Industries of all kinds are evolving their learning and development (L&D) approaches. After more than a year of imposed online training, companies are exploring new ways to engage and motivate adult learners once again. There is a time and a place for both online and in-person learning, but the pandemic has introduced an urgency to engage our professionals in continuing education. According to a survey by EAB, 70% of prospective adult learners reported that the coronavirus pandemic had “negatively impacted their current or future employment outlook.”

It has become imperative for organizations to discover new ways to support continuous learning. Leaders need to understand that employees are trying to maintain regular workflow on top of the external stress brought on by a global pandemic. In these types of situations, it can be easy to deprioritize learning. However, now more than ever, supplementing career knowledge through continuing education helps professionals increase their value as employees and helps businesses stay competitive. In-classroom learning can accelerate the deployment of technologies that facilitate learning comprehension and retention, as well as aiding crucial relationship-building between the instructor and learner that aids long-term growth.

Hands-on for Faster Results

Tactical experiences during lessons are optimized through an in-person setting. Of course, 3D technology has provided a huge boost to demonstrating a nearly live experience for describing parts and processes. Yet hands-on learning is especially valuable in applied industries, such as cable telecommunications, where technicians can actually practice how they will need to complete tasks in the field. Again, technology can play a big role in making the learning experience more immediate, but there can be no substitute for in-person discussion to better understand technical processes and to resolve confusion around new concepts.

Additionally, as industries move toward more aggressive recruitment efforts to draw in younger employees, they will need to accommodate their requirements for an ideal learning and work environment. According to EAB, while older adult students have historically viewed online learning more positively, younger adult learners are increasingly questioning whether online learning offers the same value as in-person classes. How does an industry determine what those needs are? Outreach. For example, when HACC, the largest community college in Pennsylvania, wanted to know what was important to their adult learners, they conducted multiple surveys and then implemented solutions to respond to the feedback received.

Education programs that are focused on application exercises are best conducted in person, not only for the relationship building that it affords but also to accelerate the learning curve. For example, a boot camp can provide the same lessons in three days that are delivered in an average online class over 40 days. The curriculum and approach are focused on application exercises to ensure that learners walk away not just with conceptual knowledge, but with the ability to immediately apply their practical skills on the job.

Time and Focus Make the Difference for In-person Learning

Adult learners are resilient, but organizations need to listen to what the students they are training are looking for. The accessibility of technology has certainly improved the learning landscape for all industries, but everyone learns differently. A study on learning and motivation out of Berkeley demonstrates that instructors want to do more than present the course material and, in fact, seek “to encourage active engagement with the material, to foster students’ ability to self-monitor their learning, and to create a safe environment in which students can be inquisitive learners.” An in-person setting provides the opportunity to engage with students more immediately and effectively.

There are pros and cons to online learning and in-person classes. Yet, the live learning experience is more easily enhanced — and retention is more robustly supported — when adult learners are able to have organic conversation and build relationships. The difference between an online and an in-person course really comes down to the depth of discussion and the learner interaction that is possible in a live setting. Real-time questions and answers, with hands raised or answers shouted, and visible facial expressions have no substitute for learner interaction.

In the classroom, learners can absorb information without the distractions of multitasking. They are sitting in a room with other learners, focused on the subject at hand. So many programs have become preoccupied with setting up online learning that many of the benefits of sitting in a classroom with other learners have been overshadowed. There is a time and place for both and, as with in-person learning, an open conversation about the best environment for your learners to achieve the skills and lessons they need to excel is the first step to optimizing the learning experience.