Once you have determined the focus for your firm’s training, deciding on training delivery method is the next critically important step. Selecting the correct training delivery method ensures you can then go on to source the right training content and knowledge (as we discuss in the next section).

When thinking about training delivery methods, you will no doubt encounter the various debates about which method is best. This debate has raged among training professionals for many years as technology continually opens up new methods beyond face to face training.

The simple answer is: there is no ‘best’ training delivery method. Every training delivery method has its uses, and a modern training manager will embrace every possible option. The debate only continues because of vested interests from training providers, or professions which holding onto traditional views. We see the result of this in the ongoing bias held for certain training delivery methods.

Bias in training delivery methods

First, and hopefully in decline, is the ‘old guard’ of the training industry and their view that face to face training is best. This view is more established in older generations or among subject matter experts who now sell their expertise in the form of workshops. “Nothing beats face to face training” remains the catch cry of not only traditional training facilitators but also Baby Boomer managers who view alternative training delivery methods with suspicion.

This leads to the second bias – comfort. Face to face training is attractive to managers as it appears that participants are ‘forced’ to learn. Managers can ensure staff attend training and facilitators can ensure they are engaged. The problem is that this belief relies on many assumptions, not the least of which is that ‘attendance is the same as engagement’. I am sure we have all been present at a workshop and yet wholly disengaged, dreaming of being elsewhere and leave with only snippets of information retained.

And herein lies the problem. The attendance and completion of training (whether it’s face to face, online or any other method), is not a measure of engagement. Most commonly, this is because of a poor choice of training delivery methods. A good training manager will keep an open mind and combine training delivery methods to suit the training objectives.

So, let’s take a look at the entire range of training delivery methods available to professional services firms.

Training delivery method: Face to face

Let’s start with face to face training. It has been the bedrock of corporate training for decades and will no doubt remain an important training delivery method going forward. It has many strengths when it comes to learning, but also many weaknesses which become more apparent as other training delivery methods arise.

  • Face to face training: Strengths
    • Takes participants away from their jobs, potentially reducing distractions and improving focus.
    • Allows body language to play a part in the training, which can be critical for certain
    • Provides opportunities for group discussion in a way that everyone can understand and contribute to.
    • Can be easy to organise as it only requires a suitable location and little or no technology.
    • The physical interaction can boost teamwork and make internal connections.
    • Can provide some excitement or ‘event’ status which may boost morale or help engage participants.
    • Can, in theory, handle large volumes of information and long programmes (half day or full day). However, this must be balanced against the overall success of the experience; more is not always better.
  • Face to face training: Weaknesses
    • While group discussion can be easy, it can also be difficult. It is common for participants to feel anxious about public discussion and strong personalities can dominate discussions.
    • Requires a physical location. It can be restrictive or difficult to organise for distributed teams and expensive to bring participants together.
    • Is typically the most inefficient training delivery method, particularly if participants have to travel to the event and external venue hire is required. A large portion of cost is spent on expenses which do not impact the training result.
    • If external facilitators are used, it can require long sessions to justify the cost. Long workshops are even harder to coordinate and participants become anxious about being away from work for too long.
    • Is at risk of being viewed as an ‘event’ – an activity which is fun but not effective. Requires careful preparation and, particularly, good follow-up to ensure learning is embedded.

Training delivery method: Large group webinars

The next of our training delivery methods takes the face to face concept into the internet. Group webinars are live webinars, typically with 25-1,000 attendees with a facilitator to host and present the event. Participants join via their computer or a shared screen in a meeting room.

  • Large group webinars: Strengths
    • An extremely efficient training delivery method. Costs are low so the majority of funds can be spent directly on learning.
    • Can potentially involve 100s of participants at once.
    • Well-suited for large-scale transfer of information where the focus is on informing participants, with little or no behavioural change required.
    • Can efficiently run short sessions (15-60 minutes) as the cost to organise and effort to join each session is low.
    • Suits participants located in widespread locations, within or outside the corporate offices.
    • Easily recorded for playback in the future or those unable to attend the live event.
    • Allow for live Q&A, and some live interaction (polls, group chat).
    • Easy to track and report attendance and, with the right software, the degree of engagement.
    • Easy to refine and re-use so that sessions can improve over time.
  • Large group webinars: Weaknesses
    • Can be a passive experience unless the webinar facilitators are skilled at using the delivery platform.
    • Can turn into ‘death by PowerPoint via the internet’ in unskilled hands.
    • The level of engagement decreases as the number of participants increases. If the group becomes large, it is harder for the webinar facilitators to respond to every chat or question.
    • Can be difficult to genuinely understand participant engagement. Participants may be subject to distractions or disengage during the webinar.
    • Potential technology issues, but most modern webinar platforms are stable and optimised (even for low bandwidth environments like mobile).
    • Can be hard to run webinars for more than 60-90 minutes. Large topics may require multiple sessions, in comparison to what can be achieved in a single four-hour face to face workshop.

Training delivery method: Small group webinars

Small group webinars are limited to 10-25 participants. These are more like face to face workshops than large group webinars, which tend to resemble keynote presentations. Small group webinars offer a high degree of interaction, and the facilitator would typically know each of the participants. Among professional services firms, small group webinars are a popular method.

  • Small group webinars: Strengths
    • Extremely efficient training delivery method. Costs to run webinars are low so the majority of funds are spent directly on learning.
    • Can be extremely engaging and may offer as much as (or even more than) face to face training in the hands of a skilled facilitator.
    • Can involve 1:1 live chat, breakouts for small groups, document edits, screen shares and more.
    • Can support ‘soft’ skills topics, including role-plays and use webcams for displaying body language.
    • Group discussion can rival face to face workshops, or even exceed them. Some participants may feel more comfortable contributing via keyboard discussions than speaking in public at face to face workshops.
    • Excellent at gathering group input. Everyone can contribute, and it is harder for an individual to dominate the discussion.
    • Can efficiently run short sessions or a series of sessions over weeks or months, as the cost to organise and effort to join each session is so low.
    • Suits participants located in widespread geographic locations, within or outside the corporate office.
    • Easily recorded for playback in the future or those unable to attend the live event.
    • Easy to track and report on attendance and, with the right software, some degree of engagement.
    • Easy to refine and re-use, so sessions can improve over time.
  • Small group webinars: Weaknesses
    • Can be a passive experience unless the webinar facilitators are skilled at using the delivery platform.
    • Can turn into ‘death by PowerPoint via the internet’ in unskilled hands.
    • Participant numbers need to be limited in the same way as face to face training. Beyond 10-20 participants the webinar becomes a ‘large group’ and engagement falls.
    • While it is easier to monitor each participant for engagement in a small group webinar the facilitator still needs to be active in this monitoring.
    • Potential technology issues, but most modern webinar platforms are stable and optimised (even for low bandwidth environments like mobile).
    • Can be hard to run for more than 60-90 minutes per session. Large topics may require multiple sessions, in comparison to what can be achieved in a single four-hour face to face workshop).

Continuing learning about the pros and cons of training delivery methods in part two of this series.