• eve

Will Covid-19 Kill Classroom Teaching?

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Will all classroom training pivot to be online

We are all settling in to this bizarre new world of physical isolation and digital connection; with the novelty of Zoom chats competing with the anxiety of the situation we all face. And in the midst of it all, every coin-operated salesman has spotted the opportunity to punt eLearning as if it’s a community service rather than thinly-veiled marketing. I guess we must all beware the disaster capitalists who have spotted the niche. Thanks guys... 

When I stop eyerolling, I’ve been wondering whether the forced move to online training will mean companies will see it as a cheap alternative to traditional class-based training. They can see people are getting used to the technology, so we risk the abandonment of the classroom when the immediate crisis is over. If we do, I fear we will be taking a step backwards in education just to save money in the short-term.

Online learning by itself is not enough

The rapid development of online training has exposed how painful it can be when it’s not well thought through or thoroughly planned as part of an integrated programme. That’s fine for now — we are all just coping — but this isn’t how it should be.

Educational organisations have been looking at what they can do to diversify digitally and remotely for a long while — distance learning at universities has been around for years. But educators know that while quality online courses provide excellent learning resources, they cannot replicate the uniquely human experience of face to face interaction. I’d also quite like my surgeon to have wielded a knife in reality before she gets to me, and the agriculture student should probably get to meet a pig at some point. 

We risk alienating learners because of the poor quality of the training offered in panic by people learning how to do it as they go. Doing it badly is damaging. What online-only course providers won’t tell you is the drop-out rate… it’s huge (40% to 80% online students drop out of online classes (B. Smith, 2010)). 

There is a place for the classroom as well as the video, as long as the design and implementation of the entire programme is informed and intentional. 

Blended learning is the future

No really. It’s been talked about for years, and yet it’s not easy to do well so it’s not widespread. Ask the average bid person about how they learn and they will talk about going on a course for a day or reading the APMP BOK before a certification exam. Most corporate training is rather one size fits all. In reality we learn on the job most of the time. 

Yes, yes, I know the 70:20:10 ratio, and I also know it came from a bit of a vague survey, as these simplistic silver bullets have a tendency to do. Do not be a slave to the numbers (which are suspiciously rounded), ditto 55:25:20 or whatever the latest magic ratio is. There is never a nice simple answer when we are dealing with humans. The idea that there is more to learning than sitting in a classroom/in front of a webinar is good though, but the actual learning programme has to be specific to the audience and not off the shelf. 

As a reminder, the idea is that 70% (or 55%) of learning is on the job by doing, 20% (or another suspiciously rounded number) from other people sharing, and 10% (you get the picture) formal teaching. 

Most people then dismiss training as just the 10%. I’m not talking about just the 10% with blended learning. Because you are getting the learners doing and sharing they are moving towards getting the 100%. 

What is it then?

It’s a blend of traditional teacher-in-front-of-the-class type approaches and a world of digital techniques. You take the best of both online and reality and get better results. 

You can have a classroom, and then some videos to watch in your own time, and maybe collaborative tasks and research with peers, and a lot of self-reflection. It’s more than just delivering training a bunch of different ways, it’s about increasing the retention and engagement by getting the best from each practice. It’s about allowing for some personalisation and embracing the diversity of the humans we are trying to teach. This is why it’s hard to do well. 

Don’t take my word for blended learning getting the results either — research suggests that it leads to better outcomes — and we were realising this back in 2003: 

Results to date show improved student learning in 19 of the 30 projects, with the remaining 11 showing no significant difference. Other outcomes achieved by the redesigns include increased course completion rates, improved retention, better student attitudes toward the subject matter, and increased student satisfaction with the mode of instruction compared to traditional formats. (Heterick & Twigg, 2003) 

This approach gives the learner the flexibility to learn where and when they need to. The format is mixed and interesting. The approach is personalised. And yet the learner still gets to spend time face to face with the teacher. 

What would that mean in the bidding world?

Say you have a team of Capture Leads with capability gaps. Normally we’d think about sending them on a classroom course, or getting some certification. Maybe now in the Zoom world we will look at online courses for them. 

Or we could approach this as an opportunity to employ blended learning with on-the-job coaching aimed at skills improvement, some eLearning modules identified by training needs analysis against a competency matrix, a job aid or playbook for just in time training on some specific task they are about to do, and a face to face session where real-world scenarios are discussed with reality checks and grounded advice. Sounds more interesting and will have more of an impact. 

We need to rethink bid training. I’m loving seeing all the training outfits trying something new because of Covid-19 — it’s great. More please. We need to share and collaborate. Use our networks. Create a better way that is more engaging and actually works to make us better at what we do. 


Embrace this familiarisation with the online world, and think about how you can improve the L&D in your company and team. Think about how you can make learning inclusive — we are not all the same, so find the best way to learn for the learner. We’re differently abled and a mix of neurotypical and neurodiverse, we like to learn in different ways — I hate videos, but those there young people love them apparently. Focus on how the learning can and will be used on the job. Use technology with purpose. 

Let’s use these strange times to throw some spaghetti at the wall and see what works. 

I know this is not new or ‘disruptive’, but not much has changed so let’s increase the voices demanding we evolve. If you already knew about it then we can get you a cookie later. Promise. 

Embrace diversity. Craft what you do to achieve what you need — stop following the herd/book/what some consultant tells you…wait no, ignore that last one…