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Live vs On-Demand Learning: How to Know What’s Best for Your Initiatives

This blog article was written prior to LEO Learning becoming part of GP Strategies. 

When it comes to delivering learning, whether virtually or in person, one of the key things to consider is whether to present it live or provide it for on-demand access. And sometimes, the answer will be both. However, the key here is to understand the benefits of each as well as what your learners need from the content and when they need access to it.

Deciding whether you want to conduct live (synchronous) or on-demand (asynchronous) learning requires a lot of thought. And there are of course opportunities for both. You can record a webinar and distribute it, for example. Recording video has become common practice for many organizations as we’ve been learning remotely.

There are occasions when choosing one or the other simply makes more sense. I’ll take you through a few of each. These are not rules by any means, they are considerations that can point you to live and/or on-demand.

When to Choose Synchronous (or Live) Learning

Examples of synchronous learning include in-person training events, conferences, webinars, coaching, and virtual workshops. Learning is considered synchronous when the facilitator and the learner are experiencing the event at the same time.

There’s a wide range of reasons why synchronous learning or training may be the best approach, and it all comes down to circumstance and context. Check out these three examples.

1) Real-Time Interaction and Visibility

In some circumstances, a facilitator needs visibility of assessments and completion of training. There are also considerations for hands-on training—whether that’s for a certain piece of equipment or learning involving other people. For example, I recently took part in Mental Health First Aider training which involved working directly with others, so this had to be completed live. Additionally, a facilitator may be required to observe certain skills or behaviors as part of the learning.

2) Time-Sensitive Training

This can include sessions with guest speakers or experts who are only available at specific times, or when your employees need training by a specific deadline. Sometimes, it’s simply quicker to get someone on a broadcast than to produce a digital module. This is particularly common for regulation-focused training or if there’s a pending internal rollout of software, systems, or processes.

3) Unpredictable Needs of Knowledge Gaps

This all comes down to how you can best support your learners through the process. If you don’t know which questions may come up—or are unsure of the pain points in what you’re teaching—it’s important that you’re there to support the learning process. Additionally, if the training is particularly complex and some elements may prove difficult for the learners, your presence there with them, whether virtually or in-person, can do a lot to ease that pressure and aid the learning.

When to Choose Asynchronous (or On-Demand) Learning

Examples of asynchronous learning include eLearning modules, webinar recordings, offline components of blended learning, and digital learning games.

Live training doesn’t always fit the purpose of the learning or the needs of the participants. A common misconception is that in order to generate contributions, a session needs to be delivered live. However, there are a variety of reasons why on-demand learning is more suitable.

Let’s look at a few:

1) Needs and Priorities of Your Learners

Learning needs to be learner-centric, so you have to consider their circumstances. Maybe they’re across time zones or, for myriad reasons, they can’t gather into the same space at the same time. My favorite reason to use asynchronous learning is when learners need their own time and pace to consume and reflect on the learning before they can contribute.

Learning styles are critical and we tend to cater to the more outgoing personalities thinking that, because they’re more active, they’re more engaged. This is simply not true. For many learners being engaged is an internal process. In this sense, asynchronous learning supports the learning style.

2) Repetition and Access

It’s also worth considering whether this is training some people may need repeat access to. For example, if it’s covering something particularly detailed or complex, it’s worth creating a resource or training mode that allows for repeat access. Additionally, breaking the learning up into smaller chunks, either through learning or a wider blend, can be really useful if there is a lot of information to retain. Creating learning that’s available at the point of need can also be incredibly useful for both engagement and effectiveness of the learning in a variety of situations—for example, product-knowledge training for salespeople.

3) Consistency and Tone

On-demand learning gives you more time to prepare and keep every element of your learning consistent. This is particularly important for mandatory and/or regulatory training. It means you can apply the exact same message in each element of the learning. Additionally, consistency in how your message is being received or delivered can be hugely important in communication around business transitions, cultural changes, and internal systems/software changes.

Deciding Between Live vs On-Demand Learning

Consider the above as guidelines to help you make your choice. By no means are these direct or specific rules; they are considerations for a more effective learning journey. You may have seen this coming: my advice is that the best option is often a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning. Hopefully these considerations can help you decide which elements are most suited for your learners.

About the Authors

Rose Benedicks

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