In his recent article, “The rise and fall of the IT trainer,” Bruce Maples discussed the trend toward computer-based training (CBT) as opposed to instructor-led training (ILT). TechRepublic members had lots to say about the benefits and drawbacks of both types of training.

Pros of ILT: Customized, personal, motivating
Sean B. is in his second year of technical school and much prefers face-to-face training:

“My first course in COBOL would have ended with a smashed monitor had I not had the experience of someone who knows which command gets a period where, etc. Besides, I like gleaning information from IT pros who have a vested interest in getting others to ‘get it.’”

Rick B. points out that there is more to gain from class time than just information about a new application:

“If attending a class with peers from work, important networking happens. I can return to work and still have the benefit of additional eyes and ears that heard what I heard. I encourage students I teach to network and share not only their questions but successes too. Long-term relationships develop that provide additional ‘soft’ benefits.”

Joan M. brings up an important benefit of instructor-led classes:

“The employees seem to soak up the information more quickly and with less resistance to new applications when we can present the information personally.”

Laura H. had a succinct explanation of the chief benefit of having a live instructor in the classroom:

“There is no machine that can encourage a student to learn.”

The value of ILT was proved to Doug P. in a personal way:

“I was [pleasantly] surprised when one of my students nominated me for instructor of the year recently. She told me, ‘You always go to a lot of trouble to make things interesting and explain them clearly. I was ready to quit this field because I couldn’t seem to understand any of the books I was reading.’

“A good instructor is as much of a motivational and inspirational leader as he/she is a teacher.”

Cons of ILT: Expensive, ill-prepared, dumbed-down
Aleta C. summarized the most frequent complaints about instructor-led training:

“Number one is the expense, number two is the time, and number three is the instructor. The kind of courses I am interested in cost up to $4,500 and last from two to five days. My employer is not going to pay for more than one of these a year. Often the courses I attend are slow because they are by necessity paced for the slowest student. Also, instructors vary, and while some are quite good, others are not.”

Stefan L. had an expensive experience with several of the “not-so-good” ones:

“I disagree with your article on computer- versus instructor-led training. I spent $14,000 on ILT last year from a private college to get my MCSE and A+ certifications. My teachers were horrid. I eventually stopped attending the classes and bought Sybex and Exam Cram books, and studied for and passed my exams on my own.”

StevenC. points out the numerous problems and frustrations that CBTs can solve:

“My experience as an instructor of training sessions on applications is that of a 10 person class, two don’t show, two say it’s too fast, two say it’s too slow, two are asleep, and two say it’s just right. CBT is available when they arrive, it goes at their pace, and if they fall asleep, they wake up when their head hits the keyboard.”

A company’s location is also a factor in the CBT versus ILT debate. Sometimes it is simply not feasible for a business to have ILT, as Amasiewicz points out:

“CBT does have a place in IT training. Our users are distributed over a wide geographic area, and many cannot attend instructor-led courses. For these people, CBT may be the only training they have available.”

Roy R. says that the distance factor can intensify the pinch of the financial factor:

“Our company is located in a small city in Western Canada. We are 2,500 miles from Toronto and 1,200 miles from Vancouver. We don’t even get the option of local, instructor-based training. (As my network manager says, we live in the fold in the map, so nobody ever comes here.) To send someone on such a course automatically doubles the cost of the course. As an IT manager, I am continually squeezed for budget dollars. Instructor-based training has priced itself out of my market due to unrealistic course costs combined with additional travel costs.”
Read part two in Bruce Maples’ two-part series on CBT vs. ILT to find out why he thinks the success of CBT might just be because of less-than-perfect trainers.
How about computer-based everything?
Kirk G. takes the “replacing people with machines” argument to its logical conclusion:

“If it saves money to have only computer-based training, then I think computer-based accounting, management, and customer service would save even more. Actually, computer-based children would really save the big bucks. Someday I can send my computer-based kids to computer-based college so they can grow up, earn some computer-based cash, and send me to a nice computer-based retirement.”

Compromise is good
Many members pointed out that it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Businesses can use a combination of instructor-led classes and computer-based training programs.

François C. says that his company uses a variety of methods to train employees:

“We use projectors, laptops, white boards, and other media to train. Web-based training (WBT)/CBT is just another tool.”

Something to keep in mind
The key issue that many people mentioned was the skill level of the trainer. It gets harder to make the case for ILT when there are too many trainers who read the manual on the plane on the way to a class or whose reply to a question that is not in their PowerPoint presentation is that the question is not pertinent.

Adam L. says he prefers instructor-led courses but has a few complaints and some food for trainers’ thoughts:

“If I have to take another of those courses with an instructor that relies only on what is in his/her computer-prepared presentation, I think I would rather use the CD-ROM version. It is cheaper, and I can always go back as many times as I want.

“The point that I am trying to make is that an instructor-led course must be more than a CD-ROM-based course with a certified computer operator who changes slides.”
Are your views represented here? Has your company found a way to preserve the human factor in ILT as well as benefit from the cost-savings of CBT? Send us a note.