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Classroom Training vs. On the Job Training

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From a certain perspective it seems almost silly to sit in a classroom as an adult.  Sitting in a classroom, for the express purpose of learning is something that children do.  Many for twelve years or more, 9 months out of the year, sitting in classrooms learning.  Even the idea of classroom learning has a certain infantile connotation to it.  The image is of an empty and impressionable mind being slowly filled by a knowledgeable instructor.  But adults have already gone through this process.  They have lived, and learned, and by connotation are done with the classroom.  They have joyously left it behind, mortarboards and yearbooks and other childish things.

In contrast to classroom learning, most favor the idea of on the job training for adults.  In this paradigm, rather than sitting and receiving knowledge in a continuous process over a dozen years, information is learned as it becomes necessary.  After all, few people become baristas (to take just one example) already knowing the finer points about brewing coffee.  In fact, I was once told that a coffee chain who shall remain nameless, has a preference for hiring inexperienced individuals over ones with previous experience because retraining is more difficult than training from scratch.  

Under the on the job training paradigm an adult is (metaphorically) thrown into the deep end of the pool, and if they don’t know how to swim they’ll figure it out soon enough.  This can often lead to what I like to call the “hidden responsibilities” of a job.  These are the things you didn’t know you were responsible for when you signed up for the position, and which usually you don’t actually know how to do.  But since they’re technically part of your job (even though you didn’t know about them before today) you have to figure out how to make it happen.  You learn. On the spot, nothing in advance, and often with a very pressing deadline looming over your head.  

I would suggest, that while classroom learning and on the job training appear to be antithetical modes of learning, they actually can work in concert to great effect, and eLearning is especially helpful in this regard.  The advantages of the on the job training style are that it is experiential learning, it’s time saving in the short term, and the knowledge usually sticks because of the high pressure.  The advantages of the classroom learning style is that it is low pressure, it’s time saving in the long run, and while it frequently isn’t experiential based, it can be.  

These benefits overlap in a pretty obvious way, which means that both classroom learning and on the job training can be used together to the greatest effect.  For example, by using classroom style learning before a job begins, you can reduce the time it takes for a new employee to become effective in their position, and then use on the job training to address additional concerns as they come up.  

This hybrid style of learning is perfectly suited to eLearning because eLearning is easily deployed at varying speeds at various time frames.  Providing a new employee with a 10 minute introductory eLearning module before their job begins is a lot easier than providing a full instructor led training session for example.  And then there’s eLearning’s ability to take a full classroom learning session and break it up into small chunks which can be easily fit into a busy schedule in the same manner as on the job training.  

It’s this customizable nature which is the real power of eLearning as a medium.  eLearning allows you to present classroom style learning in an on the job training context and on the job training in a classroom context.  By offering both as options eLearning lets you present exactly the type of learning that the situation requires, which offers better results and a better experience in the long run.  


Photo Credit: David Rzegocki