Allan Pettman, UK Managing Director of Global Knowledge, looks at the future of instructor-led learning.

Allan PettmanLearning models are changing as consumers become more demanding. In today’s world, flexibility is undoubtedly the key. The fast pace of life and increasing responsibilities - both at home and in the workplace - mean users are increasingly turning to online learning as a alternative or complement to more traditional classroom tutoring methods.

How is learning changing?

With the dawn of flexible and non classroom-based learning, there are more options than ever before. While it is clearly premature to say we are approaching the end of structured classroom learning, it is true to say that in many cases we can now learn in a way that suits us best, where we want to and when we want to.

E-learning in particular is gaining rapid momentum. For most of us now, the internet is in our make-up. And for digital natives brought up in the digital age, the thought of learning without it is inconceivable.

But while e-learning has been on the radar for more than 20 years, it has faced criticism that it doesn’t deliver the motivation and emotion offered by a human tutor. Face-to-face interaction is universally accepted as the most effective learning method.

While critics argue that an online programme can’t adequately diagnose, analyse, praise or criticise a delegate or situation, there are many reasons for e-learning’s growing acceptance.

What is driving this change?

Without doubt technology is the key driver. Combined with the advent of social media, technology has prolonged the relationship between tutor and student. Previously all contact ended once the bell rang, but the emergence of blogs, social networking and email have meant it’s easier to stay in contact than ever before.

Rather than leading to the death of the classroom tutor, as many has predicted, it’s encouraged flexible education and has also validated the importance of the instructor’s role in facilitating learning.

One of the real beneficial bi-products is that this has extended the learning cycle. For example a traditional five day course may be delivered over four weeks and the extension of this contact point with the tutor (even if remote assistance) has aided many learners to test their learning and leave the process with a greater confidence to implement.    

In addition, social factors including childcare and commuting duties have also helped speed up the adoption of e-learning. With longer working hours and larger families, people aren’t able to commit to regular evening slots in classrooms or in front of the computer.

Having said that, artificial intelligence can’t support individual progress and development in the same way that instructor-led courses can. In this sense, collaborative learning offers people the flexibility to learn how they want, while offering them the necessary feedback and diagnosis that’s required for development.

Where does this leave the tutor?

Despite the obvious benefits, e-learning still needs to be very carefully managed. It’s labelled as being good for theoretical development, but still needs to be blended or made collaborative with access to mentors, learning resources and hands-on development to help cement practical skills and ensure workplace application. However, it’s undoubtedly evolving and has opened the door to a new way of learning that benefits all ages, skills sets and backgrounds.

It’s important to accommodate as many learning preferences as possible, and e-learning goes a long way in helping to do that. While it is realistic to say that demand for structured instructor-led training may reduce in the longer term, it’s still widely recognised that engaged, face-to-face learning is most effective and beneficial in the long term, particularly promoting change through understanding beliefs and attitudes.

That said companies will be looking for a happy medium that promises a return in investment for good quality courses. This could result in the best of both worlds - virtual classrooms that merge structured lectures with virtual conferencing.

Ultimately, the success of any approach is down to a number of factors, from the individual delegate’s learning style and what works best for them to the organisational constraints such as time, geography and budget. But it’s important to recognise that technology and methods are changing rapidly. While flexible learning is king, classroom-based training still has significant qualitative advantages.

Instead it’s being supplemented with different methods that better suit people’s needs and lifestyles. With the industry transforming at the rate it is, we have no option but to adapt and evolve. If we don’t, we’ll find what’s sustained us until now will have moved on and left us behind