Is Face to Face Learning Dying a Death?
“Vulnerable”, “Exposed” and “Full of Fear” – all words by delegates on a recent course – expressed in response to their trainer’s first question of the day. The question asked was: “What feelings does the thought of giving a presentation evoke within you?”
“What a difference a day can make”, “I have never been given the help and support to fine-tune the skills needed…before”, “I’m glad the workshop put me out of my comfort zone…” – all comments shared with the trainer in post-workshop e-mails after a day in each other’s company.
Having observed the session, I could see the delegates grow in front of my eyes – literally – as the day progressed. They were being videoed presenting again and again with live feedback and coaching after each attempt, coupled with group discussion on best practice, hints and tips from the other delegates.
Working in sales, it is a rare opportunity to see the fruit of our labour quite so vividly and tangible and it was a truly rewarding experience to have been a part of this group of delegates’ learning journey, honing the skills of giving impactful presentation skills and as the day progressed, finding ways to overcome their fear and nerves.
I left with a warm fuzzy feeling of having made a difference in 10 individuals’ lives and reflected on what an important part the physical presence of our trainer and live coaching in a group setting had played in achieving the successful outcomes.
I was abruptly brought back down to earth attending a seminar session at the Learning Technologies Conference in London a couple of months ago, where one of the seminar speakers declared that the ‘Future is Digital’ and ‘Face to Face Training is Dead’.
My experience from representing a blended learning organisation, which takes both pride and care to roll out the right learning tool – or medium – for the right learning context, is that face to face learning is far from dead.
It is my firm belief that whilst digital technology without a doubt:
• Opens doors to learning where learning may otherwise not have been delivered
• Can speed up the learning processes – stealing less time out of the workplace
• Can cater for a wider range of learning preferences
there is always going to be a place for face to face learning.
Why? Because of the ‘human element’ or the need for; desire to and value of interaction with others; to bounce ideas off each other; to learn from each other and to seek advice from a subject matter expert – the trainer – how the theory can be put into practice for ‘me’ (the delegate).
Yes, technology can cover a lot of that part too. I went to a far more buzzing seminar at the same conference on the topic of Collaborative Learning; if there was an uncomfortable silence in the previously mentioned seminar, this offered food for thought on how you can connect learners using tools such as Yammer (and in our case Bloomfire) to support their collaborative learning. This is a case where technology really has improved how we can reach our learners and help them to successfully transfer their learning from the classroom into their day-to-day working lives.
There will always be, however, a need for some training and development to be delivered by real people.
One example is the Presentation Skills course mentioned above. These delegates learnt by doing and by receiving immediate feedback on their live presentations. I am sure an electronic hybrid of undertaking selfie-presentations submitted for review and with an electronic feedback form issued in return could have offered great value to someone living in a remote area with no access to the live learning environment, but I doubt a delegate in such a programme would have grown to the same extent over the same short duration as my delegates in the classroom.
Of course we do include technology and we do offer a blend of options depending on budget – we do not however see technology as a substitute to face to face learning. We see technology as a complement to face to face learning.
Prior to a presentation skills courses, for example, we may offer an animated video to set the scene and give a few hints and tips to structure and format the presentation we ask delegates prepare as part of their pre-course task. It may focus on the more technical and theoretical things – tips and tricks on using PowerPoint for example. By addressing these things ‘up front’ we can focus wholeheartedly on the behavioural aspects and make the most of the time we have in the classroom.
The only time I would be tempted to buy into the idea that digital is replacing face to face learning is when we work with clients with unique geographical challenges when it comes to the development of their employees.
The selfie-video approach mentioned above, for example, is an approach we would use as a last resort if there were no other alternatives; be it a war-zone, a remote Scottish island or a client with their employees scattered across a number of locations and where the face to face element would have come at a cost so high it would otherwise never have happened. Even then, we would build in live face to face via virtual means to offer the ‘human element’ as a part of the equation. WebEx and Skype have become our trusted partners in offering a face to face value via the internet.
From my experience and the work we are undertaking on behalf of our clients, I feel convinced that face to face training is not dying a death. There is always going to be a time and a place for the ‘human element’ and live ‘human interaction’ – though I am the first to admit it – it may yield the greatest return on investment as part of a wider blend including new learning technology.
Instead of striving for a one-way digital future, let’s embrace a blended approach where:
• Each element of the blend plays to the strengths of the medium chosen.
• All the aspects pull together as one whole to deliver successful outcomes to your organisation
• The learning you provide offers a flexible learning approach such as:
o self-directed study
o face to face sessions (physical or virtual)
o Collaborative Learning (such as Yammer, Fuse or Bloomfire)
o On-the-job coaching (by peers, managers or work floor ‘angels’)
Embrace the digital future and harvest the new opportunities it yields, but don’t dispense of ‘the old’ without careful consideration on whether the new will bring similar outcomes. The novelty soon wears off.