Our reporter considers whether the success of online learning programmes means the death of classrooms training
Travelling across the country training tax professionals a few years ago, I
realised that what I was teaching in classrooms could be easily replicated
online. Together with a partner, I launched an online teaching programme for tax
professionals. It was popular. Of customers who chose the online service, 20%
eventually used it to replace classroom teaching altogether, 60% used it to
supplement classroom training, and 20% were new customers.
Tax professionals can now study a range of programmes online, from continuous
professional development on many aspects of tax and accounting, to qualification
and exam training such as ATT and CTA. Some programmes are simply classroom
lectures made available online, but many others make the same content more
concise and visual.
Benefits of online
There are obvious time benefits for companies that invest in online training.
Most classroom tax training sessions can last for three hours, compared with 15
to 20 minutes for online lectures. This means less travel time and days when
groups of employees are out of the office at the same time. A client recently
remarked how online training had transformed the way they worked, primarily
because it is less disruptive and they could fit the courses in around their
Shorter lectures also accelerate learning by working to people’s ability to
retain more information in short, succinct chunks. Online lectures are just 15
to 20 minutes long so we can drip-feed the information.
People also learn a great deal from pictures and diagrams. Research shows
that people retain twice as much when they see something rather than hear it or
read it, so we make online training very visual and audio-rich. For tax training
it works especially well as it is easy to show graphically what is happening to
numbers. While you can include visuals in a classform presentation, it can’t be
done to the same extent. Powerpoint is not as visual as Macromedia Flash.
So does online training mean more individualised learning and a movement away
from groupwork and discussion? Yes, to the extent that it gives you greater
control over when and how you study. If you already know a particular lecture,
you can skip it; equally, if you are having difficulty understanding a
particular point, you can go through it again. Lectures can even be downloaded
to your MP3 player and listened to on the way home.
But online learning also provides opportunities for group discussions. One
accountancy firm we work with gets together in groups to discuss each of the
topics. Employees still enjoy the social side of classroom training but within
an office environment, and at a time convenient to them.
Demise of the classroom?
Online training can never completely replace classroom training. Most (60%)
of our lectures are still classroom-based and not all lessons are available
online. For corporates, some of the learning is very niche. I have spoken with
many lecturers who believe that some complex subjects are better taught one to
one, and that online training sessions would not support such expert tuition.
The classroom also provides an opportunity to socialise and network. When
looking at the real value of classroom training, people typically overestimate
the educational component and underestimate the social. Take CPD; the feedback
from our lessons is that people like the human contact of classroom training and
the feeling they can share their experience with others.
What is changing, though, is the style of classroom teaching. No longer is it
sufficient for a lecturer simply to read out a text for three hours in front of
a class. Lectures need to be interactive, animated and entertaining. It is often
the things people laugh at that they remember the best.
Nothing can beat the live experience of listening to a lecture if that
lecturer is inspiring and knowledgeable. Take Ben Elton – the experience of
seeing him live is completely different to watching him on a DVD. In the same
way, the hi-fi never replaced live rock performances and online training will
never truly replace classroom-based learning as long as the lecturers are good.
The assessment forms we receive on our lecturers show that the best ones are
those who make the topics practical and entertaining.
Mix of the best
As tax trainers look to offer the most effective and up-to-date tuition we
are seeing a real growth in blended learning, where learning in the classroom is
complemented and reinforced by online training. Lecturers will set an online
module the night before so people can start a classroom lesson with assumed
knowledge and better focus. In the classroom, people can come together to test
their knowledge and there is a common level across the classroom.
Many of our customers get more from these types of sessions, which bring
together online knowledge acquisition and classroom knowledge application. The
Big Four, for example, have embraced blended learning as part of their graduate
training. Employees will learn a new module online and then apply that knowledge
in the classroom.
Technology is changing rapidly and we are seeing some exciting developments
that will affect training and development. One of the most important is the
growth of Web 2.0 social networking technology.
As Web 2.0 sites such as YouTube and Myspace take off, so their practices are
making the transition into business use. By developing its wider e-learning
potential, online training will allow people to work together and discuss
issues, replicating the networking that is so valuable in the classroom.
With the rise of mobile platforms that can support online training – the
laptop computer, the mobile phone, the MP3 player and the personal digital
assistant (PDA) – we will all be able to have learning on demand, whenever and
wherever we want it.
For now, online training will not lead to the demise of classroom training;
there are pros and cons for each. With the increase in compliance requirements
and tax legislation, people need to know more. That makes training more
important than ever. Businesses need to look at their needs, discuss them with
trainers and decide on the approach which best suits them.
? Staff spend less time travelling and away from the office
? Lectures usually last for only 15 to 20 minutes, so staff can fit online
learning into their working schedule
? Lectures are always available to view online
? People can choose the modules they want to study, skip those they already know
and view again those they need to learn more about
? People learn more in short succinct chunks, and so remember more from concise
?Online training can be highly visual and people learn more from pictures and
? Lets staff share ideas and network
?Allows one-on-one discussion on complex tax areas
? Live lectures can provide inspiration and entertainment
? Brings together online knowledge acquisition and classroom knowledge
application – staff can learn a subject online and apply it in the classroom
Chris Jones is head of Tolley Tax Training, LexisNexis