunity and possibility of virtual training has never been quite like this.
First let’s start by being clear on what some of the disadvantages of virtual training are:
- Lack of the shared physical space of the ‘training room’.
- Lack of informal social interaction, the casual ‘nooks and crannies’ of group dynamics.
- Lack of energetic immediacy connecting and focusing participants.
- Heavy reliance on possibly intense screen work, leading to potential tiredness.
Each of these disadvantages can be addressed from a different virtual perspective and can then be turned into advantage. The key opportunity we have now with virtual training, however, is not to ‘fix’ the problems it brings but to create rich and deeply engaging interventions that really work well in this mode. To do that, it helps to believe that virtual is better than the old-fashioned face-to-face, so this article looks at a few ways virtual training can be better and the conditions under which it really works supremely well.
1. Trainee driven
In the virtual world the trainee is trusted and is more in charge of what they are doing, whether they are logged in, what preparation they are doing, how fast they cover material themselves, how present they are etc. The trainee is not just invited to turn up, but is called upon to be responsible. You may not be comfortable trusting to this extent, but this encourages a growth mindset.
Ultimately, accessing the internet from your home or office is easier than driving (or even flying) to a new training venue. Participating in virtual training is so convenient and means you can be sure to participate in conditions that really work for you.
Whatever your special needs or preferences, or wherever in the world you live, you can participate in virtual training in a way that truly works for you. You can adjust the timings, the intensity, the conditions and the speed. It can be personalised to fit many needs and any location. For this reason, it’s a truly inclusive method of training.
4. Flexibility for different learning styles
Unlike some face-to-face training, virtual learning can be more accessible for introverts, or those who like to read quietly and thoroughly, and to those who like to be fully prepared and in control of what is happening. The virtual world provides opportunities and a value for these learning styles to flourish, thereby leveling the playing field for neurodiverse talent.
5. Knowledge retention
By being more spread out and less intense, knowledge can be processed more thoroughly. There can be more of an opportunity to integrate new information in a way that works for each individual. Learning can easily be revisited and evaluated via online assessments.
6. Cost model
Classroom training carries with it certain costs that virtual training does not – e.g. venue rental, refreshments, travel, accommodation, etc. and potentially also in terms of solid days off the job.
It is significantly easier to organise virtual training for a large group of, say, 100 participants than dealing with the logistics of training and seminar rooms etc.
8. Psychological safety
You are safer in your own physical space than in a room with a bunch of other people so, once you can ensure trainees feel comfortable with the technology and the training itself then you have an opportunity to invite them to really work with you.
All of these advantages combine to mean that with virtual training it is possible to source and include world experts and motivational speakers and have literally hundreds of participants gain from their input for deep personal insight, when such possibilities would ordinarily be out of the reach and budget in traditional settings.
Designing for success
To reap these advantages virtual training needs to be very carefully and creatively designed to ensure that positive energy is developed and sustained and that the intensity is just right for the audience. Tools need to be chosen to ensure there is learning and engagement (e.g. online quizzes etc.) and tricks need to be deployed to facilitate optimum participant connection.
There’s a degree of skill and certain mechanisms that need to be used to ensure everyone is taken care of across the ether. Fresh thinking needs to go into how to design, structure and creatively deliver and meet the training objectives effectively. The training objectives themselves, in fact, may need to be re-framed. Most of us are all learning these skills afresh so experimentation and feedback are the order of the day – we will not get it right first time, but we will learn and get really good at this.
Once we have the experience and skill will virtual training always work? No, I don’t think so. There seem to be conditions required for it to be effective:
- Trainee commitment to the training outcomes.
- Space in the trainee’s diary to do the work.
- Technology and tools to drive and facilitate the learning experience.
- Skill and confidence as a virtual trainer.
Virtual training has a place in future L&D plans. You can create a sense of community and real learning across the globe and across time in a way you cannot do with traditional training. It is worth investing in becoming good at this – it’s an exciting time for the profession.
Interested in this topic? Read Flexible learning: how online and social learning boost diversity and inclusion.
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Elva Ainsworth was born into a family of people-watchers and has cultivated a real love of people pattern spotting. This combination led her to a career in HR after a psychology degree at Bristol University. In HR she enjoyed implementing the brand new psychometrics, as well as designing culture change and personal development tools.