The rise and fall of the IT trainer

Bruce Maples is upset. He doesn't like the trend toward computer-based training and away from instructor-led training. This week, he makes the case for classes led by a real person.

Recently, I was skimming through a copy of a popular IT training magazine when I thought I noticed something unusual about the content. I turned back to the beginning and scanned the content more carefully. My first impression turned out to be valid:

Not one feature article, blurb, tip, or editorial was about instructor-led training (ILT). Everything in the magazine from cover to cover was about one form or another of computer-based training (CBT). As far as this issue of this magazine was concerned, face-to-face training didn’t exist.

What’s going on here? Have we all concluded that traditional training is going the way of the dodo bird? Are trainers so bad that anything else is better? Or, has the cost/benefit analysis simply fallen too far in one direction to be ignored?

For some time, I’ve noticed the trend toward various forms of CBT and away from ILT. I know there are good reasons for this trend, and I even believe there are some situations where CBT makes the most sense. But after thinking long and hard about it, I have reached two conclusions: one aimed at persons who plan and manage training, and one aimed at us, the trainers.
  • To the managers: There are still good reasons to use a live trainer.
  • To us, the instructors: It’s our own fault.
Next week in the second installation in this series, Bruce Maples will explain why this trend is partly the fault of the trainers themselves.
Why live trainers are still a good idea
I know all the reasons for using CBT/WBT/whatever-it-is-this-week-BT:
  • It’s cheaper over the long run since you only pay for it once.
  • It features student-directed pacing.
  • It has higher multi-media capabilities.
  • It allows for multi-path learning.

I know all these things, and yet I’m still convinced that ILT not only still has value, but it can provide a unique merit that can't be found on the balance sheet. There isn't space in this column to list and discuss all the advantages of live instructors, so I'll just mention a few:

Live interactive coaching
We've come a long way in building "intelligence" into CBT, but it still can’t compare to a live instructor kneeling beside a confused student and leading them out of their confusion. It is simply not possible to design a computer-based course that can anticipate every question, every nuance that students may come up with. Nor is it possible to replace the intuition and effectiveness that a good coach brings to bear on a problem.

And finally, a good trainer is more efficient. I can answer the question, reassure the student, and move on to the next topic or question in less time than it would take the student to type in his or her question and have the CBT figure out an answer.

Energy and enthusiasm
Part of the teaching task is to get your students excited about what they are learning. While it is true that some CBT makes a good attempt at this, face-to-face interaction with a live instructor builds enthusiasm that is both deeper and longer lasting. And I guarantee you that a live instructor who is pleasant, energetic, and full of life is more attractive to a learner at 8:00 A.M. than yet another image on their computer monitor.

Motivation and focus
A good instructor keeps the students motivated and focused throughout the class. Most designers of CBT material will tell you that the use of their product requires the learner to be motivated and ready to learn prior to using the material. While no teacher can make someone learn who doesn't want to, a live instructor can feel the energy level in the room and make adjustments. They can work with someone who is getting discouraged, let a humorous situation run its course, get the class back on task, and help people push through a difficult section. CBT simply can't provide this.

I know this sounds awfully "touchy-feely," but I simply don't believe there is a substitute for human interaction. There is something about the teacher-student relationship that cannot be replicated between a human and a machine. I have had students open up to me during and after class in ways they never would to a machine, simply because we made a connection during class.

Managers and planners, I know you are under pressure to cut costs. I know that there are times when the advantages of CBT seem to outweigh ILT. But I still believe there are benefits to live instructors that you simply cannot get any other way. When you are filling in your cost/benefit spreadsheet, find a place to include the human equation.
Bruce Maples is an author, trainer, speaker, and consultant living in Louisville, KY. To share your thoughts on the issue of IBT, please post a comment below or follow this link to write to Bruce .

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