Impact Learning Systems


Seminars, Training in Class, and E-learning: A Valuable Comparison Peggy Carlaw

With only so many train­ing dol­lars to go around, those who need to improve the knowl­edge and skills of their cus­tomer ser­vice and sales employ­ees must make some choices: send the employ­ees out to a pub­lic sem­i­nar, train them together in class, or have them learn on their own in an e-learning envi­ron­ment. What's the best choice?

It depends on what you want to accom­plish, your bud­get, the num­ber of peo­ple to be trained, and how mission-critical the infor­ma­tion or skill is to your orga­ni­za­tion. Let's take them one at a time:

Pub­lic Seminars

Pub­lic sem­i­nars are great for com­pa­nies who only need to train a few peo­ple, and who need to build aware­ness of a topic or skill. They are short, rel­a­tively inex­pen­sive, and if the sem­i­nar is near your loca­tion, there are no travel costs to incur. For exam­ple, Skill­Path has a one-day cus­tomer ser­vice sem­i­nar that's $149 per per­son; Fred Pryor/CareerTrack has a one-day sales sem­i­nar for $195 per per­son. Both of these pro­vide infor­ma­tion on basic tech­niques, approaches, and skills.

But there are draw­backs to pub­lic sem­i­nars: the course is mostly generic—it's not geared specif­i­cally to your business—and there's lit­tle oppor­tu­nity to prac­tice what you learn as it relates directly to your job. When it comes to com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, suf­fi­cient prac­tice and on-the-job rein­force­ment are crit­i­cal to chang­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion habits devel­oped over the years. So while pub­lic sem­i­nars are good tools for build­ing aware­ness, they are not as good at chang­ing behav­ior as other methods.

Train­ing in Class

Although more expen­sive than pub­lic sem­i­nars, there are two main advan­tages of class­room train­ing: con­tent can be tai­lored specif­i­cally for the par­tic­i­pants with exam­ples rel­e­vant to their job, and the class­room envi­ron­ment pro­vides for co-workers to share best-practices and build team understanding.

For exam­ple, The Tele­phone Doc­tor has a 4-hour work­shop on cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing for $2,900 plus travel & expenses. Back-end rein­force­ment is avail­able in the form of DVDs at $495 per course or $4,490 for the entire library of 18 courses. At 4 hours, the Tele­phone Doc­tor pro­vides basic train­ing for those new to cus­tomer ser­vice or those who have not had any type of train­ing before.

Integrity Sell­ing, has a dif­fer­ent model whereby the trainer attends a 3−1÷2 day train-the-trainer cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course for $3,000 (plus travel & expenses), then deliv­ers the course 1 hour a week over 8 weeks for $545.00 per per­son. Although it takes longer to com­plete the course, spread­ing the learn­ing out over time gives par­tic­i­pants an oppor­tu­nity to prac­tice and cement one skill before mov­ing onto the next.

The main draw­back of class­room train­ing, in addi­tion to cost, is that a num­ber of employ­ees need to be taken off the job at one time and this may impact the abil­ity of your cus­tomers to reach you.


One of the biggest advan­tages of e-learning is that it's less dis­rup­tive to work­flow. You can sched­ule a few peo­ple off the job at one time, leav­ing the rest to work with cus­tomers. Or, you can sched­ule train­ing dur­ing non-peak times. Also, e-learning is great for a dis­trib­uted work­force where it is not pos­si­ble, or is too expen­sive, to bring every­one together for train­ing. There are a vari­ety of e-learning courses avail­able, with some pro­vid­ing mainly aware­ness train­ing, like pub­lic sem­i­nars do, and oth­ers hav­ing skill-building or sim­u­la­tion exer­cises to help change behav­ior. Of course, the aware­ness train­ing is less expen­sive, and skill build­ing more expen­sive due to the increased pro­gram­ming required, par­tic­u­larly if sim­u­la­tions are used.

Skill­Soft is a pop­u­lar provider of online train­ing. For exam­ple, their 6 hour course on Prepar­ing for Out­bound Sales Calls teaches inside sales reps how to plan and be pre­pared to make an out­bound call. The entire cur­ricu­lum for inside sales reps is 24.5 hours. Courses aren't sold indi­vid­u­ally. The min­i­mum order is $750 and includes 30 courses. Like the Tele­phone Doctor's DVD's above, this is a great solu­tion for an in-house library for new hires to help them become aware of the gen­eral require­ments of their job. As an exam­ple of some­thing more spe­cific, HDI offers a 10–12 online hour course for desk­top sup­port tech­ni­cians to help them develop cus­tomer ser­vice skills to improve the customer's expe­ri­ence. The cost is $595 per user.

I'd like to pro­pose a fourth approach: a blend of e-learning and classroom.

Blended Learn­ing

In the blended learn­ing approach, par­tic­i­pants take advan­tage of the staffing flex­i­bil­ity of online learn­ing. Dur­ing the online ses­sions, they learn about the skills they'll need on the job…just like aware­ness train­ing. If you choose the right program-one that builds skill prac­tice into the online component-and fol­low that up with class­room prac­tice, then you've got the best of both worlds. And it can be an afford­able way to go as well. For exam­ple, Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems' cus­tomer ser­vice skills train­ing course or cus­tomer ser­vice course for tech­ni­cal sup­port reps, each have 8 hours of online learn­ing and 8 hours of class­room review fol­lowed by 21 days of on-the-job activ­i­ties to trans­fer learn­ing to the job. The cost is $149 for per stu­dent ($299 for tech­ni­cal sup­port reps) plus $2,500  if a trainer trav­els to your loca­tion (plus travel & expenses). Or if you do the train­ing your­self, the cost would be $149/$299 per stu­dent plus $995 for a trainer's kit (no cer­ti­fi­ca­tion required).

So what's the best answer?

You'll have to decide for your­self based on the cri­te­ria out­lined ear­lier. But here are my two cents:

  • For new hires, use pub­lic sem­i­nars, generic DVDs, or generic online learn­ing to build gen­eral aware­ness. It's less expen­sive, and new hires need to know the basics and have a lit­tle job expe­ri­ence before the invest­ment in more job-specific train­ing makes sense.
  • Once peo­ple have job expe­ri­ence, pro­vide addi­tional train­ing that is rel­e­vant to their job by using blended learn­ing. Embed job-specific exer­cises in the online train­ing to make earn­ing more engag­ing. To prac­tice, class­room follow-up is invalu­able with inter­ac­tive group webi­nars a sec­ond best if peo­ple can't be brought into a class­room together. To top it all off, add job aids and on-the-job activ­i­ties to trans­fer learn­ing to the job.

What do you think is the best answer?

Peggy Car­law is the founder of Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, a lead­ing train­ing com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in improv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions between front-line employ­ees and cus­tomers. Peggy is co-author of sev­eral books pub­lished by McGraw-Hill, includ­ing Man­ag­ing and Moti­vat­ing Con­tact Cen­ter Employ­ees and The Big Book of Cus­tomer Ser­vice Train­ing Games.
3 Seminars, Training in Class, and E learning: A Valuable Comparison
Peggy Carlaw
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  • Marry Wat­tles

    Fan­tas­tic work! This infor­ma­tion should be shared around the web.

  • Glenn Friesen

    I agree Marry! We're doing our best. :)

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