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Don’t Give Up On Classroom Training

Posted March 24th, 2014
Times have changed in Learning and Development. Gone are the days when we could schedule a plan of classroom based training courses and expect that to cover the organisational development requirements for the coming year. Now we have to be much more able to adapt to market changes, organisational demands and employee needs. An organisation that is not willing to adjust their approach to employee
development will soon falter in their attempts to progress and grow.
These new demands have seen a shift in focus and at the same time, emerging technology has stepped in to fill the void. E-learning, management learning databases, social media interventions, open learning platforms, video clips, development blogs and many other creative approaches to learning have made headway into most business training strategies.
There’s also been a growing demand for more formulated ‘on the job’ training, also referred to as ‘informal learning’, which has always been around of course, but is now being given some of the important focus it deserves, after all, we probably learn most of what we do in our job roles while actually doing our job. The issue with informal learning in the past has always been that it is very hard to track and manage this learning, but of course the fact that we have new tools such as learning management systems means that this has become a much easier task. This means managers have more control over the process and more importantly, they can provide evidence and reports to back this learning
up.
The approaches I’ve described above are probably well on your radar and most businesses have begun to implement these ideas in one way or another. They’re very popular, not only because they are seen as innovative, but also because once the initial outlay has been made, they are often found to be a cheaper alternative to traditional approaches.
You’ve perhaps noticed by now that I’ve made a very good case for these methods of learning and this belies the original title of my article. Many readers who fight the corner of classroom training who were encouraged by the title are likely now creating small effigies of me to put needles into. However, to neglect the fact that these new methodologies exist and are actually an important part of learning and development would not only be insincere, it would also be hugely incorrect. These interventions are valuable, they do have a place and they can save money and help develop a strong approach to employee development. What they can’t do is provide every piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is learning.
It’s right that classroom training is not seen as the only way that people can learn and actually it never should have been. People have always learnt outside the classroom and if you don’t implement any of the teachings from a classroom then the learning will have been lost anyway, so ‘doing’ has always been a key component. This isn’t restricted to the classroom though, because if you don’t go out and do something different after you have watched a video clip or taken some e-learning or even read a book then the value is soon lost, it’s exactly
the same.
Now, you could argue that the informal ‘on the job’ training doesn’t suffer from this problem because you are already doing something with what you have learnt and I totally agree. However, this type of learning has always existed. We haven’t made a magic new formula with informal learning; we’ve simply got better at recording it. So, if we needed classroom training before when informal learning existed, we still need it now.
Let’s not forget that classroom training has changed vastly over the years too. We used to take a much more presentational approach to classroom training and learning would be focused around an expert at the front of the room who would impart knowledge much like a professor lecturing a class. Now classroom training is much more engaging and inclusive and will be filled with activities, exercises, group work and, dare I say it, a lot of the new technologies that people are using outside the classroom. Good trainers hunt down relevant and interesting materials that will enhance and support the training content that they need to get across and training has improved immensely because of that.
Classroom training is really important and should sit side-by-side with any other development approach being used. Here are a few things I think classroom training gives you that e-learning and other technologies don’t do effectively…
  1. A chance to physically practice skills with peers in a safe environment
  2. Ability to openly debate and discuss issues with others (writing on forums or via emails doesn’t count for me)
  3. The prospect of learning from an expert, your peers and people from different areas of the business
  4. Provides an opportunity to review learning and ensure understanding at time of learning
  5. Be able to relate your experience and knowledge with others and see how this fits into your wider understanding of a topic
These are just a few of the things I think learning technology is unable to provide to any effective degree currently. I’m sure there are other reasons why technology is not able to replace classroom training and I’ve also missed out the more intangible elements such as working with others and teambuilding etc. It’s clear that classroom training still has a place though and there are a lot of people who much prefer it to the often anti-social and data-led approaches that technology can offer.
When new ideas, technologies and approaches come along, it is tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater and neglect everything that has gone before, but this can be a big mistake and while new ideas should be embraced, we should not forget the important role that ‘the old way of doing things’ can play. In fact, you could argue that most of these ‘new technologies’ are actually not new at all, they are just using new tools to do the old things we used to do. You don’t read a quote from Martin Luther King anymore; you watch a clip of him making it. You don’t view a diagram of that new product being developed; you scroll through a 3D plan of it.
A lot of training is also bringing technology into the classroom and I think this best demonstrates my thinking on how classroom training should be perceived in the modern world. It’s not that it is outdated and needs replacing, more that we need to best work out how to combine classroom training with the many other interventions that are arising these days.
So let’s not give up on classroom training just yet. It has just as an important role to play as it always had. We just need to ensure that it plays nicely with everything else that is emerging.
Andrew Wood is the Managing Director of Trainer Bubble Ltd. who design and develop training resources and course materials for download from their website. Visit them at www.trainerbubble.com to access a wealth of resources including a large section of free training resources and material.

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