agent of arcadia

How to decide between virtual or classroom learning

In Development, Effectiveness, Instructional Design, Leadership, Learning, Performance Management, Strategy, Team, Training on April 28, 2016 at 6:07 am

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Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2016 identified that:

“… the ubiquity of always-connected mobile devices makes learning potentially available everywhere and accessible to everyone at any time. Employees can now take a course on nearly any subject online, search for an expert video or podcast to learn a quickly needed skill, and even earn a college degree in a new topic like data science without leaving their desk—or a couch or coffee shop. This new world of consumer-centric learning puts employees, not L&D departments, in charge.”

Indeed, one of the benefits of online and virtual learning is its cost effectiveness and ubiquitous presence. The fact that it allows for easy deployment, administrative tracking and consistent roll out of content to a mass group of learners, is certainly very tempting for organizations pressed to complete training on large scales. With online and virtual learning, induction and compliance training seem a breeze.

But what about how online and virtual learning effects a business’ return on investment? And how do online and virtual learning effect learning objectives and behavioral shifts?

To consider this, we first need to explore a few avenues.

How do we learn?

Before we look at the effectiveness of training, let’s first focus our attention on the learner. For by understanding how we learn, we can then identify if the delivery method has been effective.

We all have different ways in which we learn. There are many different models for describing learning styles, but for the purpose of this article, I’m going to touch on the VAK Learning Style, which is an acronym for Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic.

Essentially, according to the VAK Learning Style, visual learners learn through what they see; auditory from what they hear; and kinesthetic from activity or doing something. While some people can make use of, or execute more than one learning style, most of us have a natural preference for one style.

Visual learners

Visual learners attend to information most effectively when they see something, for example, pictures, diagrams, films and videos or demonstrations. Visual learners become impatient when extensive listening is involved and therefore don’t do well in teleconferences or audio learning environments. They do well in classroom environments or face to face workshops when shown how to do something and are allowed to take notes and manually record information received.

Auditory learners

Auditory learners would benefit from podcasts, audio learning, or phone conferencing. These types of learners are more interested in learning through spoken words. They prefer to learn by listening to their lecturer or facilitator or other participants. They would benefit also from interactive discussions.

Kinesthetic learners

Have you ever noticed a person fidgeting when reading? Or become easily distracted or fidgety when unable to move in a meeting or classroom environment? These are your kinesthetic learners. They’re the ones who love to roll up their sleeves and eager to get their hands dirty as soon as they’ve learnt something new; they want to try it out. These learners thrive in situations where they are allowed to do things for themselves.

Understanding your learning style can help you to learn and retain information more successfully. And for training to be effective, it needs to take into account these three different styles of learning.

The effectiveness of a training initiative

In my career, I’ve been an instructional designer for an online learning solutions organization, and an editor at a Registered Training Organization. What this means is that I have seen various styles of learning and delivery methods, from facilitator or instructor led training, to online learning, to self-paced learning. I have also, therefore, been immersed in, involved in, as well as produced and written for a whole host of learning and delivery styles.

Having been exposed to such a range of learning and delivery styles, it’s interesting for me to see how each adds up against a return on investment, so to speak. Like most projects, it’s important to evaluate the effectiveness of a training initiative. Otherwise, it’s simply resources going to waste. And that is a business pain.

But you see, when choosing a delivery method, it is important to focus on the objective. For ultimately, it is about the objective of that which you want to achieve. Perhaps this is where the four level Kirkpatrick model, one of the most common tools for assessing training effectiveness, comes into play.

Developed by Donald Kirkpatrick, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin and past president of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), the model has four levels:

  • Level 1 – Reaction: measures how the learner feels about the training.
  • Level 2 – Learning: measures what the learner has learnt and how much their knowledge has increased as a result of the training.
  • Level 3 – Behavior: measures behavioral shifts that have occurred as a result of the training.
  • Level 4 – Results: measures the changes manifested in the business as a result of the training.

But what has all this got to do with delivery methods? Well, let’s look at self-paced and online learning for starters.

Virtual or online learning: A cost effective approach

Online learning is often fast and relatively easy to deploy via a multitude of media once you have the platform and program ready to go. The initial work is heavy but the rewards reaped are a plenty. Because once you’ve got it up and running, online learning is accessible learning at your fingertips, at the touch of a button or the swipe of a screen.

Inductions, compliance, and remote and refresher training are ideal candidates for self-paced or online learning. Learning on the run is also a huge fan of the self-paced or online delivery method.

As previously mentioned, visual and audio learners tend to fare well in webinars, podcasts and e-learning platforms. Certainly better than their kinesthetic counterparts, who need to immerse themselves in an experiential learning environment with demonstrations and possibly group interaction.

But self-paced and online learning sometimes doesn’t necessarily involve a human touch. And self-paced and online learning requires vast amounts of self-discipline. So what does this mean?

Cheating the system

Without self-discipline, it is easy to cheat the system. A learner with little self-discipline will produce little result in achieving anything above a Level 1 against the Kirkpatrick model.

To put this into perspective, consider this. A manager friend recently confided in me a bane of her discovery; that online learners click through screens without so much as a glance to the content, and then breeze through the activities by discussing answers with other learners. Or worse, they take screen shots of the content on their smartphones and when they get to the activities, they refer to their screen shots for the answers.

Purists the world over would cringe at this. At least if learners discussed answers with other learners, there would be some interaction, learning and hopefully retention, and involve some kind of human touch!

Don’t get me wrong. Online learning has its perks, certainly revered in this digital age, where everyone is busy and time is a key contributing factor on decisions made against more bums on seats alongside tight deadlines.

If given a choice, learners – or perhaps more specifically, people who decide how the learner will learn – opt for online or virtual learning for its convenience.

But convenience doesn’t always necessarily turn into results. Results which hopefully convert into behavioral shifts. So unless your learner is practising the acquired skill, or regularly applying the acquired knowledge, you’re lucky if you scratch the surface of Level 2 against the Kirkpatrick model.

Experiential learning: Learning to shift behaviors

I read a quote the other day, credited to Michael J Fox:

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Have you ever watched a child learning? They watch, touch, prod, push, listen, speak, and even smell and taste in some instances, and sometimes almost all at the same time. What they’re doing is absorbing information through all their senses.

See that’s the thing about experiential learning. It’s a multi-sensory experience. You have access to a trainer, instructor or facilitator who speaks to you, discussions with others which you can learn from via experiences shared, visuals you can look at via aids and demonstrations, and of course, in some instances, you can even practise what you have learnt and demonstrate your own understanding of having retained that information. Experiential learning aligns closely to the Confucian ‘hear, see, do’ philosophy.

Remember the Kirkpatrick model? This type of training helps the learner achieve a Level 3 result. This is where behavioral shifts occur.

However, it has been argued that most experiential learning executed via classroom learning or face to face workshops, and unlike their online or virtual counterparts, is structured and restricted when it comes to being able to roll out remotely or cost effectively. But when you think about it, if the need for training is to shift behavior, then experiential learning might actually be more cost effective in the long run, with more sustainable results. Practice, after all, makes perfect.

Objective + learning style = delivery method

So we’re back to the objective. Here is where you ask yourself: What is it that you want to achieve out of the training?

In a perfect world, it should be that your objective plus the learner’s learning style, (or styles, as the case may be) defines your delivery method. It’s a simple formula. It should not be the budget that defines the method. Sadly, in most cases, that is how the delivery method is determined.

So next time you need to determine the type of training that is suitable for you or for a learner, perhaps use the Kirkpatrick model to benchmark the result you want to achieve. Consider also the type of learners you may be faced with. Then go ahead and pick the right delivery style that will help you get the result you want. Budget notwithstanding, of course.

Copyright © agentofarcadia 2016

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