Corporate learning and development has undergone a transformation over the past few decades, evolving from traditional classroom-based sessions to virtual and now a hybrid model. As technology has advanced and workplaces have become more distributed, training styles and delivery methods have had to adapt. This evolution has enabled training to become more accessible, personalized, and integrated into day-to-day work. However, finding the right balance between virtual and in-person continues to be a challenge.
Today we will examine the past, present, and future of training through the lens of the classroom, virtual, and hybrid models.
The Classroom Model: The Traditional Approach
For decades, classroom-style training was the norm across most industries. Learners would gather in a room with an instructor at the front presenting the material. Classroom training provided a live interaction between the instructor and learners. The instructor could read the room and gauge understanding through body language and questions. Learners could ask questions and participate in discussions. Roleplaying activities allowed for hands-on practice of new skills. For example, new customer service reps could act out calls with peers to build confidence. A major downside was that learners had to be brought onsite, limiting training scalability. Companies with multiple offices incurred major travel costs. Classroom training also disrupted productivity, with learners away from their day-to-day work for 1-5 days at a time.
The Virtual Model: Increased Access and Flexibility
The rise of the internet, video conferencing, and learning management systems enabled a shift to virtual instructor-led training (VILT) in the 1990s. Learners could join training remotely via their computers without taking time away from work to travel. Many learning management systems also allowed self-paced eLearning. According to statista.com, the virtual classroom market surpassed $18 billion in 2020. With video conferencing, virtual training better engaged remote learners compared to simple slide presentations. polls, chats, breakout rooms, and screen sharing provided interactivity. Virtual training increased access for part-time and shift workers who couldn't attend conventional classroom sessions. It also enabled just-in-time training with shorter, more frequent sessions. However, lack of in-person interaction was a challenge. Technical issues caused disruptions. Sitting at a computer all day led to fatigue. Building connections between learners was difficult.
Hybrid Training: The Best of Both Worlds
The hybrid model aims to blend the benefits of classroom and VILT. Typically, this involves supplementing virtual sessions with periodic face-to-face workshops. For example, new engineers could learn technical skills virtually over several months then attend multi-day onsite labs to apply skills in person. The virtual components increase access and reduce time away from work while in-person sessions foster deeper connections and hands-on practice. According to Training Magazine, 34 percent of companies planned hybrid training in 2021. Hybrid provides flexibility for the modern, distributed workforce. Learners can join training from anywhere without long stints offsite. Hybrid also supports blended learning with virtual lectures supplemented by collaborative classroom projects. This diversity of learning activities caters to different preferences and improves retention.
However, finding the right hybrid balance remains tricky. Organizations still require frameworks for determining which sessions should be live or virtual. They also need tools for effectively connecting in-person and technology-enabled experiences. The future of training lies in using technology and data to create truly integrated omnichannel learning.
The Future: Optimization, Personalization and Democratization
Training is evolving beyond standalone virtual and in-person courses. As technology continues influencing all aspects of business, training will become more:
Optimized – Organizations will rely on analytics to determine the most effective delivery channels and cadences for each training need. Short microlearning videos for simple skills vs. multi-day labs for complex engineering skills, for example.
Personalized – AI will curate customized learning pathways based on individuals' roles, experience levels, learning styles and performance goals.
Democratized – Current learning management systems are clumsy and complex. Better interfaces will make online learning accessible enterprise-wide. Mobile platforms will deliver training on-demand.
Training content will need continuous updating as workplace needs rapidly evolve. Instructor-led programs will rely more on scenario-based modules. Gamification will engage modern professionals. For example, simulations like caring for a virtual robot pet could build nurturing skills for healthcare roles. Training will be tightly integrated into operating processes and systems rather than a siloed activity. Ultimately, as technology transforms how we work, it will spark an equally dramatic evolution in how we train and develop talent.
Training delivery has progressed significantly from purely physical to virtual and now hybrid models. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, which is why many organizations are starting to leverage hybrid training. Although the classroom provides great in-person interaction and practice, virtual methods enable accessibility, flexibility and personalization. Hybrid aims to deliver the best of both worlds. However, finding the right mix of physical and virtual remains a key challenge. As technology continues advancing, training will need to become even more optimized, personalized and integrated into the flow of work. Organizations that leverage these capabilities will gain a sustained competitive advantage through their talent development.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.