What’s the difference between training on-line and on-site?

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Training courses can be delivered in various ways. Up until 2019 delivering training courses on-site, in a classroom with people together in a group was the usual approach. Since the pandemic started (early 2020) we have seen a major shift to on-line training courses.

In this blog, we will share our experiences that may help you answer which kind of training course is better for you. Our focus is on live training courses where a trainer and a group of participants work together at the same time (we do acknowledge there are more (sub-)types of training courses and combinations of these types, but for now we focus on live courses on-site and on-line).

What is a live on-line training course? Basically, it is a training course where the trainer and the participants are all working from behind their own computer, all in different locations. So the only contact they have is through the computer connection. Usually, platforms like MS-Teams, Zoom, Google-meet, Webex, etcetera are used to connect the people.

What is a live on-site training course? The trainer and participants come together in a classroom and work together using paper-based training material and/or with the use of computers, but the main communication is face-to-face.

Our experience shows the following interesting points of comparison between on-line and on-site training courses:

Effectiveness

To start with some good news: The end result for training courses that prepare for an exam (measured by pass-rate of exams) is not significantly different between on-line and on-site delivery.

The effectiveness of training courses that don’t prepare for an exam, however, can be quite different, we believe some types of training courses will be significantly more effective when done on-site, especially when soft skills are involved (such as communication styles for introvert people).

Knowledge transfer is equally successful on-line and on-site. Training for skills (for example applying test design techniques) is harder on-line. This is because the trainer cannot monitor what each participant is doing during practical exercises (in en on-site training the trainers would be walking around and looking over people’s shoulders) and therefore the on-line trainer can’t correct participants in time if they do something wrong. This may cause a loss of valuable time during the review and discussion of the answers of the participants.

To increase the effectiveness, creative exercises on-line can be supported by tools such as on-line whiteboards and worksheets, but discussion exercises are often more effective on-site.

It’s harder for the trainer to keep track of whether people understand and comprehend the material. This is because the trainer can’t see the participants very well, sometimes not at all when people keep their camera off. But even with the camera on the trainer doesn’t see much of the body language that in on-site courses gives automatic feedback.

On-line discussions between participants are harder

The participants are less communicative on-line than in a classroom (because only one person can speak at the same time and typing in a chat-box is done much less than talking in an on-site classroom). Also it’s hard for some people to type in a chat box and listen to the trainer or other participants at the same time, which hinders their communication. Trainers must be aware of this and actively monitor whether participants are involved or need to be stimulated to interact.

On-line participants need more breaks

On-line people need a break more often because working at a computer screen is more intense, the breaks can, however, be shorter because there’s no queue at the coffee machine. Generally on-site we have one 15 minute break in a 3-hour training session. On-line we have two 8-minute breaks, which effectively is a short break every hour.

Less time needed on-line

The training course takes (a little) less time when delivered on-line because the participants are less communicative. When the goal is knowledge transfer this is a nice effect. When exchanging views between the participants is important, then the trainer must adjust to actively trigger communication by using specific communication types (for example in breakout sessions).

Working in break-out groups is often more efficient on-line than on-site because in a class-room splitting up in break-out groups takes some more time (people have to walk to another room, and often start with informal chatting before looking into the exercise). In an on-line course some collaboration tools even have the facility to automatically return people to the “main room”.

Less travelling and an inspiring mix of cultures in one group when training on-line

People don’t have to travel for on-line training courses, so they can easily be attended by people from many different countries (although the time-zone differences may still cause challenges, we have had people from two different continents in one group, this makes that part of the group will have to attend outside their normal working hours).

However, in our experience having part of the participants on-line and the other part on-site is not doable because the trainer can’t focus their communication on both the on-site and the on-line audience so one of the groups will suffer.

No more physical training materials to carry around

In on-site training courses, it was common to distribute the training material on paper. With on-line training courses all material is electronic, such as PDF’s, excel-practice-sheets, etcetera. (the advantage for the trainer is that they don’t have to transport all this paper anymore, the advantage for the environment is much less use of paper and much less travelling)

People generally tend to prepare better for an online training when they get the materials beforehand, with on-site training usually they don’t get material beforehand because sending physical training material is too much trouble.

Conclusion

Our general conclusion is that both on-line and on-site training courses have their advantages. Now that participants have all become used to on-line training courses it is much easier for trainers and training institutions to make the right mix of on-line training for (mainly) theoretical subjects and on-site training for (mainly) skills-oriented courses.

This blog has been co-authored by Eva Holmquist, a senior test specialist at Sogeti in Sweden.

(This is the seventh blog in the series “How to train cross-functional teams”, the first blog of the series is here: How to train cross-functional teams, the second blog is here: https://labs.sogeti.com/how-to-be-a-good-cross-functional-team-member/ , the third one is here: https://labs.sogeti.com/does-every-team-member-need-coding-skills/ , the fourth one here: https://labs.sogeti.com/five-different-ways-to-train-a-cross-functional-team-member/ , the fifth one is here: https://labs.sogeti.com/challenges-of-agile-at-scale/ and the sixth one is here: https://labs.sogeti.com/do-cross-functional-team-members-need-business-knowledge/ )

Rik Marselis

About

Rik Marselis is principal quality consultant at Sogeti in the Netherlands. He has assisted many organizations in improving their IT-processes, in establishing their quality & testing approach, setting up their quality & test organization, and he acted as quality coach, qa-consultant, test manager and quality supervisor. Rik uses his more than 40 years of experience in systems development and quality and testing to bring fit for purpose solutions to our clients. He focuses at three major tasks: * Consultancy on Quality engineering & Testing in the broadest sense (quality & test policy, project startup, process improvement, coaching, second-opinions, etc…) * Develop and give training courses for both novice and experienced testers (Rik is an accredited trainer for TMAP, TPI and ISTQB certification training courses) * Research and development of the quality engineering & testing profession. Rik has contributed to over 20 books on quality and testing, of which 5 as an main author and 5 as project leader. His most recent book in the TMAP body of knowledge is “Quality for DevOps teams”. Rik is a much-appreciated keynote-speaker and workshop-host at conferences (he has presented at conferences in over 15 countries).

More on Rik Marselis.

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