Online training – benefits and drawbacks

In 2011, HRtraining opened its online learning management system HRtraining College. Since then, all of our new students are enrolled online. After about a year, we literally eliminated paper-based assessment and transferred everything online.

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Admittedly, online training is the future. This trend is perfectly epitomized by the unneglectable popularity of MOOC (massive open online course) like Coursera and edX. Recently, online training and study witnessed some major changes. First, multiple prestigious universities like MIT and UIUC have even started to grant credits to courses offered online. Second, online training and study providers like Udacity started to provide employment advice and in 2016, Udacity announced a job-guaranteed program for its graduates. Quite unimaginable 4 years ago, right?

But MOOC is mainly related to the higher education section, what is the benefits and drawbacks for vocational training providers to keep up with this wave of online training?

When it comes to benefits, there is so much to say. I will just summarize some main advantages here.

1. More flexibility provided to students.

People like online training because they cannot afford to attend training sessions two or three days a week. The increasingly fast pace of living deprives us of the luxury of face-to-face studying opportunities, especially if we have jobs. Online learning fits right in and the flexibility offered by online training is one of the major comments we get from students.

2. Improved compliance.

Registered training organisations need to make sure that everything is done correctly and relevant records are kept for future reference. Online training helps accumulate records in a systematic way as it is all done automatically. No more paper documents to categorize, no more mailing of learning materials, etc. Important events like when was a student enrolled in a unit, when did a student access a unit, when did a student finish attempting assessment tasks and when were students’ submissions graded were all automatically recorded by the system and the system does a better job than human beings. So these days, HRtraining no longer needs to worry about whether we are doing the right thing as all the records are kept in the right place for us to review whenever we want.

3. Better student management.

Back in the old days when everything was done using paper materials. Distance learning meant enormous usage of postage. Assessments need to be posted to students, completed, mailed back, graded and then posted to students again for amendment. It would take ages for students to finish the study because of the time wasted on waiting for learning materials and grading results. With online training, everything is literally instant. The trainer will be notified by the system when students submit their work and can go in and grade them straight away. Students can see the results immediately when grading is finished. In this way, multiple attempts can be finished within hours whereas weeks would have gone by before the advent of online training.

4. Continuous improvement of learning materials.

As everything is delivered online, if there is a mistake in the learning material, correcting it is just a matter of a few mouse clicking. If we were still using manual, paper-based assessment, changing or improving learning materials would be disastrous and destined to cause dissatisfaction on students’ side.

The advantage offered by online training, to some extent, is unlimited, especially with the constant improvement of technologies. However, some drawbacks related to online training are quite intimidating. Some major problems we have been experiencing are discussed below.

1. Students’ resistance.

Whenever you carry out something new, human resistance is expected. When we moved our course enrolments online, some students did not want to do their assessments online usually due to their poor computer skills. Inevitably, we lost some clients because they did not want to learn how to use a computer or they lived in an area where the internet connection was intermittent. But that is a very common trade-off for organisations wanting to go online.

2. Long learning curve.

Once a training college decides to go online, you need to use a learning management system (LMS), either it is Blackboard or Moodle. I am not saying that it is difficult to learn to use those systems. But the process can become a bit exhausting as things you need to pay attention to are so scattered in different parts that you are doing a little bit here and a little bit there. Even today, we are still exploring the different functions offered by Moodle, trying to make our lives easier. But this problem is not the most tedious.

3. The system may not meet your needs.

Even though the LMS providers are constantly adding new features to their products to improve its stability and usability. The situation facing each organisation differs and it is hardly possible for a standardized product to cover all the needs expected by users. In addition, the way organisations set up their courses are so different that some system functions may not work merely because you are categorizing your courses in a unique way. Whether you want to change the way you categorize things to use the system function or you figure out a way around the system is one of the hardest issues facing us.

4. Lack of motivation to finish the course.

Surprisingly, we found that online learning generates more flexibility while reducing motivation to finish the course. When students attend a scheduled face-to-face session, they seem more motivated to do things. When things are delivered online (unsupervised), some students just do not have the self-discipline to finish. But in saying that, online learning can sometimes encourage students to finish their courses faster as it is purely self-paced. If a student is determined to finish the course, he/she will finish it pretty quickly.

Although online learning presents some challenges for students and the training provider, we still believe it represents the future. 10 years ago, no one was using a smart phone, online study was not even a thing, we had no idea what 3G was. We have come so far in 10 years, most people have a smart phone, most schools and universities have their online portal, we are using 4G phones and the advent of 5G is on the horizon. Perhaps online training will become the norm in a few years?

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