The stand-off between Greenwich Council and the government over whether lessons should be online or face-to-face is a similar dilemma to that which will be faced by many organisations once the pandemic is over. Do they go back to face-to-face presentations or do they stick with Zoom or other online communication?
If you strip out the health concerns, the arguments come down to cost, convenience and time on the one side versus the quality of the training experience on the other.
Having delivered about 150 online lectures and courses in the past nine months and having talked to many of my fellow lectures about their experiences, I can safely say that the experience is fairly common to all of us.
Online communication has the advantage of being less costly; both in terms of the fees and the travel and accommodation costs. It is also more convenient for some because it avoids spending substantial amount of time travelling to venues. It is also convenient at least in theory because you could download the recording of the seminar.
These apparent advantages are counterbalanced by the fact that audience participation is less than for face-to-face. The level of engagement is significantly weakened. Although most communication systems have the facilities for breakout rooms and chat boxes, they do not benefit from the same level of participation. The presenter is often in the dark as to whether he is actually engaging the audience and whether the content is being pitched at the right level. He/she cannot pick up either signs of encouragement or warning from the participants. The presenter cannot see any looks of bafflement or indeed boredom which may require him/her to change the presentation or repeat a concept that was not understood.
From the participants’ point of view, there’s always the temptation; particularly where they are not on video for their attention to wander to something else. Participants also lose that useful interaction with other people at a course. Whether it is the interaction in the sessions or the all-important networking and technical conversations that they have in coffee breaks and over meals.
Online training will always have a place. I’ve done plenty of presentations before the pandemic online and I suspect that I will do plenty of them after them after the pandemic is over. But I think that generally they should be limited to 1 to 2 hours. They are generally easier to deliver and digest if they are general updates rather than an in-depth analysis of a subject.
The balance between face-to-face and online will be determined by the decisions of businesses that send their employees to these courses and the requirements of the professional standards bodies. Once the pandemic is over, I would strongly suggest that they review the efficacy of online training. It is a useful addition to face-to-face training but should never replace it.