IDM Learning Blog: Should training organisations bring back face-to-face learning?

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As society starts transitioning back to the office and some semblance of normality returns, it will bring fresh opportunities for the learning and development industry. However, a key question on many training organisations’ minds is ‘does this translate to an increased appetite for a return to the classroom’?

A recent Institute of Data & Marketing (IDM) Online Survey asked nearly 350 respondents exactly this – the majority (83%) would either be happy with a return to face-to-face learning or are willing to do so with safety measures in place.

But to make informed decisions, learning organisations must gather a range of evidence to underpin any significant decisions centred on the design and delivery of their programmes.

Has lockdown changed the learning landscape forever?

CIPD’s ‘LEARNING AND SKILLS AT WORK SURVEY 2021’ found that in 2020, just 36% of organisations reported using webinars or virtual classrooms – as of early 2021 this figure stood at 51%. Lockdown restrictions have clearly increased usage of remote learning models but this is not a significant change.

This could be down to perceived limitations of technology and/or an ongoing desire for human connectivity. The report found that take-up of emerging technologies, which have the potential to make learning both more engaging and effective, remains low: the proportion using mobile apps, chatbots, VR and AR animations or games is largely unchanged. It also found that investment in learning has decreased this year, conversely, spend on learning technology has increased so this take-up may change in the near future.

These findings imply that organisations have not necessarily thought through how to digitalise learning in a blended way to get the best out of different delivery methods. The majority of organisations are still not fully engaged with hybrid or blended learning models – perhaps this concept is too ahead of the curve for many?

Virtual learning and classroom have different strengths

The demand for upskilling opportunities will continue to rise – more organisations are waking up to the value of investing in people. Economic uncertainty will also drive more professionals to upskill and reskill for career stability. Organisations must be able to facilitate both remote and classroom learning to offer an enhanced, flexible customer experience, as both have different strengths and suitability.

Approximately half of respondents in the IDM’s 2021 survey found virtual learning experiences harder to concentrate and less interactive than face-to-face. However, the majority found virtual learning more convenient (100%), sustainable (86%), and practical (67%). The survey’s qualitative analysis revealed that many people miss networking and getting to know peers, as well as the connection that they make with the tutor. So clearly there is appetite for both in the future depending on learning preferences and requirements.

The learning landscape is likely to change in the future, as hybrid and blended models become more dominant. However, until technology is able to facilitate this seamlessly, people must have options for different preferences and feed the craving for a human connection.

Listening to customer feedback

A majority of IDM survey respondents appear keen for the return of a face-to-face learning offering; however, we must continue to cater for individual learning preferences and include options that offer flexibility, convenience and accessibility. The IDM’s model will include:

  • Virtual Classroom: Tutor led, live, online classroom environments
  • Online Self-Study: via a 24-7 access portal, providing an engaging multimedia learning experience
  • In-Person Training: face-to-face, tutor-led classroom training at an IDM training centre

As part of our return to delivering in-person training, we are taking a range of measures to ensure our delegates learn safely while attending courses at our training centre. A full list of our recommendations and precautionary measures can be found here. The IDM also intend to offer a virtual classroom, or online self-study back-up option, for those that continue to prefer the safety and convenience of learning at home.

So, the message from our customers is clear. There is demand for a return to face-to-face learning, but people also want to have options depending on personal circumstance and preferences. The learning landscape will continue to evolve in the future but, for now, options and flexibility are key.

The IDM has listened to customer feedback and will offer face-to-face learning, virtual learning, and online self-study options. This will ensure that no matter what learning preferences someone has, they are able to upskill professionally, safely and comfortably.

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