From Screens to Scenes The Return of In Person Training.

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The publication ‘Training Magazine’ has recently reported that in a large survey of US companies, a significant proportion of companies had moved from online training to in-person delivery. In their study, they found that 25% of Management Skills Training and 24% of Interpersonal Skills Programmes, which had been online, had reverted to in-person delivery during 2023.1 

At Openside we have noticed that the tide has turned and increasingly our clients are requesting in-person delivery. This, is after all the forecasting predicted that the future was virtual, and that the pandemic had accelerated this trend. Before 2020, we had never delivered virtual training. But, when the pandemic hit, we scrambled to work out how to deliver virtually and, even more challenging, how to make it engaging. 86% of our programmes were delivered on our virtual platform, 14% on clients’ during the pandemic2. When clients started requesting in-person training, we were happy, and grateful, to return to the training room. 

Virtual training is often less costly and saves time because no one has to travel. In addition, it does give access to international tutors and experts in their fields. It also facilitates ‘bite-sized’ learning where a module of 1-2 hours can be delivered at regular intervals giving participants time to apply the learning between sessions. 

However, there are several reasons why in-person training is often more successful. In-person settings enable better live exchanges between trainers and trainees. Online or remote platforms, no matter how sophisticated the tech, cannot match the real feel of physical interactions. The human connection of face-to-face engagement promotes better communication and a more fluid exchange of ideas. Online, it can be difficult for participants to get individual attention, check their understanding or delve deeper into topics of interest for the group. In-person learning allows more instantaneous feedback from instructors and faster responses to questions as it is a ‘live’ environment.  

The physical proximity of an in-person learning environment also enables more effective non-verbal communication. For example, a trainer can read a trainee’s body language to understand how they are relating to the course material and can adapt their approach to achieve better learning. Participants also report benefitting from the social interaction and networking that in-person learning allows. 

And then there is the problem of multi-tasking. We know that understanding and retention of information is negatively impacted by distraction and multi-tasking. As a tutor, I am all too familiar with the sinking feeling you get when you look at your screen and realise that some of your participants are reading their emails. You do always know, because of the way the eyes move. It is very challenging for trainers to manage and trainees report that it is very hard to resist. McKinsey recently published a report where they had researched students in higher education and found them reluctant to attend virtual lectures as they cited fears of ‘becoming more distracted, getting bored, and lacking the discipline to complete the program’3

We have observed ratings for our in-person programmes are marginally higher than those attained for online delivery. Research backs up the idea that learners are more satisfied with the in-person experience. And many organisations are reporting success with blended programmes which involve a mix of face-to-face and online delivery.  

In recent years we have  seen evidence of the switch back from our own statistics. Until 2022, we were still primarily delivering 65% 2 of all programmes virtually. However, 2023 saw the figures revert to pre-pandemic levels, with 59% 2 of programmes in-person.  

In a world increasingly dominated by Tech and AI, it seems we can’t replace the benefits of a real human presence in a training room. 

Author Debbie Dudley

Sources 1 Training Mag reference 2Openside statistics 3McKinsey reference