In the training world, we often refer to instructor-led-training (ILT) as the gold standard. We compare every other form of training to it and seek to replicate it as closely as possible when developing new training methodologies. But it recently occurred to me that the underlying assumption here might not be correct, and that ILT might not be the ultimate high-value training after all.
Digital learning environments like massive open online courses (MOOCs) are starting to challenge the preeminence of ILT. Is it time we had a new gold standard?
Why is instructor-led training considered the best?
ILT became the gold standard not because it’s perfect (we all know that isn’t true), but because it’s better than other traditional methods of training. There is no question that ILT is superior to sending a new hire a booklet to read or putting an employee in a room with a computer to hit “Next-Next-Next” on a PowerPoint deck, but these are not exactly examples of high-quality training.
Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research about the actual effectiveness of most ILT (although we do know that without proper reinforcement learners exhibit a high level of forgetting). This is largely due to a lack of adequate assessment for training in general—happy sheets don’t reveal anything about what people have actually learned, and the summative multiple-choice tests typical of elearning aren’t much better. Basically, ILT got its reputation from being better than anything else that was available, but that doesn’t mean it is categorically the best.
What are the top advantages and disadvantages of ILT?
In terms of advantages and disadvantages, instructor-led training is usually compared to traditional elearning. From this perspective, the main benefits of ILT include:
- Learning from experts.
- Opportunities for instructor-learner and learner-learner interactions.
- Peer learning and network-building.
- The ability to ask questions and receive immediate feedback.
- Adaptability—the ability of instructors to tailor courses to learners’ needs, even on the fly.
- Focus and attention—learning is not constantly interrupted by ringing phones, emails, etc.
The most commonly cited disadvantages are related to cost and logistics:
- ILT is expensive and time-consuming.
- Instructors and venues are not always available.
- Once a Learner steps out of the classroom, returning to it for clarification is gone.
- It isn’t always possible to stagger the start dates of courses when giving consideration to learner schedules.
When put in this context, ILT definitely wins—the advantages all focus on the higher quality of learning, while the disadvantages are mostly logistical. However, from experience, many trainers know that this divide isn’t quite so stark and that several of the commonly identified advantages of ILT exist only in theory.
For instance, while adaptability can certainly be an advantage, too much variance in training is not. Instructors often go “off-script”, and sometimes huge differences exist between instructors, resulting in a lack of training consistency across an organization. Also, though ILT does allow learners to ask questions in real-time, this can disrupt the training flow—too many questions and discussions during the formal training time can mean that some of the content gets short-changed and missed. In addition, although ILT provides the opportunity for instructor-learner interaction, in practice one-on-one instruction rarely takes place. It’s simply not always feasible for instructors to pull aside individual learners for extra help, and there is no way for learners to rewind and repeat a lesson to better understand a concept. Finally, while peer learning and network-building can occur, they are oftentimes short-lived because there is no infrastructure in place to foster those connections after the course has ended.
Overall, while ILT may be better than training methods that offer no opportunity for questions, interactions, and so on, there is still significant room for improvement. Enter “Technology-Enabled-Learning”.
MOOCs as the new Gold Standard
A gold standard should both reflect best practices and produce the best results, and not just in theory. By combining the best of ILT with the best of elearning, new digital learning environments, like MOOCs, have emerged as a new gold standard for training.
MOOCs both have nearly all of the advantages of ILT and they can respond to the disadvantages:
- They are taught by experts, just delivered via video rather than in person.
- Instructors are never tired and are always available.
- Instructors cover all of the topics of the course.
- Instructor-learner and learner-learner interactions can take place on discussion boards and using other forms of internal and external social media. This provides not only interaction during the course, but also various forums for follow-up after the course has ended.
- Peer learning and network-building occur both using online communication platforms and through collaborative learning activities, and the since course exists online even after its official end date, these connections can continue to flourish.
- They can provide both adaptability and consistency. Courses can include a range of material with which learners can engage depending on their needs, while video-based delivery provides training consistency.
- Learners can stop, rewind, and review when necessary, even after the course is completed.
- Ability to create knowledge benchmarks both pre and post course.
- Assessments are built into the learning framework.
- In terms of focus and attention, learners can choose when to participate in the courses, accommodating their workflow.
- MOOCs are less expensive and don’t suffer from the same logistical problems as ILT.
Of the ILT advantages listed above, the one thing learners may lose with MOOCs is the ability to receive “immediate feedback” to ideas and questions. The key word here is immediate—they can get feedback in the forums, but there will be at least a short delay.
In today’s technology-enabled workplace and world, ILT is no longer the best we can do for training. MOOCs deliver 90% of the value of the live experience, while also overcoming many of the known ILT issues. To top it all off, they can do all of this on a budget approaching one-fifth that required for high-quality instructor-led training.
In the end, that is what makes new digital learning environments so compelling: the ability to get so much more for so much less.
Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.