Mar 1

The Power of Online Learning

By Neil Stoneham
Online learning was already a thing before the advent of Covid-19. But, as professionals all over the world have been experiencing the joys (and sometimes misery) of working from home, business trainers have been adapting to suit.

As someone with experience of online training – as both a trainer and a participant – I’d like to offer my perspective from both sides, focusing on the benefits that online training brings and the power it has to develop your skills.

I’ve been helping people boost their communication skills for nearly 10 years now, and most of that training has happened face-to-face. In 2020, all that changed. There’s no doubt face-to-face training is preferable from a purely social point of view. We humans are social animals and like to be in the presence of others, as lockdowns have clearly demonstrated. But a lot of the face-to-face experience can be replicated online and there are added benefits.

Before we look at each of those benefits, let me clarify the distinction between the two types of online training out there. E-learning programs refer to those courses that are entirely self-directed, via videos and downloadable content. There is usually no interaction with the trainer. Virtual courses can include an element of e-learning, but most of the actual training is delivered live, via platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Participants interact with the trainer and with each other, either in discussions with the whole class or in groups via Breakout Rooms.
Yes, there are downsides to online learning, such as connection issues and the ample opportunities for distraction. But these are far outweighed by the advantages. So, let’s look at the benefits of online training over face-to-face… 

1) Convenience

Most face-to-face training involves some local or even international travel. Even if a course is delivered in your office premises, you usually have to take a big chunk of time away from your normal working environment to attend the course. Online training can be done from the convenience of your home, which was a big bonus during lockdowns because that meant training was not disrupted. Plus, the trainer doesn’t have any travel expenses, so that often makes the program cheaper. I recently delivered a 4-week online communications course for Amazon managers in Asia. The group was made up of professionals tuning in from no less than 4 countries – Singapore, India, China and South Korea. Imagine the cost of that if it had been delivered face-to-face! 

2) Spread

Learning happens most effectively when it takes place over time, rather than all in one go. When we learn a new skill, we benefit from having time to put that learning into practice and then have that training built up and reinforced over the long-term. This is much easier to facilitate online, especially for complex programmes. When I was training to become an Executive Coach on the excellent PCCP programme with Paul Marks and Tom Yates, the online training took place over 16 weekly virtual sessions with opportunities to practise and get feedback in between. We gradually built our coaching skills at a reasonable pace, which would have been much harder to achieve had the course taken place over 2 or 3 days. 

3) Peer Learning

I’ve heard people say they avoid online training because they like to interact with others when they are learning. I understand the sentiment, but it’s misguided because you can and do interact with others in a virtual course. At least you should. My advice is to avoid any virtual training program that doesn’t give you the opportunity to interact with the rest of the group. 

During the Executive Coaching course, I developed professional relationships with many of the participants and have even gone on to work with some of them. I also witness the collegiate atmosphere when I deliver my own programs, which is always a delight to see. If there’s a buddying or mentoring system built into the virtual course, then you won’t be short of human interaction and you will benefit from it.

So, there you have it. The power to learn in a totally virtual environment is growing and becoming the norm. And we haven’t even touched on the exciting opportunities offered by Virtual Reality (VR) tech, which will no doubt become more prevalent in the near future. 
Meet the author

Neil Stoneham

Neil is the managing director of Voxtree – an international communications consultancy that helps professionals communicate powerfully and persuasively in the global marketplace.

He has coached professionals in a variety of sectors, from embassies and auditing firms to hospitality and energy companies. Neil also delivers training courses in association with British Chamber of Commerce.

Previously, Neil spent two years writing for the Bangkok Post and taught in two major international schools in Thailand.
Patrick Jones - Course author
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