Types of training: Picking the right training for the right audience

NOTE:  This is part two of a three-part series regarding best practices in training topics and options for corporate success.  Part I focuses on making the business case for training. Part 2 covers the types of training and selecting the right training for the right audience.  Part 3 discusses the business reasons why eLearning has emerged as the training method of choice.

For training managers, determining the best training method used to be simple. Do we send the employee out to an external course or university? Can the employee learn the needed skill through a rotational developmental assignment in another work team? Do we train the course in-house for the employees needing that training?

  • If the training need was specific for a certain individual, then the decision typically was to send the employee outside to an expensive external course or create on-the-job training internally. The external courses were typically more expensive, longer in duration, and not specific enough to address the direct training need.
  • If the training manager decided to bring the course in-house, the follow up questions centered upon (1) the logistics of getting everyone together at the same time and the service/productivity issues that created, and (2) the “make versus buy” (internal versus external) decision regarding the development of the courseware and deciding upon who could train the course. Training managers faced with buying external courses to bring in-house needed to ensure that the courses taught by outside firms who didn’t really understand the business were teaching concepts that were relevant to build the skills needed by the employees selected for the training.
  • Before the explosion of the technical tools available to businesses today, it was naturally assumed by everyone that training (with the exception of computer skills) would be done face-to-face and not taught online with employees sitting alone in front of their computers.

Today, training managers have new options that can be more efficient, effective, and more readily adopted by the changing workforce. Deciding what type of training makes sense in your organization is crucial to making the training investment a good one for the organization.

First things first: The general rule for training managers in determining the best training method to use is to:

  1. Assess the training outcomes: What do we want learners to know and demonstrate after completing the training program?
  2. Consider the audience: Who needs this training? Are there any commonalities regarding how they access knowledge or learn new methods? As an example, technical employees from all generations typically are comfortable accessing data electronically and may prefer learning at their own pace as opposed to learning at a set pace in an in-person group. Numerous studies have shown that younger workers gravitate towards shorter and more interactive, technology-based forms of learning while baby boomers may favor more traditional and static methods of learning.
  3. Determine the type of training needed: What knowledge and skills are needed to improve job performance? Is it functional, managerial, or behavioral? Is it product training for new employees? Company-specific? Tailored to a certain work group? Legally required for compliance? (Note: Depending upon your industry, there may be legally-required safety training. Certain states require management/compliance training in topics such as harassment).
  4. Decide on timing: How quickly does this training need to take place? Will resources be available to teach the course and develop the course curriculum, and will learners be made available to attend the course?

In our experience, most businesses are moving so fast that this last question often determines what training method to use. Everyone is busy and no one has time for “extra” or “optional” work. If the training is important, training managers must often ensure that line management will be supportive and make the program mandatory for those who need to complete the course.

Classroom versus eLearning training?

While all of the buzz in the training industry today centers on eLearning strategies, learning management system platforms and methodologies, there are times when classroom training is still relevant.

When in-person training is most relevant: For just about everything in life, nothing takes the place of personal face-to-face interaction. Some may argue that the ability to bounce ideas off colleagues in a direct, interactive fashion strengthens not only the learning but also forms stronger bonds between employees that allows them to work together better.

The training topics that are best done in traditional classroom settings may include:

  1. Training that is based on organizational culture, values, mission, and vision where a senior executive is leading the discussions to ensure that all employees understand the direction and are on board. This type of training builds camaraderie and ensures that all learners are getting the same message in the same manner to build that common corporate vocabulary and follow the right work priorities.
  2. Management training topics that are unique to the organization where the company expects those in supervisory positions to manage the issues uniformly are best done in a group setting. Supervisors can then discuss particular situations they are dealing with and get the benefit of team coaching while they build trust and support for each other. If everyone is on the same page and management is consistent in the application of those management practices, it will create a more positive employee relations environment.
  3. Specific hands-on skill training is more effective when the learner can physically practice the concepts and obtain focused feedback from the instructor. Types of training that fit in this category include training to assemble or repair objects, learning hands-on operational or preventive safety practices, or any training where physically practicing the concepts with direct feedback from the trainer may be useful.

Today, just about any other type of training can be done through flexible eLearning training platforms. Even in the classroom training situations outlined above, many businesses use a two-pronged approach by first using an online learning program to deliver the “what” and “how” of the training and then bringing the groups together to practice what they learned in the online session and to clarify any questions or issues.


From a best practice perspective, investing in focused employee development and training programs can reap big dividends for employers, including cost savings, enhanced productivity, greater employee satisfaction, better customer service, higher retention rates and improved company image. The keys to training success include a robust assessment of training needs and targeting the right participants; determining the best training methodologies for the types of training required; and selecting the best platform(s) to optimize training results. An eLearning solution coupled with a strong learning management system (LMS) can accelerate the success of your employee training and development program.