Distance learning, self-paced learning, virtual classrooms, Web-Based Training (WBT), Computer-Based Training (CBT)—the list of alternative training methods that were to revolutionize the classroom goes on and on. What is happening to the training classroom? Will instructor-led training ever become a thing of the past?

One of our TechRepublic readers, Don, recently read an article we posted in TrainingRepublic titled “Leaving the Classroom ,” which originally appeared in the June issue of Inside Technology Training (ITT) magazine. Don sent us an e-mail with his thoughts on where training was supposed to go, where it is today, and where it’s headed in the future.

Don’s thoughts on “leaving the classroom”
“I have to take issue with the training article ‘Leaving the Classroom.’ Conventional wisdom has been predicting the death of the instructor-led training model for years. I myself bought into that once. In the early ’90s, I did a master’s program in education and completed several papers and projects on ‘alternative learning.’ I read those papers now, with all their dutifully footnoted predictions, and they are almost laughable.

“Five or six years ago distance learning and virtual classrooms were the future. They were going to revolutionize learning. This was before the Web exploded. Then Web-based learning was going to be the medium of choice. All along the way, trainers and classrooms were classified as endangered species. Schools as we know them would cease to exist. Instead of brick-and-mortar buildings and campuses, communities would invest in virtual infrastructure. People were going to get college degrees in the comfort of their living rooms. Well, guess what? It never happened, at least on the scale originally envisioned.“

Why we need live instruction
“I think there are a couple of reasons why distance learning hasn’t succeeded. First, putting together a viable distance learning technology has proven to be extremely difficult and expensive. The company I worked with prior to my current employer spent millions on a Web-based classroom infrastructure, complete with curriculums, audio and video, interactive chat sessions with instructors at specified times, and live instructional multicasts. It sounded great. Get your MCSE on your own time for only $2,500. It never got off the ground and has since been written off.

“The reason this program and others failed wasn’t because of a lack of technology, money, or commitment. The simple fact of the matter is that the average student lacks the time, equipment, initiative, study skills, commitment, self-discipline, or basic intelligence to learn in a virtual, self-paced environment. Many of them are lacking in all of the above. That is distance learning’s dirty little secret and the reason why instructor-led training has never and will never be replaced.

“This is particularly true of technical subjects, such as application suites and network operating systems. Have you seen Windows 2000 yet? Nobody is going to learn that out of a book or over the Internet, especially if the person is new to the field.

“Distance learning, virtual learning, self-paced training, computer-based training are excellent for supplementing classroom training and are an indispensable part of a total learning package. But my experience is that the reports of the demise of instructor-led training are greatly exaggerated. There will always be a brisk demand for good instructor-led training and organizations that can efficiently deliver it at a competitive price.”
We’d like to know what our readers think about the future of the training classroom. Are you in agreement with Don? Is your training organization moving toward alternative methods of training? Please post your comments at the bottom of this page or send us a note .