Online or e-learning is the new fascination of many organizations as a tool to facilitate the learning and development of employees. It’s convenient, flexible, cost effective, immediate, unrestricted, and can be customized to different needs.
Yet, one area where I’d still question the effectiveness of e-learning is in teaching ‘behavioral skills’, ‘ people skills’, or ‘soft skills’. Just as one will not be able to swim by reading about it off a computer screen or learning about it in a virtual environment , similarly, one cannot learn ‘ how to negotiate’, ‘how to manage an upset customer’, or ‘how to lead in challenging times’ by reading content and answering a test electronically.
So why does a face-to-face trainer or coach really matter for any behavioral skill training to be truly effective?
Learning a behavioral skill is a ‘personal experience’, not an ‘act’ or a series of ‘actions’. So when learners ‘experience’ new concepts, there are as many variables in thinking and approach as there are in the number of them going through the ‘experience’. Face-to-face access to a trainer or coach allows learners the freedom to express ALL these variables with less inhibition, and can enable the trainer address these spontaneously and uniquely, while guiding their ‘individual’ learning experience towards common goals and ensuring they take away a consistent learning message.
Also, the best benefits of any behavioral skill learning experience comes from interactions in the training room, when learners engage in collaboration, discussions, and kinesthetics that are carefully supervised and guided by the trainer; with on-the-spot feedback, and more importantly feed forward, which the trainer proactively identifies and anticipates in the training room, based on observations of the learner’s actions and reactions. Yes, blended e-learning modules do support this to some extent. But take away key components of communication – access to ‘tangible’ cues and ‘eye contact’ – and this limits the effectiveness of any collaborative learning experience.
Learning is about relationships. We all had our favorite subjects in school and college; stuff which we still remember! And that probably had to do with the level of comfort we felt with the subject’s teacher and the teacher’s unique methodology and style. Behavioral learning really sticks when learners are able to connect a learning experience with a relationship. And building and establishing relationships requires living beings.
And then, the physical characteristics of a learning environment can affect learners emotionally, with important cognitive and behavioral consequences. Having a trainer or coach to facilitate the learning experience in a room that is conducive to learning could lead to enhanced outcomes when compared to the learning which happens at a cluttered work desk in an office, with phones ringing and people speaking, or in a room filled with a multitude of electronic devices and equipment.
Now don’t get me wrong! Not all face-to-face training is more effective than an e-learning solution. But a great trainer and coach, who practices disruptive and innovative facilitation techniques in the training room to engage her learners, will always trump the best e-learning solution out there!