Online Training or Face-to-Face Training: Which is Better?

Bing. You just got a message in your inbox. Your client needs you to design a course. It’s up to you how to present the material. Should the course be presented online or face-to-face (F2F)?

Google around and you’ll see there’s hot debate about whether online or F2F learning is more effective. While there are certainly pros and cons for each, it’s best to look at the audience, material, and intended outcome to determine whether online or F2F learning will best benefit your learners.

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Favorable Factors for Online Learning

Large Audience– Online training is the most cost-effective way to reach a large, geographically dispersed audience, such as the employees of a multi-office corporation. Presenting the course F2F means paying for preparation, multiple instructors, travel expenses, accommodations, etc. For an extremely large audience, the cost per head expenses favor online learning.

Consistent Message– If you want to spread a consistent message through all levels of an organization, online learning is the way to go. Instructors vary, and even a course taught by the same instructor can vary depending on the audience. If you’re trying to establish consistent baseline awareness of policies, procedures, or values throughout an organization, online learning trumps F2F. In addition, it’s easier to monitor individual understanding with online learning. You can see who has completed required trainings and spot any knowledge gaps, ensuring consistent understanding at all levels.

Changing Material– Say the course you’re designing involves a rapidly changing field. If the information in the course frequently needs updating, you’re better off using online learning. It’s time-consuming and expensive to constantly retrain instructors and supply them with updated materials. With online learning you can easily change the material from one central point.

Face-to-face training

Favorable Factors for Face-to-Face Learning

Specialized Audience/Instructor – Courses directed at an expert audience such as specialists or senior managers are best taught F2F. An audience with a high degree of prior knowledge may want to focus on a particular subject. An F2F format easily allows the instructor to tailor the course to the audience’s interests. Additionally, courses taught by specialists should be presented F2F. If the CFO of a major corporation is leading the course, the participants will want to see and meet him/her in person.

Specialized or Confidential Material– Courses with hands-on components need to be taught F2F. True, a chemistry student could watch a video of chemical reaction, but that’s a poor substitute for actual lab experience.

If your training is highly dependent on monitoring social cues and body language, such as a counseling or conflict management course, you should present it F2F. Make sure you give learners the opportunity to apply their new knowledge in classroom activities. Kinesthetic learners will especially appreciate these sorts of exercises, but all learners will benefit from an opportunity to apply what they’re learning through role-playing, discussions, and F2F interactions.

In addition, if the course involves instructor-student confidentiality, it’s best to present it F2F. For example, in a conflict management course, learners may want to ask the instructor’s advice for how to handle a difficult employee or co-worker. In an instructor-led online course, learners can post questions or email the instructor directly, but most people would avoid putting confidential questions into writing. In a F2F situation, the learner can approach the instructor privately.

Networking– While synchronous learning offers learners opportunities to work together on online, you can’t beat F2F courses for networking. Courses that involve bringing people together from different companies or departments to collaborate should be taught F2F to give learners valuable opportunities to pool resources, network, and generally schmooze.


To wrap up, online courses are the most cost-effective way of disseminating a consistent message to a broad audience with a limited budget, while F2F courses are best suited to networking, and specialized audiences, instructors, and material. Take a hard look at the audience, material, and intended outcome to decide which method will best serve your learners.