The benefits of distance learning for employers

Written by
Changeboard Team

19 Jul 2010

19 Jul 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Traditional training - drain on time & resources

In research conducted by Home Learning College, 50% of senior decision makers indicated that cost is the primary barrier to delivering staff training. A further 18% cited the inability to offer training leave and the administrative burden of such activities.

Traditional classroom-based education can certainly be a significant draw on resources, with over a fifth (22%) of those responsible for training stating that this approach is not cost effective. Money aside, organisations that are already operating a lean workforce to weather the financial storm will be justifiably reticent to undertake activities that divert staff from their core duties. In fact, over half (53%) mentioned staff being taken away from day-to-day tasks as a major disadvantage of classroom teaching.

Distance learning - a solution to the problem?

Any ambitious staff member worth their salt will be aware that they need to invest in their own development, which may mean assigning personal time for study. However, as of April 2010, workers in organisations with more than 250 employees have the right to request time off work to undertake training. This legislation falls under Section 40 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and will be extended to all employees irrespective of company size from April 2011.

With this in mind, it may be heartening to hear that it is possible to effectively engage employees with relevant, industry-recognised vocational training via distance learning, which allows people to study either from the office or the comfort of their own home. This option will be highly attractive to many employees and could help to significantly reduce the number of requests for extensive and disruptive training leave. 

For example, you could compromise and allocate a certain number of hours for employees to focus on their studies while at work, where they will at least be available should urgent tasks arise, with additional learning conducted in the employees own time. Arrangements of this nature clearly indicate that training is a joint endeavour that requires investment from both parties.

What are the Benefits of distance learning?

Without doubt, one of the main advantages of distance learning is the significantly enhanced level of flexibility.

Where professional, vocational qualifications are concerned, the alternative to distance learning is usually an evening or weekend course at a local further education college. However, attending regular classes can test the commitment of even the most dedicated employee, particularly one who has already spent a full day at work and no doubt has other personal demands on their time.

Distance learning can be fitted around existing responsibilities, allowing people to choose their hours and maintain a healthy family and social life, which is a strong selling point for many employees.

Similarly, distance learning isnt tied to academic term dates - which might mean waiting almost a whole year should an enrolment deadline be missed - so you can strike while the iron is hot and start training your workforce immediately. Travel expenses are also reduced, representing a valuable cost saving.

Choosing a training provider for employees

If there are specific qualifications that you would like your employees to gain, then it makes sense to select a preferred supplier who can offer discounts on bulk purchases. This will also allow you to benchmark performance, as all trainees will be exposed to the same quality of teaching. If the training is more ad-hoc, then you could invite employees to choose their own courses with the proviso that you will evaluate the provider beforehand. 

There are many excellent distance learning specialists to choose from, covering a vast array of subjects. However, there are also too many offering qualifications that literally arent worth the paper on which they are printed. The issue of fake diplomas has become widespread in recent years, with disreputable private organisations trying to cash in on the prevailing interest in further study.

As such, its vital to ensure that your chosen learning provider is accredited by a bona fide professional body. For example, if youve opted for distance learning then your provider should be a member of the Open & Distance Learning Quality Council (ODL QC) - the independent UK guardian of quality in open and distance learning.

Research success rates

Many distance learning providers offer access to a range of online resources, such as forums, instant messaging and virtual classes. These tools mean that students can experience as much a sense of community and dedicated tutorial support as those who attend traditional face-to-face classes. The value of such developments is clear: a third of adults advise that it is very or quite important for them to be able to interact with a community of likeminded students studying the same course over the internet.

You should also benchmark the pass rates of your chosen provider against the national or international standard for that qualification, which are usually available from the awarding body. Research has shown that distance learning performs well when compared with the grades and pass rates achieved through classroom-based education. A recent US-based study showed that 62% of chief academic officers rated learning outcomes for this type of instruction as the same or superior to those for face-to-face instruction.

Not all distance learning courses are the same

If you're considering distance learning for your employees, then you may be interested to hear that this broad phrase encompasses a range of teaching methodologies. For example, it's useful to be familiar with the terms synchronous and asynchronous learning. The former requires the teacher and student to interact simultaneously and may involve web seminars, phone calls and video conferencing. In contrast, asynchronous learning allows students to complete work at a time of their choosing. 

Distance learning can be facilitated by a tutor or un-facilitated, where the student is entirely independent. It can also take place online or offline, with the latter including mobile technologies. Some courses even combine these techniques with varying levels of face-to-face teaching to offer a blended or mixed approach.

Different types & methods of learning

Bearing these variations in mind, it becomes clear that distance learning can vary from just a printed course book to a fully interactive experience, with knowledge transfer becoming more effective as the learning model increases in sophistication:

  • Printed course materials only
  • Printed course materials with a facility to have assignments marked by a tutor
  • Course materials with a support tutor
  • Course materials online with good interaction
  • Online course materials with a supporting tutor
  • Online learning community with access to a team of tutors and fellow students
  • Interactive, blended learning community accessed by tutors and students

What method you choose will depend on the complexity of the information you wish employees to absorb. The more involved or technical the course, the more support staff will require to complete their studies.

Distance learning - the modern way

Having considered all these factors, it becomes obvious that distance learning has much to offer as a training method when compared with the rigid structure of classroom-based teaching. This truly is learning for the modern age and is only predicted to grow in popularity as the mainstay of workplace training.